Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in the U.S. this week for almost three weeks of touring the country where he will meet with President Trump and companies like Alphabet, Apple and Lockheed Martin. Trump hailed the finalization of a $12,5bn arms purchase, while the crown prince said his country is considering $400bn in U.S. investment opportunities. Earlier announcements on Saudi-U.S. business cooperation concern local investments by Apple and Amazon, a tech hub by Aramco and Alphabet and nuclear development.
What does this mean?
Under Obama, relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia cooled over American critique of Saudi policy. Moreover, Obama sought to improve relations with adversaries (Iran, Myanmar, Cuba), which also antagonized traditional allies like Saudi Arabia. Under Trump, ties with the kingdom have strengthened, following key tenets of his foreign policy: more confrontation with adversaries, stronger reliance on regional allies, a more positive stance towards fossil fuel and a focus on tackling radical Islam, which the crown prince says is also one of his aims. On top of that, the crown princes of both Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi seem to have a very strong rapport with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor on the Middle East.
The stronger ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will affect both foreign policy and economics. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia competes with Iran for influence. A stronger U.S. alliance will give fresh impetus to this policy, although it is unlikely that the U.S. will get directly involved. This follows from the proxy approach we described before and America’s range of other foreign policy issues (North Korea, China, Russia, trade relations with allies). Economically, as the next step in the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, we can expect massive investments of Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth in U.S. technology firms.