Its Too Far Gone Now...
At least on the surface, the answer to why the West is incapable of doing anything about Saudi Arabia’s multitudinous human rights abuses is easy to answer. The House of Saud controls the worlds largest supply of oil, nearly a fifth of the world’s total supply of petroleum is in the sands of the Saudi Arabian desert (OPEC). They have exchanged this oil for a massive number of arms large arms deals, spending the third most in the world on its military, at 69.4 billion in 2017(Aljazeera). This famously incestuous relationship with the famously incestuous military industrial complex of the US has resulted then—it would seem—in a relationship that will persevere despite massive human rights abuses, such as those in Yemen (Al Jazeera). Their own state too is a brutally repressive one, ranking a painfully low 7/100 on the Freedom House scale, exemplified most recently by the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi (The Economist). Donald typified the current attitude among Western Leaders to Saudi Arabia: condemning the act, but calling Saudi Arabia a “great ally”.
This is about more than oil though. If it were, then greater sanctions would have been applied long ago.. However, in the ongoing fight against terrorism, Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as an ally in the region, despite anti-terrorism organizations like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) finding that it had not done enough in order to gain admittance into its organization. Therefore, the United States maintains good relations with them, as they provide a powerful ally in the Gulf to check other regional powers like Iran, and at least nominally provide support in combatting terrorism in the Middle East.
This all means that the West cannot push for anything more concrete on Saudi Arabia, as this would harm itself significantly. The implementation of human rights sanctions might provoke a global raising of oil prices by Saudi Arabia in return, and the cancelling of the lucrative weapons deals that Saudi Arabia now enjoys would also harm the jobs that such deals provide Moreover, a deteriorated relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West could lessen the incentive, which relies on oil wealth to provide a vast network of subsidies and government jobs(Hubbard) could plunge the region into turmoil which would only serve to destabilize the region even further. Without even the pretense of US support, conflicts in the region could become vastly more vicious.
This all presents a mess nearly impossible to unravel. The list of things that countries must do in order to be able to freely condemn Saudi Arabia is massive, they would need to: move away from petroleum to alternative sources of energy, create new and lasting partnerships to combat terrorism in the Middle East, create and maintain lucrative arms deals with other countries whose general record on human rights are similar to ones own and finally, avoid a total collapse of Saudi Arabia which would cause massive instability in the Middle East and plunge the region into crisis. That list, above all else is why nothing will ever change in our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Arnold, Tom. “Saudi Misses out on Joining Anti-Illicit Funding Body for Now.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 30 Sept. 2018,
“Key Facts about the War in Yemen.” Yemen News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 25 Mar. 2018, www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/key-facts-war-yemen-160607112342462.html.
“US, China and Saudi Arabia Top List of Military Spending.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 2 May 2018,
“Saudi Arabia Admits Jamal Khashoggi Is Dead.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 20 Oct. 2018,
“Saudi Arabia.” OPEC : Saudi Arabia, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries,
Hubbard, B. (2018). Young Saudis See Cushy Jobs Vanish Along With Nation’s Oil Wealth. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/17/world/middleeast/young-saudis-see-cushy-jobs-vanish-along-with-nations-oil-wealth.html [Accessed 14 Nov. 2018].