Event Summary: ‘Saudi Arabia’s New Strategic Calculus’


On the 1st of August, Andrew Bowen, a Global Fellow of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, gave a talk on whether the strategic gamble that is ‘Vision 2030’ will in fact pay off in light of current threats such as ISIS and worsening relations with Iran. He focused on the importance of the reforms in mind, and the significance of Saudi’s younger generation as well as commenting on how the leadership in the Middle East is coming from people under the age of 40.

Andrew discussed the varying challenges the Saudis face: the rising power of Iran; Obama’s waning control of Iran; and the diminishing U.S-Saudi relations. Another key roadblock to ‘Vision 2030’ is the decrease in oil price, further worsened by the U.S shale revolution, and that economic reforms would be absolutely necessary in order to reach the set targets. He commented on how the vision should have been put in place earlier when the Kingdom was economically stronger and described the Vision as being too little too late.

Andrew talked about certain reforms Saudi Arabia wants to make by 2030 including plans to make large investments to jump start the Saudi economy. Part of this plan, he said, includes improving entertainment for the locals and improving tourism with the potential introduction of a Six Flags in the Kingdom. Another reform in mind is developing its defense, said Andrew. However, the desperate lack of human capital with which the Saudi’s are faced make this a difficult task to undertake. He describes these reforms as more of a ‘Vision 2050’ than a ‘Vision 2030’ due to these complications.

A key target for the Saudi government, Andrew said, is the younger generation and the entrepreneurs in the Kingdom. One large difference is the fact that universities are starting to emphasize economics over traditional politics in Saudi Arabia. This is highlighted by Prince Salman’s visit of the Silicon Valley, ending at the Facebook headquarters, instead of doing the more typical trip to Washington. Andrew commented on how the youth in Saudi Arabia were previously under represented and spoke about how a younger government is going to try and do more to deliver to them. He also says that they need to try and encourage the more educated and ambitious Saudis who have left the country to return.

In order to fight against the issues posed by the falling oil prices Saudi Arabia will have to find out how to diversify itself as an energy producer. Part of this will be down to Aramco broadening its range to include nuclear and renewable energy as well. Andrew said that for the Saudis it is very important that they retain a predominant share of the market capital over Iran despite the challenges being faced due to the role of American shale.

During the questions Andrew touched on other topics, including: the Crown Prince’s potential transition to power being a stable one; the difficulty associated with improving Saudi-Israeli relations until there is an improvement in the Palestinian peace process; the Deputy Crown’s plans on improving women’s rights in Saudi Arabia; the banning of radicals from Twitter; Daesh’s success in economically weak areas; Saudi government becoming more talent driven; and the large amount of Yemenis the Kingdom has taken in.



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