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Understanding the role of state identity in foreign policy decision-making: the rise of Saudi-Iranian rapprochement (1997-2009)

Al Toraifi, Adel (2012) Understanding the role of state identity in foreign policy decision-making: the rise of Saudi-Iranian rapprochement (1997-2009). PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The objective of the thesis is to study the concept of state identity and its role in foreign policy decision-making through a constructivist analysis, with particular focus on the Saudi–Iranian rapprochement of 1997. While there has been a recent growth in the study of ideational factors and their effects on foreign policy in the Gulf, state identity remains understudied within mainstream International Relations (IR), Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA), and even Middle Eastern studies literature, despite its importance and manifestation in the region’s foreign policy discourses. The aim is to challenge purely realist and power-based explanations that have dominated the discourse on Middle Eastern foreign policy—and in particular, the examination of Saudi–Iranian relations. Saudi Arabia and Iran have played key roles in Gulf security for the past four decades, yet there have been few studies addressing their bilateral relations. Traditionally, differences—including sectarianism, nationalism, revolutionary ideology, competition over regional hegemony, oil prices, policy towards US military presence in the Gulf, and disagreements over the hajj—are often cited as reasons for their rivalry, yet these differences do not on their own offer a convincingly clear explanation as to why the rapprochement took place at that particular time, or why it thrived—and subsequently declined—despite the continuing presence of these issues. The primary purpose of the thesis is to analyse and understand the reasons behind the rise and demise of the Saudi–Iranian rapprochement of 1997. By focusing on ideational and materialist factors, the thesis seeks to demonstrate how changes in state identity—particularly in the official foreign policy discourse—indicates changes in policy, and therefore a shift in the amity–enmity pattern between the two states. Without discarding the value of realist explanations, the thesis will argue that the rapprochement process of 1997 has been significantly (though not exclusively) influenced by changes in state identity in each state. Moreover, this thesis provides a theoretical framework based on the concept of state identity and role theory (“self versus other”) to study the evolution of enmity, the rise of the rapprochement process during the Khatami presidency (1997–2005), and the subsequent revival of Saudi–Iranian rivalry during President Ahmadinejad’s first term (2005–2009). The main argument of this thesis is that ideational and materialist factors were instrumental in the demise of the rapprochement process, but the change in Iran’s state identity during the first term of President Ahmadinejad altered the perception of each state towards the other. Thus, the relationship transformed from a state of relative friendliness to a state of enmity and rivalry. This is explained by examining the muqawama–mumana’a discourse and the “moderates” versus “radicals” debate that consumed the narrative of Saudi–Iranian relations between 2005 and 2009. The methods employed in answering these research questions and hypotheses are largely structured around a chronological account of the development and formation of state identities and an analysis of each state’s foreign policy discourse during the period in question. This will be supplemented by qualitative interviews with individuals who participated in the rapprochement process, and will draw upon new archival material that has hitherto not been utilised in the literature on this subject.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Adel Al Toraifi
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Dalacoura, Katerina

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