Saudi Arabia’s Military:
The Social Aspects of the Kingdom’s Armed Forces
For a land with such a long history of military conquests, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a relatively short one. Strategic movements by the House of Saud in the 1800s started the birth of the Kingdom, and the military has quickly transformed from a tribal militia to a regional super-power. However, Saudi Arabia is not without its faults. In this paper, I will paint a brief picture of where the Saudi military originated from and how it evolved into its current state. I will then address significant issues with manpower in the Saudi armed forces, the most critical failure of their military system. Plagued by a small population and nepotism, as well as other social factors, the Saudi military continues to struggle with manning. This section will segue way into an analysis of the Saudi military’s officer corps, focusing on their training and role in the military establishment, and the applicability of professionalism. This paper will then address the label of Moskos’ Institution-Occupation Model as it applies to Saudi Arabia, noting that the Saudi armed forces fall into a blend of the two categories. Lastly, this paper will address the post-modern trends of Saudi Arabia. Despite the Saudi military being small compared to other wealthy countries, the post-modern movement of the Saudi military is gaining strength. A Brief History of the Saudi Military
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 after Abd al-Aziz reconquered the Arabian Peninsula from the Ottoman Empire for the House of Saud. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, Abd al-Aziz slowly began taking control over the various tribes on the peninsula and seizing major cities that slowly came under the auspices of the House of Saud, first with Mecca, Medina, and the Najd tribes, and then Riyadh and the Rashid tribe. The British signed a treaty with the House of Saud and recognized the independence of the Saudis in 1914, and quickly began shipping arms and economic resources to them. Recognizing the importance of alliances and foreign aid, a recurring theme in Saudi military affairs, Abd Al-Aziz won over the support of the many Bedouin tribes by supplying them with land, seed, and tools. With the help of the Bedouin army (Ikhwan), Abd Al-Aziz recaptured the rest or the Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of Yemen and the British protectorates. Abd Al-Aziz was now faced with the task of leading his newly acquired population and land and aimed to modernize the state. He was met with violent resistance from the previously allied Ikhwan, for they saw the modernization of the House of Saud as a betrayal of Islamic values. At the Battle of Sabalah in 1930, Abd Al-Aziz marched his army towards the Ikhwan, with close air support from British planes, and eliminated the military force of the Bedouins. Soon after, warfare on the peninsula came to an end and Abd Al-Aziz made himself king. He then allowed the Ikhwan to regroup as a Bedouin militia, dubbed them the White Army for their insistence of wearing the traditional white robes (thobe) instead of uniforms, and utilized them as a counterbalance to his own military in order to secure his control over internal security. During World War II, Saudi Arabia remained mostly neutral. The United States made a strategic move in supporting the defense of Saudi Arabia to protect the vast oil reserves, thrusting the United States to the forefront of foreign influence in the kingdom, and subsequently ushering the British out of Saudi affairs. Post-World War II, Saudi Arabia found itself involved in embarrassing military situations, to include two wars with Israel, a failed assassination attempt of Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, and an intrusion by Egyptian aircraft that went unchallenged. Two events were wake-up calls for the Saudi regime to establish a reliable...