The limits of SPSP: deviant cases?

The different case studies all illuminate different aspects of the SPSP and present evidence of the effect of a monarchic peace. However, there are two episodes of intra-monarchic conflicts that merit an examination because both seem to pose challenges to the concept: the Saudi-Yemeni War of 1934, the only case of war among MENA monarchies in the 20th century, and the Qatar Crisis, ongoing since 2017. However, as the following chapter shows, instead of falsifying the theoretical framework, they instead confirm it and illuminate the validity of the scope conditions under which it operates. The war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen shows that a peace between monarchies can arise only if monarchy is a salient characteristic of states, because a "royal club" can develop only in that case. The Qatar Crisis on the other hand shows that although an existing monarchic ingroup does not eliminate conflict; ingroup-specific conflict-solving mechanisms keep it from escalating into war even during heated quarrels and a volatile regional climate.

The Saudi-Yemeni War 1934

The war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia was fought between two states with monarchic political systems. On first glance, this seems a prime example to disprove the SPSP theory. However, SPSP works only under the scope conditions of independent nation-state monarchies, which became true for most Middle Eastern monarchies only well after World War II. Although both countries were formally independent, they were not yet consolidated nation-states. Furthermore, an ingroup of monarchies can develop only once monarchy becomes a salient category for the self-identification of regimes. At that time, in between the world wars, monarchic salience was nonexistent, because all independent states in the region then were monarchies. One of the three conditioning factors for monarchic salience is whether monarchy is a minority of states or a decreasing share. Furthermore, not just the regional system but also the states were not yet consolidated, and imperial logic, instead of the logic of nation-states with their different handling of territory and borders, was entrenched. Saudi Arabia had just been declared two years prior, having had massively expanded its territory by raids, warfare, and tribal allegiance. The Yemeni imamate had a centuries-old history

The limits of SPSP 219 but was far from a modern nation-state monarchy. In fact, it was barely a state; rather, it operated on tribal allegiance basis instead of territorial demarcation. Its remote location and isolationist policies of the imam meant that it was behind the modernization that had just started in other Arab countries.1 The prewar negotiations illustrate this different logic in respect to borders: the Yemeni negotiator insisted that there was no need for territorial demarcation, because “the two countries were like one body” and "everything under God's hand was one”.2 The Saudis were not impressed by that reasoning, and war soon broke out (‘Uqab 2011, 56-57).

The scope conditions for SPSP were clearly not met. It is thus hardly surprising that the imam and the king did not recognize each other as equals. The probably apocryphal quote of Imam Yahya regarding Ibn Saud best illustrates the deep asymmetry and lack of mutual recognition between the two war parties: "Who is this Bedouin coming to challenge my family’s 900-year-long rule?” (quoted in: Orkaby 2015).

After the war, however, when territorial demarcation had been mostly accepted and the salience of monarchy rose with the rising republicanism, the two monarchies extended mutual recognition. When they consequently developed strong albeit wary relations, it was directly “attributed to the fact that both political systems were traditional and monarchical” (Zabarah 2001, 266). In support of this view. Zabarah cites the Saudi scholar Saeed Badeeb, who repeats the main assumptions of the SPSP framework almost verbatim:

The political system of a country is undoubtedly a major determinant in its foreign policy behavior. Accordingly, the more closely one country’s political system resembles that of another, the greater the degree of mutual understanding which can be expected between them. Conversely, as the differences between the political systems widen, so do their chances for misunderstanding.

(Badeeb 1986, quoted in: Zabarah 2001, 266)

When that political system was threatened for the first time by a coup attempt in 1948, Ibn Saud began supporting Imam Ahmad, whom he had strongly disliked and undermined before (Gause 1990, 58-59). The relations grew so close that Saudi Arabia even represented Yemen, where the latter had no diplomatic missions (Zabarah 2001, 266). Three decades after their war, Saudi Arabia intervened in the Yemeni Civil War on behalf of the Royalists. A monarchic ingroup identification had developed by then to an extent that instead of going to war against each other, Saudi Arabia went to war for the Imamate.

Although it was the common threat facing the ruler of a similar political system that drove the two together, the alliance before the civil war prevailed even in the face of strong differences and diverging interests. Yemen, a highly isolated monarchy on the periphery of the Arab world and the Middle East, initially played an ambivalent role in the bipolar confrontation, and Imam Ahmad had initially supported the UAR in 1958 - as he explained to King Saud, to avoid becoming a target of Nasser's ire. However, once he started criticizing Nasser’s economic policies as un-Islamic, this weak coalition broke down (Rogan and Aclimandos 2012, 156). The founding values inherent in Middle East monarchies proved incompatible with republicanism, and their differences in institutions and ideology developed to differences of opinion and, ultimately, opposition.

The war does not disprove the monarchic peace; instead, it emphasizes the important nuance that institutional commonality is no automatism for common identity. Perception of similarity is key, and this is predicated on the recognition of equality, as the Saudi-Hashemite case also showed.

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