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Saudi Arabia Isn’t Just a Trump Problem, It’s an Us Problem

Author: Doug Berger

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has refocused attention onto the troubling relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It’s a relationship that, at least on paper, seems bizarre. That the American government actively supports an absolute monarchy wedded to Wahhabism with a human rights record similar to that of international pariahs like North Korea is hypocritical at best.

The contradiction of the alliance has certainly not escaped the American public—a plurality views the Kingdom either as an unfriendly nation or an outright enemy, according to a recent online poll.

None of this, of course, goes very far in explaining President Trump’s response to the murder. Much ink has been spilled decrying his vacillating statements, which have run the gambit from denial to a resigned acceptance of Khashoggi’s murder, and occasional threats of limited action.

While Trump’s messaging style is undoubtedly unique, his lack of significant action is far from novel. It’s hard to imagine that the previous administration, which stood by as the Saudi Air Force used US-made bombs against civilians in Yemen, would have taken meaningful action over the death of a single journalist.

Most media commentary on our relationship with Saudi Arabia rightly addresses the 800 lb. hydrocarbon in the room but fails to address the core motivations at work. The prime directive of the President and our elected representatives isn’t grand strategy or security in the Middle East; it’s getting reelected. At the heart of that calculation is us, the American voter.

We should be wary of over-simplifying the gap between our government’s actions and the wishes of the people. An NPR article that ran earlier this year was titled “Saudi Arabia: The White House Loves it. Most Americans? Not So Much.” True, but misleading.

A little thought experiment may be in order. Which is more likely to get an American president voted out of office–revelations that military aid to a dictatorship was used to kill civilians, or a steep increase in gas prices? If the modern history of US Presidential Elections is anything to go by, it’s the latter. No administration is eager to relive the oil embargoes of the 1970’s.

Voters may not like Saudi Arabia, but they appreciate affordable gas—or at the very least won’t punish their elected officials for it. Oil markets are complicated, and Saudi Arabia is far from the only player, but its centralized control of its oil production and its commanding position as OPEC’s largest producer give it powerful influence.

American presidents don’t support Saudi Arabia because of any love for the country, nor because they lack in democratic ideals. They do so because this is the real-world implication of the public’s need for affordable oil. A change in administration won’t alter this calculation, only and end to America’s reliance on petroleum will.

Doug Berger is a senior at Tufts University. 


The Case of Dokdo: A South Korean Island

Author: Han Sung Lim 

James A. Garfield once said that “Territory is but the body of a nation; the people who inhabit its hills and valleys and its soul, its spirit, its life.” Territory embodies not only a nation’s physical boundaries but also the integrity of the nation; its essence. The expansion of territory correlates to the fundamental growth of the nation, which determines its prosperity. Thus, history is characterized by conquest for territorial exploit; the religious wars of 1600s were fundamentally aimed towards the acquisition of land; European superpowers ensnared colonial territories under the “just” reason of imperialism, and today nations try to expand their sphere of influence by claiming direct/indirect rule over islands, or even protruded coral reefs. The controversy over Dokdo stems from the same logic; the acquisition of Dokdo may potentially reap insurmountable benefits for the internal growth of a nation. Dokdo is a beautiful island, renowned for its exquisite biological diversity, vast resource deposits, and priceless economic value. Though Korea is the irrefutable owner of the islands, Japanese right-wing fundamentalists claim ownership over the Dokdo islands. Moreover, they have recently expanded their political clout into education, and have disseminated fabricated information into the classrooms. Despite all these developments, Koreans have successfully protected Dokdo for centuries. Nevertheless, it has become ever more crucial for us citizens to actively express our love and support toward Dokdo; as the saying goes: “to preserve one’s treasure is an everlasting struggle”.

Dokdo is a natural treasure that cannot be translated into monetary standards. The Dokdo Islets retain substantial deposits of natural resources such as gas hydrate, natural gas, maritime petroleum resources, etc. Dokdo is believed to be abundant in ‘Gas Hydrate’ in particular, which is a solid state of natural gas whose chief constituent is methane. It is recognized as promising substitute to fossil fuel energy; according to the U.S Energy Information Administration, 1 cubic foot of gas hydrate releases 164 cubic feet of natural gas, providing a high energy output. Thus, the usage of gas hydrate as a future energy resource is an active field of interest in Germany, USA, India, Taiwan, China, and obviously Japan. Commercial extraction/production of such resources would clearly be an economic boon for Korea, which currently relies on foreign imports to satisfy its resource demands. Researchers speculate Dokdo’s gas hydrate deposit to be 600 million metric tons, which approximates to 252 trillion won in financial terms. In addition to its resource value, Dokdo is ecological gem. It is home to at least 107 species of resident and migratory birds, including the streaked shearwater, storm petrel, black-tailed gull, and other endangered species, according to an October 2007 survey by the Ministry of Environment. Dokdo’s underwater vegetation ecosystem shares striking similarities to the South Sea, Jeju Island, and tropical regions of Northern Hemisphere, yet has unique characteristics that suggest that it can be classified as an entirely discrete ecosystem. Its subtle geological position makes it an ample fishing ground, attracting highly migratory fish stock. Its beauty also attracts tourists on an international scale; the number of tourists has shown steady increase since 2005, and more than 205,000 have registered in 2012. Moreover, its function as a territorial indicator enables Korea to extend its EEZ further into the east sea, ensuring 200 nautical miles into Korean hands. Thus, Dokdo’s various attributes give it its priceless value.

It is clear that Dokdo has significant industrial, ecological, economic, and territorial value. Then the question arises behind who has territorial jurisdiction over the islets. Nevertheless, historical evidence corroborate Korea’s claim over the islets. Following the Russo-Japanese war, Japan annexed Korea in a series of agreements between 1905 and 1910. During this period, Japan claimed territorial jurisdiction over the islands by officially incorporating them into the Shimane Prefecture, a notice which dictated that “The islands should be designated as ‘Takeshima’ and placed under the jurisdiction of Oki Islands.” However, these treaties cannot be regarded as legally binding documents, indicating valid cession of national sovereignty and relinquishment of territorial holdings. The Korean Minister of Home Affairs rejected Japanese claim, stating, “It is totally groundless for the Japanese to lay claim to Dokdo and I am shocked at the report”, and responded by issuing Directive No. III on April 29, 1906. Furthermore, the Korean citizens resisted Japanese annexation through protests and uprisings, thus invalidating Japanese argument of a cessation under popular consent. Following the demise of Japanese occupation, the status of Dokdo (Liancourt Rocks) was not addressed in Article 2 of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty. The treaty recognized Korea’s independence, and Japan’s retrocession of the islands of Qualpart, Port Hamilton, Dagelet, but excluded Liancourt Rocks. However, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers then removed Japanese authority over Dokdo, and incorporated it under US armed forces control as a bombing range. Thus, by then Dokdo was clearly outside of Japanese jurisprudence. Shortly after, South Korean president Syngman Rhee issued the Korean Presidential Proclamation over the Adjacent Sea in January 18. 1952. The proclamation promulgated Korean sovereignty over Liancourt Rocks, by creating the “Rhee Line”. Japan responded by officially declaring its non-recognition of Korea claims, which ignited the modern controversy. The current Japanese government argues that Dokdo was included in Korea’s cession of sovereignty and that it was historically occupied by Japan in the past. The first claim has been nullified above, and the second is also historically invalid.

Historical documents indicate that Korea had a prolonged history of occupation and corresponding Japanese recognition of Korean claims. Sejong Sillok Jiriji, a government publication on geography section of the annals of King Sejong’s Reign, provides geographical accounts of Korean territorial records of Korean territory; it states, “Usan (Dokdo) Mureung (Ulleungdo)… The two islands are not far apart from each other and thus visible on a clear day.” Records pertaining to Dokdo are also found in other government publications, including Sinjeung Dongguk Yeoji Seungnam,1531;  Dongguk Munheon, Biggo, 1770; Man-gi Yoram, 1808; and Jeungbo Munheon Biggo. Moreover, diplomatic negotiations between Joseon and the Edo shogunate regarding the Ulleungdo Disputes confirmed Joseon’s sovereignty over Olleungdo and its ancillary island, Dokdo. The Edo shogunate even issued a directive prohibiting all Japanese from making passage towards Ulleungdo in January 28, 1696, after receiving a confirmation that neither Ulleungdo nor Dokdo was in possession of Tottori-han, a Japanese feudal clan. Even before Japanese colonization, the 1877 directive issued by the Dajokan(Grand Council of State), Japan’s supreme decision-making political body during the Meiji period, reaffirmed the Ulleungdo dispute negotiations and concluded that “our country[Japan] has nothing to do with them[Takeshima(Ulleungdo) and Dokdo].” Thus, Japanese history confirms Korea’s territorial sovereignty over the islets, even during the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

Korea has a stronger title claim to Dokdo islets on the basis of international law. Analysis on international law requires scrutiny on internationally accepted principles and legal precedents. There is currently no consensual standard on how to resolve territorial dispute, however, customary international law provides principles which international tribunals can resolve sovereignty disputes. This includes the following: (1) cecasion (2) prescription (3) occupation (4) subjugation. According to R.Y. Jennings in The Acquisition of Territory in International Law, “The cession of a territory means the renunciation made by one State in favor of another of the rights and title which the former may have to the territory in question. This is affected by a treaty of cession expressing agreement to the transfer.” A prerequisite to this principle is the willful consent of the receiving state. However, the previous paragraph already expounds why Japanese annexation cannot be considered as example case of cessation. The Japanese government may appeal to the standard of subjugation; a state acquires territorial sovereignty through military victory. Yet, even acquisition by armed conflict requires either international recognition or a treaty of cession to be legitimate. Japan’s involvement in the Hague Secret Emissary Affair is an example of the Japanese government trying to procure international support by alleged means. Moreover, the Eulsa Treaty of 1905 and the Korean annexation treaty of 1910 were ratified under Japanese military pressure; thus, Japan fails to fulfill requirements of a “willing” treaty of cession as well. On the other hand, Korea satisfies the requirements of customary international law. Prescription is the process of acquiring territory through a continuous and undisturbed exercise of sovereignty lasting long enough to create a widely held conviction that the possession conforms to the standards of the international community. Though highly debated upon, the principle supports Korea’s territorial claims; Korea has possessed Dokdo for over thousands of years. Occupation, often correlated with terra nullius, is the appropriation by state of a territory by establishing administration over the territory. This requires both the intention of the state to act as sovereign and verifiable exercise of authority; both of which is fulfilled by past and present Korean governments. The Island of Palmas dispute between the US and Netherlands, the Clipperton Island case between Mexico and France, and the Eastern Greenland case are historical precedents that support Korea’s position over Japanese. Thus, Korea has the upper hand when considering international law.

Despite disputes, Korea has successfully protected Dokdo from environmental and foreign threats through governmental action, active citizen participation, and sacrifices made by brave heroes. The government has maintained a strong diplomatic stance, by officially declaring that “the government will deal firmly and resolutely with any provocation and will continue to defend Korea’s territorial integrity over Dokdo.” This position has been reinforced by active governmental action. A Korean police force base, backed by the Korean main military, has been established on the islets. Lighthouses and other governmental facilities have been erected and are in operation in Dokdo. The government has enacted Article 1 of the [Act on the Sustainable Use of Dokdo Island], Article 6 of [Act on National Land Planning and Utilization], and Article 25 of [Cultural Properties Protection Law], which have created a check and balance system for sustainable development and environmental preservation. On the citizen level, grass-root NGO participation accompanied with group and individual campaign activities have contributed to the growth of public awareness towards Dokdo.  Patriotic individuals have also volunteered to reside on the islets. Finally, heroes have struggled to protect our sovereignty over the islets. An Yong-bok, a fisherman of the Joseon dynasty, reinstated Joseon’s territorial sovereignty over Dokdo; it is recorded in the Annals of King Sukjong’s Reign that he firmly informed Japanese officials that “Matsushima is Jasando[Dokdo] and it is Korean territory”. Japanese documents, including Takeshima kiji, Inpu nenpyo, and Takeshimako, confirm Ahn Yong-bok’s passages to Japan. The Dokdo Volunteer Forces also played an indispensable role in protecting Dokdo. They disembarkened on Dokdo in 1953, and fought against Japanese encroachment until the government took over the responsibility in 1956.  Thus it is clear that Korea has been maintaining a stalwart grasp over Dokdo, and had protecting Dokdo throughout history.   

Yet, the Japanese government has managed to incorporate distorted history into school textbooks. Recently, the Japanese government has officially expressed denial towards Japanese imperialist exploit. Mariko Oi, Japanese BBC correspondent, illustrates the realities of history education in Japan. He points out that only 19 of the 357 pages of a certain history book dealt with events between 1931 and 1945. He also points out that Japanese led war atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre,  and prostitution corps were either omitted or included in a small foot note. Today there are 30 unique textbooks for social studies from 5 different publishers, in Japanese primary schools, and an additional 8 textbooks for the study of history as part of Japanese Social Studies curriculum. The government’s textbook authorization system evaluates the textbooks and verifies approval. Though guild-lines dictate that the context must be “objective, impartial, and free from errors”, major controversy has been brought up from neighboring nations. The Dokdo issue, in particular, is one example. According to Reuters, “new elementary school textbooks describe islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese as Japan’s ‘sovereign territory’ and dismiss South Korean occupation as unlawful.” The changes are expected to be applied in 6 of 8 new textbooks beginning in early 2015. Moreover, Ari-rang News has reported that six of the 8 textbooks in elementary school curriculum would assert that South Korea is “illegally” occupying Dokdo while two others carry maps that mark the island as part of Japanese territory. Mariko admits that he initially had difficulty sympathizing with China and Korea on issues pertaining to Japanese imperialism, until his matriculation into a French university, where he conducted substantive research on the Rape of Nanjing. Likewise, young students in Japan, intellectually restricted by the meticulously fabricated education curriculum, would inevitably develop a lopsided interpretation towards history and current issues. This education policy would further radicalize public perception towards historical based issues and exacerbate the status quo. Thus, it is important for Korea to cooperate with Japanese intellectuals to address historically disputed issues, and inform the Japanese public, especially the next generation. However, delicate as this issue is, it is important for the Korean public not to resort to nationalism; the crux is to slowly develop consensus built upon mutual respect, and to maintain a democratically mature approach. This approach should be concerted by both the governmental and civil level, and should appeal to wide public spectrum of Japanese society.

There is a sign in Texas, Dallas that says “Back off Japan! Dokdo Island Belongs to Korea”. Dokdo is Korean territory. This is lucidly proven by historical accounts, and is supported by customary international law. It is a beautiful landmark teeming with life, filled to the brim with natural resources. Dokdo Guards stand guard every day, ready to face foreign treats lingering beyond the horizon. Yet, innocent Japanese students are blindly convinced that Dokdo is allegedly occupied; they are under the whim of an irresponsible government trying its best to erase the past. Though Dokdo is rightfully ours, we should never be complacent. International predisposition towards dialogue and world peace is never a guarantee for non-aggression or territorial exploit. Nations are inherently interest driven, which is why Japan is amassing historical evidence against our claims and garnering international support. Let us all be more intent to our nation, take a more active stance and express our love and support to Dokdo.

Han Sung Lim is a Sophomore at Tufts University studying International Relations and Film and Media Studies. 


Dynamic Identities! Hemisphere’s 2018 Edition

After a suspenseful wait, we are proud to unveil our 2018 Edition of Hemispheres with the theme Dynamic Identities! Check out the journal in full at our “Current Issue” Tab, and stay tuned this Fall Semester to get a copy of the journal at Tufts University’s campus!



Submission Deadline Extended to Feb. 10, 2018

DEADLINE EXTENSION: There’s now more time to submit to submit to Tufts Hemispheres 2017 Journal: Dynamic Identities!  We’re extending our submission deadline to February 10th, 2018.

As a reminder, we are accepting any papers 5,000-8,000 words in length relating to our theme, “Dynamic Identities.” Past journals included articles touching upon IR, economics, political science, history, psychology, and more, and we also welcome related photo submissions. To submit, please email

Feel free to contact us with questions or concerns. Visit for paper requirements and guidelines.

We’re excited to see your research!

Editorial: Emmanuel Macron and the Middle East

Author: Jean-Charles Zurawicki

In the past few weeks, political developments in the Middle East have added pressure to governments in the region. Long-standing civil war in Syria and Yemen, combined with the ongoing isolation of Qatar, the stalled Kurdistan independence movement, corruption purges in Saudi Arabia, and most prominently the resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri have all complicated a region increasingly divided along Iran-Saudi Arabia and U.S.-Russia rivalries. Ineffective attempts at resolving conflicts vis-à-vis international organizations, and the novelty of sprouting disagreements, leave a vacuum for wise and tact diplomacy to resolve these issues. These opportunities may be overlooked in a United States stifling its own diplomatic abilities and resources, but this is bounty for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking to reframe France’s standing in the world and its role in the Middle East.

In August of 2016, then French President François Hollande outlined France’s priorities in the region, centered on ending the Syrian Civil War, standing by the Iran Nuclear Deal, combatting terrorism, and backing a negotiated two-state solution. While on the campaign trail there was little debate on the Middle East (or foreign policy in general), Emmanuel Macron’s campaign followed many of the same goals of the past administration. Early on, however, Macron seemed to have an eye on the Middle East, making it a point to visit Jordan and Lebanon even before his election in May 2017.

Since coming to office, Macron has followed a policy he terms “Gaullo-mitterandisme”: a vague mix of realism, French exceptionalism, and openness to negotiation. In addition to his invented doctrine, Macron has also been defined by a rhetorical principle often uttered by him in the campaign. As in domestic issues, Macron has offered a dual foreign policy platform, being a proponent of one solution en même temps (“at the same time”) seriously considering the alternative. Macron of course will also be influenced by more established figures in French politics, and is reported to be meeting regularly with former Foreign Ministers Hubert Védrine and Dominique de Villepin. French defense policy, however, is more obscure, as Macron’s circles contain both humanitarian interventionists and realists vying for influence.

What one can thus expect from French foreign policy for the next half-decade is a commitment to international organizations (partly in response to United States’s retreat), a growing presence of France in diplomatic talks, and a greater openness to working with states and issues formerly sidelined. In regards to the Middle East, Macron has pushed hard for France to be a necessary invitee at negotiation tables. Meeting with the Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani in September, Macron requested the embargo on Qatar to be withdrawn. After the Kurdistan Independence Referendum, France offered to mediate between Kurdish officials and the Iraqi government. And in the mystery of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Al-Hariri’s resignation, Macron has also chipped in, inviting Al-Hariri to France and commenting that “it’s important that [Hariri] is able to advance the political process in his country in the coming days and weeks.”

But Macron’s en même temps tendencies still ring through in policy towards the region. Macron has called for Iraqi unity, while paradoxically asking for the recognition of the rights of the Kurdish people. Macron hopes to be a diplomatic voice within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but remains wishy washy in his messaging. In regards to Syria, Macron envisages a transition of power after the civil war, though it is unclear where Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad lies within it. While French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian has complemented what other French officials’ opinions on removing Al-Assad from power, Macron has also acknowledged that Al-Assad is not a direct enemy of France. Macron hopes to see a legitimate successor for leading Syria, but slim pickings question France’s previously strict approach to Al-Assad’s removal. But as stated by the French president on November 17, 2017, “the role of France is to talk to everyone.” So while specific policy measures may remain elusive, Macron is nevertheless succeeding in growing France’s presence in regional diplomacy. In the absence of strong American leadership in the region, Macron may indeed revitalize French foreign relations in the region and globally pronounce France’s soft and hard power, if indecision does not wear the president down.

Jean-Charles Zurawicki is a senior at Tufts University studying International Relations and History.

Tackling the Neglected: Attention for Tropical Diseases

Author: Jared Sawyer

        If we are willing to spend $10 on Nyquil for a night’s reprieve from a stuffy nose, then why not spend less than $1 a year to prevent lymphatic filariasis or soil-transmitted helminthiasis? Or, what about schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, or maybe trachoma? Then again, why waste a dollar on these long-named diseases you have never heard of?

        This is the problem that plagues these neglected tropical diseases. These unfamiliar diseases remain unheard of to us Americans, but are overbearingly common in tropical countries where over a billion people[1] are disabled and disfigured annually due to these neglected diseases.

        Lymphatic filariasis (better known, but still not known well as, elephantiasis) is a parasitic disease that is rarely fatal. Nevertheless, those who develop symptoms are faced with painful and disfiguring swellings in the arms, legs, or genitals.[2] Following the pain and permanent disability comes horrid social stigma tied to the visible physical disfigurations created. A quick, although disturbing, Google image search will demonstrate why these disfigurations are so ostracizing. Yet, while billions get spent on social stigmatizing issues such as acne, little is spent on the debilitating effects of lymphatic filariasis.   

        Soil-transmitted helminthiasis includes roundworms, whipworms, and most famously, hookworms. Around 1.5 billion people or roughly 20% of the world’s population are currently impacted by these worms. However, these infections are not equally distributed around the world, but rather, most of the infections reside in the developing tropical and subtropical world.[3]

        These parasitic worm diseases are also rarely fatal. The more common symptoms include anemia, lack of energy, and stunted growth and cognitive development.[4] These symptoms are specifically devastating for the 267 million preschool-age children and the 568 million school-age children at risk of infection from these worms.[5]

        The scariest part of neglected diseases like lymphatic filariasis or soil-transmitted helminthiasis is how easy they can be solved and even eradicated. Simple strategies such as educating about the importance of peeling and cooking of vegetables, avoiding walking barefoot, and not using night soil (otherwise known as excrement used for fertilizer), can prevent infection.[6] Nonetheless, in the areas where these neglected tropical diseases are prevalent, education may not be useful; these recommendations may be impossible to realistically implement. There are populations without access to water to wash their vegetables, without shoes to wear, or without access to proper fertilizer.

        The good news is that there is an even easier solution available: mass drug administration. Not only does the preventative cure already exist, it costs no more than $0.64 annually per person to treat both lymphatic filariasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis. [7] For under a dollar, or the cost of about one tenth of a bottle of Nyquil, a successful preventative and curative measure can be taken against these neglected tropical diseases. Even better, the cure, a mixture of albendazole and diethylcarbamazine, comes in pill form, making them easy to mass distribute and administer.

       Hope is not lost.There has been past success in eradicating neglected tropical diseases. For example, Dracunculiasis was a parasitic worm disease that affected around 3.5 million people in the mid-1980s.[8] Due to an effective prevention campaign, only 25 human cases were reported last year.[9] Turns out that when the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) formulate and implement a strategy together, neglected tropical diseases can get eradicated.

        So, what are we waiting for? If we can solve these terrible diseases so easily, why haven’t we? The problem is that most of the people who are impacted are those without voices. The poor from the most destitute areas are the ones who get knocked down and further impoverished by these neglected diseases. In opposition, those with voices push for resources and money to funnel toward the more profitable diseases we regularly hear about. Why spend money abroad when we cannot solve our issues back home?

        Beyond the screaming from my moral and ethical compasses, factually, these neglected tropical diseases are simply not confined to the tropics Approximately 12 million Americans are affected. Over 2.5 million African-Americans are infected with toxocariasis, and around 300,000, mostly Hispanic-Americans, are affected by American Trypanosomiasis.[10]  These primarily low income voiceless communities are being devastated by these diseases without help and without attention. To make matters worse, due to the pervasive lack of attention, the current absence of viable diagnostic tests and sufficient education commonly leads health care providers to either misidentify or fail to recognize the disease.

Neglecting these tropical diseases is no longer a viable strategy due to any notion that it does not affect us. Neglecting them is now synonymous with neglecting the disenfranchised.

Nevertheless, diseases like cancer take the whole stage while diseases both easier and cheaper to solve are ignored. This is not the fault of private industry. What money is there for making cheap cures for those without the money to buy them? Rather, this is a problem of attention. It is increasingly hard to gain momentum for solutions to problems that are unheard of. The first step here is to generate a new wave of easily accessible and persuasive information about these neglected diseases. Only when these neglected tropical diseases reach the limelight can impetus be achieved for solutions. It is time to tackle the neglected.





[4] WHO, ibid.

[5] WHO, ibid.




[9] WHO, ibid.



A Saad Departure: Hariri’s Resignation and What it Could Signal for the Middle East

Author: Jackson McGlinchey

On November 4, Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, announced his resignation live on TV. This announcement was not made from Beirut, however, but from Riyadh, where Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has been making bold moves to consolidate power and guide Saudi Arabia toward his grand vision of reform. Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation was surprising, but not exactly unexpected. The Prime Minister, a Sunni, was presiding over a government controlled by Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shia militia group and rival to Mr. Hariri. Additionally, Lebanese Prime Ministers have certainly resigned in the past as a political move–—including Mr. Hariri’s late father, Rafiq Hariri, who was assassinated months later. However, the peculiarity of his resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia, in addition to recent events in Lebanon’s neighborhood, hints at something more.

Mohammed Bin Salman has been making increasingly bold moves both within Saudi Arabia and in its neighboring countries. The diplomatic crisis with Qatar this past summer was largely a push by the Crown Prince against warming relations between Qatar and Iran. The ongoing civil war in Yemen is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and has recently become more heated as a missile fired from Yemen was intercepted close to Riyadh on November 4. Following which, Saudi Arabia launched its worst barrage of airstrikes in over a year. Three days later, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Saudi-backed President of Yemen, was placed under a sort of house arrest, reportedly for his antagonism toward the UAE, a strong member of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Meanwhile, Bin Salman made his strongest move yet toward consolidating power internally, purging several senior ministers and princes and arresting many wealthy power-holders. All these moves hint at a much more hawkish and hardline approach toward the increasingly hostile Cold War with Iran.

Saad Hariri’s resignation appears to be, at least in part, yet another play orchestrated by Saudi Arabia to counter Iran’s growing influence in the region. With Hezbollah in a strong position in Lebanon and Syria, and other Iranian allies gaining in Yemen and Iraq, Saudi Arabia is likely gearing up for a push against Iranian influence in Lebanon. It is notable that Hariri’s resignation speech contained a heaping helping of anti-Hezbollah and anti-Iran vitriol, to the surprise of the Prime Minister’s aides and even apparently Mr. Hariri himself.

So what could the resignation of the Saudi-backed Prime Minister do for Saudi Arabia? Hezbollah clearly has military superiority in Lebanon, and Iran is quickly developing a corridor of influence stretching across Iraq, through Syria, to Lebanon. So, Hezbollah–—and Iran–—has a clear military advantage. This move is seemingly a political one. With the resignation of Hariri, the Hezbollah-dominated government loses some of its legitimacy, opening it up to stronger attacks from America and Israel. Furthermore, Mr. Hariri’s resignation could be part of a move to run as an opposition candidate in the 2018 parliamentary elections, giving the Saudi alliance a chance to challenge Hezbollah politically.

Whatever the plan, it is clear that Mohammed Bin Salman is adopting an ever more hostile approach to the Cold War with Iran. As Iran continues to gain influence and Saudi Arabia digs in and fights back, the Middle East is in an increasingly precarious condition. We have seen what a proxy wars between the two powers have wrought in Syria and Yemen. We should hope that the same fate is not in store for Lebanon now.