China’s Iran/SA deal: Is US dominance in West Asia faltering?
Following our Global Review article on the Chinese deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in which we wrote that US hegemony in the Greater Middle East was in danger of collapsing if trends continued, a former German ambassador to South Korea and Afghanistan and ex- AA diplomat asked:
“And what does Global Review think about this: fundamental decision or tactical maneuver by MBS? Is US dominance in West Asia now faltering?”
It’s not that far yet, although the trends are obvious. In its NSS, the USA defined China, Russia, North Korea and Iran as the main challenge for the US world power. There is consensus on China, on Russia Biden is more offensive, although not forever, since he also wants to turn to China, especially North Korea. In the case of Iran, Biden appears to be acting more defensively, while Trump wanted to focus his forces on China and Iran, while seeking a quick deal with Putin and North Korea. Biden’s new Middle East policy has led to widespread estrangement between Netanyahu and the US, as well as now with Saudi Arabia under MBS, which is now much more aligned with China and is now attempting an understanding with Iran, also through China’s mediation, as part of the Global Security Initiative, of which it has been announced Announce state visits to MBS and Raisi or Khameini in what was until then their arch-enemy country. But nothing is final yet.
As we also wrote, a nuclear Iran or a re-election of Trump or a new Iranhawk could be a game changer. On the one hand, that depends on Iran’s further behavior – is it developing its nuclear weapons further? Can China dissuade Iran through the BRI and SCO commitment, especially since a new Iran deal with the USA is apparently not up-to-date and also whether Trump or another Iranhawk will be re-elected, who will also act offensively as SA’s military protective power against Iran – China can do that not yet, unless it put SA under Chinese ICBM nuclear protection or stationed nuclear weapons there itself, which is not to be expected. MBS’s final decision hasn’t been made yet, and he doesn’t want to completely give up the USA as a mainstay, but that’s no longer as promising with Biden as it was with Trump. Even between Biden and Netanyahu, there is a crisis to an extent that was previously unimaginable, but polarization within Israel and the USA has also increased, so that both are no longer so predictable in terms of foreign policy. But is SCO membership or involvement in the New Silk Road cutting the Gordian knot? As can be seen from India and China/Pakistan’s joint SCO membership, Iran/SA membership in the SCO would not be the end of all conflicts either. But if the trend continues, SA will slip further into the Chinese camp. After years on confontation between SA and Iran, after the disaster of US interventions in Iraq and partly US disengagement, Iran and SA seem to take a pause as the old confrontation exhausted them both and there are also signals for a deescalation of their proxy war in Yemen and Syria. Therefore it is understandable that they try to use the Chinese approach as an experiment. But will SA and Iran bury their war axe and arch enmity like Germany and France did after WW2 ? Or will it be more like the experiment of a French- German approachment after WW 1 under Nobelprize award winners Briand and Stresemann which failed at the end?
At the moment this is not a final or a fundamental decision, but a try. Although there was the China-Arab summit, the Xi-MBS meeting, now the Iran/SA deal, or not yet, because up to now they have only said that they want to speak with each other, but they have not yet conducted any negotiations or has even signed any contracts and China is currently trying to bring SA into its BRI project, but the compliance between MBS’s SA Vision 2030 and the BRI is still being checked for the time being, although China would like to sign a 25-year deal with SA as it has done with Iran. There is hope that China could integrate SA economically and make it dependent, such as Germany. But MBS also knows that and will make sure that this does not happen to this extent.
However, the question of military and nuclear protection remains crucial, and China currently has very little to offer. It neither has such an internationally deployable military nor the capacity to bring „boots on the ground“ in the Greater Middle East, although it does not want to copy this at all after the US experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, especially since it is unlikely itself that the USA want to repeat such mass interventions including boots on the ground again and want to get into the next swamp, at best following the example of the IS coalition airstrikes with allies and deputies as boots on the ground, maybe under the guidance of special forces and lead from behind are too willing to fight, rely more on air sea battle or offshore control against China and Iran, prefer to let deputies fight in the Ukraine war, especially since they seem to be overwhelmed with a two-front war with Russia and China and have to divide their forces well, how they have increasingly withdrawn from this region after their military disasters in the Greater Middle East and since they have become a fracking gas and oil exporting nation, they are no longer as dependent on the Middle East and the Gulf States for energy as it was in Cheyney’s report at the time before the Iraq war via the Greater Middle East „energy ellipse“.
MBS still tacitly assumes that even Biden would protect SA from a possible nuclear Iran. But that is no longer so certain, even if the USA would support an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. So China would either have to bring about a new Iran deal, maybe even without the USA (EU), perhaps the idea of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East or Gulf zone between SA, GCC and Iran, or if a nuclear Iran could no longer be prevented SA under Chinese. ICBM nuclear protection or to station Chinese nuclear weapons there or to arm SA with nuclear weapons – either indirectly or directly or via Pakistan, which is also part of the BRI via the CPEC and has long been courted by SA in the hope to get nuclear weapons, especially since Pakistan is currently also in an economically extreme desolate situation. But Pakistan hasn’t played Khan yet, since the US ousted him and he’s under house arrest as a national hero and father of Pakistan’s (and North Korea’s) nuclear bomb. So far, Biden also appears to be opposed to SA’s nuclear upgrade. Unlike Trump at the time, who wanted to use the Iron Bridge program under the direction of his son-in-law Jaared Kushner to supply SA with the nuclear technology for building a bomb, which strangely enough was hardly noticed. Oddly enough, one hardly hears anything about non-proliferation or Iran’s nuclear weapons program in the entire western and eastern media. So nothing is final yet. Especially since the USA could also try to block China’s New Silk Road, which has just been blocked continentally to Europe by the Ukraine war and Melonis Italy while China now expands more its maritime Silkorad and focuese its continental Silkroad especially to Central Asia/Gulf/Middle East and Africa. But in the event of further escalation of the sinoamerican conflict the USA could try to block Iran as an essential link and try to free Saudi Arabia from the grip of China and Iran again by means of tempting offers,. US dominance is already faltering in West Asia, but nothing is final. But the old one-sided ties between Saudi Arabia and the USA will no longer exist in the old dimension, rather “strategic balancing” for the time being and the rapprochement with China is not yet a final switch to the Chinese camp, but at least a last warning and a signal to the USA and an experiment and test if the diplomatic and non- confrontational entente might work better than the wavering US Greater Middle East policy of the past.
Nuclear proliferation under Biden, Putin and Xi , fake news and the future of East Asia