United States, Saudi Arabia, human rights, soft power, hard power


International Relations


Thomas Walker


The controversial state of Saudi Arabia lies at the forefront of American foreign policy debate. This article examines how and why the United States supports a country that frequently abuses human rights, and how power is involved in that decision. The most frequent reasons used are that Saudi Arabia affords the United States economic hard power (i.e. the ability to coerce others) as a trading partner, and that it acts as a strategic counterbalance to Iranian influence in the Middle East. I find that while this is likely true, it also implicates the United States in almost every violation of human rights by Saudi Arabia. This has made the United States look unwilling or unable to live up to the ideals that make it attractive to others. In doing so, it has become less preferable, especially in the Middle East, to “be American”. This points to a decrease in the United States’ soft power, or its ability to persuade others into doing what it wants them to do.