Values, Immigration, and the Saudi Alliance

Apr 10, 2018

This article was originally posted on the Ethics & International Affairs blog on April, 2018.

The value of immigration to U.S. national security and the question of whether shared values are necessary for alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia were questions addressed in two very interesting pieces which recently appeared in The Atlantic.

Kori Schake, who spoke with us about civil-military relations, reframes the immigration question not as one of moral imperatives or as a burden imposed on the body politic, but provides a new prism for thinking about immigration: enhancing U.S. national security. She focuses on "the extent to which America’s immigrant fabric can be a foreign-policy advantage, even a threat to other countries"–opening a new line of inquiry into one of the country's most dramatic divides in terms of domestic policy. This perspective deserves greater attention, particularly after the deployment of the National Guard to the Southern border and the reframing of migration as a military threat requiring the assistance of the Department of Defense–which itself raises additional civil-military issues.

Meanwhile, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaking with The Atlantic's editor Jeffrey Goldberg, hearkens to an older tradition in U.S. foreign policy that did not take as a prerequisite for alliance the existence of shared common values as well as a challenge to democratic peace theory that postulates that the most stable relations will be between democracies–and that non-democracies represent a security challenge. The prince was quite blunt: "We don't share values" and "Absolute monarchy is not a threat to any country." In other words, Saudi Arabia need not be a liberal democracy in order to partner with the United States and Mohammed bin Salman made it clear that Saudi Arabia has no plans, at the present time, to reshape itself into a more liberal democracy. He also rejected the view, dominant in the U.S. national security establishment since the end of the Cold War, that democracy is the preferred pathway to sustainable development, noting: "The end here is development, rights, and freedom. The way to get to it, and this is the American view, is democracy, but the way to get to it in Saudi Arabia is our more complex system."

Both of these pieces, in their own ways, challenge dominant assumptions in American political discourse–and the implications ought to be discussed further.

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