November 29, 2022

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All Eyes on the Gulf: The Present and Future of Europe’s Energy Supply

Politically, too, there are some reasons for Germany and the West to come to terms with the Gulf states. In the short term, they are needed for isolating Putin. During his talks in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Scholz heard from leaders who criticized the Russian leader and distanced themselves from him. The Saudi crown prince, though, was more reserved.

In the long term, a systemic battle between democracies and authoritarian states is to be expected around the world. In principle, the Gulf region belongs to the authoritarian camp, but that doesn’t mean it has to end up there if the conflict comes to a head. The West’s relations with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have traditionally been good; those countries, in turn, tend to sympathize with the states with which they can make the best deals. And that used to be the West.

The temptation to see the emirs and the princes as good partners is thus significant. On the other hand, though, is the West’s desire to be the protectors of universal claim to human rights – and of the values-based foreign policy that Germany has committed itself to in Chancellor Scholz’s coalition agreement.

In that agreement, the German government also reiterated its commitment to the weapons embargo that was implemented against Saudi Arabia in 2018. Arms developed by German companies in partnership with other European firms, though, are excluded from that embargo.

Furthermore, Germany’s Foreign Ministry, under the leadership of Annalena Baerbock, has focused heavily on climate issues – and Saudi Arabia, with its emphasis on hydrogen, makes for a logical partner. Baerbock’s staff believes there are opportunities to be had in the Gulf, with ministry officials speaking of “complementary relationships.” Baerbock’s party ally Habeck, over in the Economy Ministry, echoes that sentiment: “Energy partnerships,” he says, “are a contribution to détente.”

But neither the Saudi Arabians nor the Qataris have proven to be the obliging raw materials suppliers that Berlin had been hoping for. Christoph Ploss, a member of parliament with the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and chairman of the parliamentary group focusing on relations with the Arab world, accuses the Scholz administration of “having no strategy for the Gulf region.” In his conversations with people in the region, he says, he often gets the sense of wounded pride.

Ploss is demanding that the arms embargo against Saudi Arabia be lifted. “Germany must decide on weapons deliveries on a case-by-case basis. It is ultimately legitimate that Saudi Arabia wants to protect its maritime trade routes and oil refineries from attack – by Iran, for example,” says Ploss.

Arms deliveries are, of course, a political measure to prevent the Gulf states from sliding further toward Russia and China. Particularly given that in both Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., a consensus is developing that the U.S. is no longer a reliable guarantor of security. And if Iran does become a nuclear power, the Saudis may very well welcome assistance from Russia.

In other words: Being the moral victor could be dangerous for Europe in this era of a changing world order. A purely values-driven foreign and economic policy may be desirable, but preventing an alliance of despots is even more important.
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