Holding KSA Accountable: Strategies for the U.S. to Encourage Saudi Arabia’s Reform Efforts


The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 brought international attention to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, particularly its crackdown on dissidents and critics of the government. While the United States has long been a strategic ally of the kingdom, there has been growing concern about the need for the U.S. to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions and push for reform.

Senator Lindsey Graham has been one of the most vocal advocates for reform in Saudi Arabia. In an interview with The Washington Post, he stated that the U.S. needs to be “blunt” with the Saudis about their human rights record and should use its leverage to push for change.

But how can the U.S. effectively force KSA to reform? Here are some strategies that could be employed:

Threaten to Withdraw Support: The U.S. has long provided significant military and economic aid to Saudi Arabia. By threatening to withdraw this support, the U.S. could pressure the Saudis to take human rights concerns more seriously. In particular, the U.S. could threaten to cut off arms sales to the kingdom, which would be a major blow to the Saudi military.
Use Diplomatic Channels: The U.S. could use diplomatic channels to raise concerns with Saudi Arabia and push for reform. This could involve the State Department raising human rights concerns with the Saudi government, or even the president raising these concerns in a meeting with the Saudi king. The U.S. could also work with other countries to coordinate pressure on the kingdom.
Apply Sanctions: The U.S. could impose targeted sanctions on Saudi officials who are responsible for human rights abuses. This could include freezing their assets or banning them from traveling to the U.S. Such sanctions could have a significant impact, as many Saudi officials have significant assets in the U.S. and enjoy traveling to the country.
Leverage the Business Community: Many U.S. companies have significant business ties with Saudi Arabia, and some have faced pressure to cut ties due to concerns about the kingdom’s human rights record. The U.S. government could work with these companies to encourage them to push for reform in Saudi Arabia, or even impose sanctions on companies that continue to do business with the kingdom despite its record.
Publicly Shame the Saudis: The U.S. could use its public platform to shame Saudi Arabia for its human rights record. This could involve statements from government officials, or even the president speaking out on the issue. The U.S. could also use social media to raise awareness of the issue and mobilize public support for reform efforts.
Ultimately, the U.S. must take a multifaceted approach to encourage Saudi Arabia to reform. While it may be tempting to use harsh tactics such as withdrawing support or imposing sanctions, these measures must be balanced against the need to maintain a strategic relationship with the kingdom. The U.S. should also work to build a coalition of like-minded countries that can coordinate efforts to push for reform in Saudi Arabia.

Senator Graham has called for a “new alliance of democracies” to confront authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. While such an alliance may be difficult to build, it is clear that the U.S. cannot continue to turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. By using a combination of diplomatic pressure, economic leverage, and public shaming, the U.S. can play a role in pushing for much-needed reforms in the kingdom.

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