A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine – Nawaf Obaid

Published: May 28, 2014

Editor’s Note:

This morning a comprehensive doctrine for the defense of Saudi Arabia will be presented by Mr. Nawaf Obaid at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. SUSRIS is pleased to provide you this important work for your consideration. Here for your review is the description and introduction to the doctrine along with the slides from Mr. Obaid’s CSIS presentation and a link to the complete Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine. We begin with the preface from the work which provides Mr. Obaid’s description of the project.

This study posits what a Saudi Defense Doctrine (SDD) could offer to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as it navigates its new position as the regional Arab leader and a world power. The suggested military posture is based on the philosophical underpinnings of the German Schlieffen Plan of World War I and its theoretical scenario that allowed the contemporaneous German Empire to fight a war on two opposite fronts simultaneously. This SDD predicts that KSA might find itself in such a situation over the medium to long term. Thus, KSA’s military development should pri- oritize a deployment strategy across its large territory to address two potential concurrent conflicts and protect the homeland as it simultaneously safeguards strategic allies. In order to execute such a strategy, it is necessary to map out a plan for KSA’s military development and enhancement.

This assessment, presented solely as my own opinion as a scholar of strategic affairs, is an exercise in what could become years from now a white paper on strategic doctrine for KSA. It should in no way be construed as an official government paper, nor interpreted as the official opinion of the Saudi government or any of its affiliated agencies. 

In its presentation of Saudi defense capabilities and suggested strategic shifts, this document does not reveal any government confidential information nor does it use any specific current numbers on the Saudi military establishment. Instead, it proposes a realistic estimate of what KSA’s military capabilities could be within five years. These figures are based on the projected increase of defense obligations and expectations in the next five to ten years concomitant with the Kingdom’s new role and responsibilities in the international community.

While this strategic doctrine document does not include an estimated cost of the proposed militarization program, KSA has already committed over $150 billion to principles identical to those expressed in this doctrine. Of that $150 billion, $100 billion comes from programs involving US companies—a number expected to increase to about $250 billion over the next five years. It is clear the Saudi government has financially committed to the enhancement of KSA’s inevitable role and responsibility on the international scene.

KSA must access—and then accept—these new political, martial, and financial responsibilities if it wishes to consolidate its centrality on a global scale. This is not only essential in order to help the Saudi state develop and enhance its ability to adapt to the ever-changing political, security, and economic realities across the world. In addition, a realistic assessment of Saudi capabilities and a pronouncement of its potential, as seen from within, will help counter the widespread misconception that KSA is a fragile state with its future at the mercy of foreign powers. 

I hope that this assessment is just the first step in a much longer journey toward the understand- ing of KSA and its national security doctrine in this new world. I produced this assessment with the intention that it will generate debate and constructive criticism in order to progress the project from an initial paper into a full-fledged book-length white paper next year. Therefore, all feedback is welcome.

Nawaf Obaid is a Visiting Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs for 2013-2014. He is also a Senior Fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Currently, he is a Special Counselor to Prince Turki Al Faisal, who served as the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States and was the longtime Director of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency.

You can find more by and about Mr. Nawaf Obaid on SUSRIS. [Link]

SUSRIS thanks Mr. Obaid for permission to share “A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine” with you.

[Link to the complete “Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine.”]


A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine

Mapping the expanded force structure the Kingdom needs to lead the Arab world, stabilize the region, and meet its global responsibilities

Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

May 27, 2014

Author: Nawaf Obaid, Visiting Fellow, Belfer Center for

Science and International Affairs
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Defense and Intelligence

Far from being a fragile state, Saudi Arabia has in recent years consolidated its place as Arab leader, regional stabilizer, and critical bulwark against terrorism and a nuclear Iran. The Kingdom’s growing security responsibilities require rapid and substantial military investments. Nawaf Obaid, visiting fellow at the Belfer Center, outlines a comprehensive Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine and explains why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is likely to double down on defense and national security capabilities in the next five years.

Which threats worry the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia most?

Three main threats concern the Kingdom: regional instability, a revanchist and/or nuclear Iran, and terrorism. In terms of regional stability, KSA can and should take a leadership role in helping all so-called Arab Spring nations chart a path to civil order. In terms of Iran, KSA is greatly concerned with its disruptive and intrusive activities in other states as well as its nuclear ambitions. In terms of terrorism, KSA is committed to collaborating on the prevention of terrorist attacks anywhere in the world.

What’s the biggest misconception about KSA’s role in the Middle East?

The biggest misconception about KSA is that it is a passive, U.S.-dependent state that is not ready to expand upon and deploy its resources to assume an independent leadership role in bringing about peace and security among its neighbors. In fact, due to gradual Western disengagement from the Middle East, the Saudis realize they must – and fully intend to – take on various diplomatic and security initiatives of their own accord in order to serve as the primary stabilizing force in the region.

How big is the gap between KSA’s strategic objectives and its strategic capabilities?

KSA’s objectives and capabilities are still not well aligned. As it expands it regional and global role, the need for military investments will accelerate. This can be seen in themore than $150 billion currently dedicated to a revitalized Saudi defense system over the next five years, of which $100 billion is already engaged in partnerships with U.S. defense companies. This Defense Doctrine makes the case for major increases in military resources, including personnel growth of about 30% for the army, 35% for the national guard, 30% for the air defense and strategic missile forces, and 50% for the navy and the air force.

What implications does the defense doctrine have for KSA’s relations with Western allies?

While it can certainly be said that KSA is going its own way more than perhaps any time in its history – a fact accentuated by its recent choice to reject a UN Security Council Seat – this does not mean that its relations with Western allies are worsening. Saudi independence is good for KSA and for the West. Saudis are gradually taking on security responsibilities in the region previously assumed by the West, but the principles remain the same: stability, order, and peace. With its indigenous knowledge of the region, and role as the cradle of Islam, KSA is arguably better suited than the West to succeed in this mission.

To read the full report, see below:

Source: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs



[Link to the complete “Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine.”]

A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine

Nawaf Obaid


This proposal for a Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine (SDD) hopes to initiate an essential internal reform effort that responds to the shifting demands of today and the potential threats of tomorrow. In the last decade, the world has watched as regime changes, revolutions, and sectarian strife trans- formed the Middle East into an unrecognizable political arena plagued by instability, inefficiency, and failing states. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)—the Arab world’s central power and last remaining major Arab heavyweight on the international scene—has emerged as the ipso facto leader responsible for regional stability and development.

If the Kingdom is to consolidate its place as the regional Arab leader and help its neighbors fight for stability, it must be well organized and well prepared for the upcoming challenges it will face, both outside its borders and from within. KSA must revisit its own national defense and military strategies in order to institutionalize its defensive and strategic initiatives.

Therefore, this assessment proposes a Saudi Defense Doctrine—with a five-year implementation plan softened by a ten-year grace period—that will articulate its defensive doctrine, analyze its strategic goals, and identify potential military threats. This is a proactive SDD, responding to the shifting political arena—most specifically the decline of Western interventionism and the rise of Saudi leadership—in order to deliver two necessary objectives of survival and security: 1. to protect KSA against internal threats such as extremism and terrorism; and 2. to protect the Arab world from instability created by hegemonic politics, power struggles, and sectarian divides, thus maintaining order in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region.

In order to fulfill these necessary objectives, this doctrine outlines seven parallel goals to better structure the nation’s intent. The seven goals of the SDD are as follows:

1. Defend the homeland
2. Succeed in counterterrorism efforts
3. Bolster the defense of partner states
4. Prevail in power projection missions
5. Deter the spread of weapons of mass destruction
6. Establish two separate commands for cyberspace and space
7. Strengthen inter-agency partnerships

While all of these goals will require economic and political action, it is the defense efforts that will anchor its success. As such, this proposed SDD represents an initiative to strengthen Saudi military strategy to protect the country from internal as well as external threats and rebalance regional power dynamics in order to increase stability in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

This is the right moment for KSA to strengthen its defense design, and the necessity of an SDD only grows with time. KSA faces a complex, uncertain, and ever-changing regional landscape. The decline of Western power in the region, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the rise of technology and a new cyber-arena, and a series of sectarian divisions and extremism will continue to pose profound challenges to regional and international order.

It is paramount that KSA evolve with these changes and end 2014 with a revised outlook at its defense policies. With the influence of the U.S. and the main European powers slowly receding in the Middle East, KSA must adopt a Muslim-centric viewpoint and rise to the challenges of its region to accept responsibility as a strong and sustained state that can help achieve stability. KSA is the only Arab nation able to afford and sustain large-scale strategic and defense programs as well as stabilize regional unrest. As such, KSA faces an obligation to reform itself to fulfill its responsibility as the indispensable regional leader as well as the ultimate regional defender.

While this report offers suggestions to the state regarding the format, focus, and execution of such a strategic doctrine, it mostly hopes to initiate a debate on Saudi military strategies both at home and within the region. As such, constructive criticism of this work is not only accepted but encouraged, cradling the hope that collaboration and conversation will lead to the best proposal possible: one that could be officiated as the first comprehensive Saudi Defense Doctrine.

Source: A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine, by Nawaf Obaid

[Link to the complete “Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine.”]

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