Saudi foreign policy doctrine post-2011: The Iranian factor and balance of threat

Erdogan A.

DIGEST OF MIDDLE EAST STUDIES, vol.31, no.1, pp.6-24, 2022 (ESCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 31 Issue: 1
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.1111/dome.12256
  • Journal Indexes: Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.6-24
  • Keywords: balance of threat, Iran, Middle East, politics, Salman doctrine, Saudi Arabia, security, ALLIANCE FORMATION
  • Yıldız Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Since 2011, Saudi foreign policy has shifted from its traditional position of self-restraint and reliance on soft power to an assertive and adventurous one that prioritizes expanding security alliances and use of force. Particularly, after the advent of King Salman to power, the Kingdom experienced various turning points in its foreign policymaking such as its pursuit of increased military engagement in the post-Arab Spring countries, its normalization of relations with Israel and adopting a new armament program. This unusual shift in the Saudi foreign policymaking inevitably raises the question: "What led Riyadh to adopt policies that completely broke away from its traditional position?." A closer look at the recent developments unfolding in the region since the Arab uprisings reveals that the Saudi foreign policy decisions are primarily guided by its perceived threat from Iran. Against this backdrop, this article first investigates why Saudi Arabia views Iran as the biggest threat to its survival. Second, it analyzes the new Saudi foreign policy orientation and its implications in light of balance of threat theory. Finally, the article looks into how the change in the US administration and the end of unconditional US support to Saudi Arabia influenced the Kingdom's discourse and tone vis a vis Iran. The article mainly proposes that Saudi Arabia's increasing threat perception from Iran sheds light on the Kingdom's reasoning and motivation behind its more proactive and assertive policies while the Kingdom's discourse and policymaking is heavily restricted by the ambivalence in the US posture in the Middle East and particularly its stance toward Riyadh's policies.