Saudi declining U.N. membership was a ‘symbolic gesture,’ analysts say

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Saudi Arabia’s unexpected decision to reject joining the U.N. Security Council was “a symbolic gesture” to show the kingdom’s dissatisfaction with the council’s failure to act on the Syrian conflict, analysts said.

Only a few hours after winning the seat, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement announcing that the kingdom will not be accepting the two-year membership at the Security Council, citing failures of the U.N. body in resolving regional issues such as the ongoing massacre in Syria and its inability to rid the region off Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Afshin Molavi, a research fellow at the Washington-based think tank, New America Foundation, told Al Arabiya that Saudi Arabia rejecting their newly-won seat was closely related to Saudi King Abdullah’s “personal frustration over what he views as United Nations Security Council inaction on Syria.”

“I think that they have chosen this unprecedented symbolic step of refusal,” said Molavi, adding that such a decision would not have a significant effect on its influence.

“Saudi Arabia already has the power to influence [international] events. A membership in the U.N. Security Council would not have changed that,” he added.

Alon Ben-Meir, a professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, believes that the Security Council’s “terrible ineptitude” over many conflicts around the world, especially inaction on Syria, has pushed Saudi Arabia to reject the membership.

“If the Saudi Arabians take their seat, and the Security Council hasn’t been able to do anything about the Syrian crisis - and 120,000 have been killed - this would be an embarrassment for Saudis to sit at the council not being able to do anything about it [the Syrian crisis],” Ben-Meir said.

Before the Security Council electing Saudi Arabia, the kingdom appeared to be keen to be part of the new five non-permanent members.

David Ottoway, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, told Al Arabiya that Saudi Arabia “was training a whole corps of diplomats. They were really gearing up to try and make a difference.”

Even if Saudi Arabia stayed as a member, making a difference would still be limited due to the veto power being held exclusively by the five permanent members - United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

Sara Bazoobandi, an associate fellow on the Middle East and North Africa program at London-based Chatham house, a policy research center on international affairs, said that Iran’s new softer line on foreign policy, particularly towards the West, could be a threat to Saudi Arabia’s relatively unchallenged influence in the region.

“They’re using this as a gesture to express their status,” Bazoobandi told Al Arabiya.

Bazoobandi said that the kingdom has other existing plans in place to boost its authority in the Middle East.

“Saudi Arabia is working on creating all sorts of alliances in the region. They’re still the most powerful nation in the GCC,” she added.

The decision to rebuff the seat is a big blow to the Security Council, and has also reignited an old debate on whether the United Nations as an international body is effective at all.

Ben-Meir, who described the Saudi rejection as a “slap in the face” to the council, said “if the Security Council is not able to function in an effective way, in order to fulfill its chartered obligation to promote peace and security, then what’s the point in being a member in such a club?”

Molavi said that Saudi’s snubbing of the seat reveals the extent of the Security Council’s “increasing irrelevance” on global security issues.

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