Can Saudi Arabia’s Aid Policy Pay Off?
In November 2015, Saudi Arabia pledged over $2 billion of aid to Sudan for its support to Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen and, more recently, the kingdom suspended over $3 billion of military aid to Lebanon’s army. These two actions illustrate Saudi Arabia’s attempt to utilize its economic power to shape regional political outcomes across the Arab world. But what are Riyadh’s objectives in Yemen and Lebanon? How does the kingdom use aid as a foreign policy tool?
Providing aid has enabled Saudi Arabia to accumulate soft power and to assert its image as a benevolent leader in the Arab and Muslim World. But ‘Riyal Politik’ alone may not help officials in Riyadh achieve their regional goals.
Saudi Arabia is a generous international donor. According to one study conducted by the Global Public Policy Institute, the country donated over $90 billion or 3.7 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) between 1975 and 2005. The same study found, however, that the Saudis lack an articulated and coherent aid policy.
Saudi foreign assistance comes in many forms. The first is humanitarian aid, which aims to provide immediate relief for crises. During the 2010 Pakistan floods, private and public Saudi donations exceeded $240 million. The second form is development aid, which invests in funding long-term poverty alleviation projects, including services and infrastructure. This includes projects to build roads, provide water and electricity in rural areas, and build medical and educational facilities. Although altruistic motives can drive both humanitarian and development aid, this foreign assistance undoubtedly factors into the soft-power aspects of Riyadh’s foreign policy.