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date: 18 February 2020

Summary and Keywords

The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has shaped the history of both countries. Soon after the Saudi kingdom was founded in 1932, American geologists discovered enormous oil reserves near the Persian Gulf. Oil-driven development transformed Saudi society. Many Americans came to work in Saudi Arabia, while thousands of Saudis studied and traveled in the United States. During the mid-20th century, the American-owned oil company Aramco and the US government worked to strengthen the Saudi regime and empower conservative forces in the kingdom—not only to protect American oil interests, but also to suppress nationalist and leftist movements in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. The partnership was complicated by disagreement over Israel, triggering an Arab oil embargo against the United States in 1973–1974. During the 1970s, Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest oil exporter, nationalized Aramco, and benefited from surging oil prices. In partnership with the United States, it used its new wealth at home to launch a huge economic development program, and abroad to subsidize political allies like the Afghan mujahideen. The United States led a massive military operation to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1990–1991, protecting the Saudi regime but angering Saudis who opposed their government’s close relationship with the United States. One result was the rise of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network and the 9/11 attacks, carried out by a largely Saudi group of hijackers. Despite public opposition on both sides, after 2001 the United States and Saudi Arabia continued their commercial relationship and their political partnership, originally directed against the Soviet Union and Nasser’s Egypt, and later increasingly aimed at Iran.

Keywords: Saudi Arabia, United States, Aramco, oil, Middle East, oil crisis, Gulf War, 9/11

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