Them vs Us - The ontological significance of identity and (in)security in the Cold Conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för globala studier

Abstract: In recent years, identity has become increasingly important within the field of International Relations and in studies of conflict. This has led to the widening of the field with the help of perspectives from the field of Psychology, and the emergence of ontological security theory (OST) where identity is a centrality. Originally, OST was applied on the individual-level but more recently, International Relations scholars have in different ways applied it to nation-states, groups and alike. In this study, the Cold Conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will be the subject of research with the help of OST. Since the two states value their identities and incorporate them in their governments’ foreign and domestic policy through narratives and actions, OST will be used to help shed new light on this conflict and the security dilemma between the two states. The meaning of Cold Conflict in this context is that the two states yet have not, to a certain degree, directly engaged in or declared war with each other. The wars that are currently taking place in different countries in the Middle East can be traced back to Saudi Arabia and Iran, leading to the claim that these two regional powers are engaging in proxy wars for regional dominance in countries within the region. Saudi Arabia, as the government and by its state-officials, identifies itself as a powerful kingdom and the leader of the Muslim world. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran emerged as an Islamic Republic and presented itself as a leader of Muslims while seeking regional leadership, tensions sparked between the two powers. This conflict can be linked to the sectarian wars within the region since the government of Saudi Arabia identifies as Sunni and the government of Iran as Shia and both states legitimize their foreign policy actions through narratives in which they use identity. The purpose of this study is to better understand how identity correlates with (in)security in this conflict, by applying OST to study the narratives and actions, of state-officials and leaders, that reflect the identities of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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