Why Did Saudi Arabia Refuse to Join the UN Security Council?

The nation seems to be refusing the opportunity to vote on the very issues it’s concerned about.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal chats at a meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. (Ali Al Qarni/Reuters)

In an unprecedented move last Friday, Saudi Arabia turned down an offer by the United Nations to sit on the Security Council for two years as a non-permanent member. No country has ever been offered this opportunity and refused to accept.

Why did Saudi Arabia turn down the seat on the Security Council?

Saudi Arabia rejected the offer claiming frustration at United Nations’ ineffectiveness regarding the Middle East and solving conflicts around the globe. In a revelatory statement released by the Saudi Foreign Ministry, they accused the UN Security Council of “double standards” that “prevent it from carrying out its duties and assuming its responsibilities in keeping world peace.” Calling for reform, they highlighted the United Nations’ “failure to find a solution” for both the Palestinian cause and the current civil war in Syria.

The Saudis had supported the American plan for a retaliatory military strike after the Syrian government’s deadly chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians in August. However, the United States opted for a diplomatic option that resulted in a UN Security Council resolution that did not involve military intervention. Saudi Arabia was disappointed and expressed their anger through this denial of Security Council membership.

What is the reaction around the world?

Allies of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East have shown support, with the Arab League, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, and Kuwait all publicly backing the move. The United Nations called the rejection “unexpected.” On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Paris to meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and discuss a wide range of issues, including their refusal to join the Security Council.

What does this mean for the United Nations policy toward the Middle East?

The Security Council has already decided on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, passing a resolution in September to destroy the weapons stockpile. But Saudi Arabia turned down voting power at a pivotal time for the Middle East. With potential decisions to be made about the Iranian nuclear program, further action in Syria, precarious Egyptian politics, and sectarian conflicts in Iraq, Saudi Arabia has left the region underrepresented on the Security Council. By turning down the right to be in the room, Saudi Arabia has given up the ability to vote on the very problems that they wish to solve.

This post is part of a collaboration between The Atlantic and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.