Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to the Arabian Peninsula illustrates a fundamental shift in power in international politics. The Gulf states, which for decades acted as good allies of the West, are now using their oil and gas wealth for their own interests – even if that should be uncomfortable for America and Europe.
Due to the consequences of the Ukraine war, they have become even more powerful and will remain so. Europe needs an answer to the rise of states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar.
After the Second World War, the USA and Saudi Arabia enshrined a principle that determined Western relations with the Gulf region for decades: America guaranteed the security of the Gulf monarchies, and they guaranteed the export of oil.
This system lasted into the 2000s, when the US withdrew its side of the deal – at least that’s how the Arabs saw it – and began withdrawing from the Middle East.
Disappointment with America, the approaching end of the oil age and the generational shift in the Gulf States – Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are now ruled by men born decades after World War II – led to a change of course.
They invest in renewables and keep oil prices high
Gulf rulers are pouring billions into new technologies like hydrogen power generation and other innovations to maintain their power while keeping oil prices high. They are cooperating with Russia and are ignoring requests from the West to put more oil on the market in order to lower prices.
Their success proves them right. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was cut off by the West for a while because he had the dissident Jamal Khashoggi murdered. But since the USA and Europe urgently need lower oil prices because of the Ukraine war, the red carpet has been rolled out again.
Even when it comes to Arab money, Europe forgets its own values. In 2002, only three percent of German arms deliveries went to Arab countries, by 2019 the proportion had increased tenfold to 30 percent. After the Khashoggi assassination, Germany stopped exporting its own weapons to Saudi Arabia; but this does not apply to joint projects with allies. Other EU members like France continue to supply weapons to Riyadh anyway.
Germany and the other European countries should not hope that the Gulf Arabs will lose importance again after the Ukraine war. The new generation of rulers in the Gulf will shape the region for decades to come. The faster Europe develops a concept for dealing with the region, the better.
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