It would be far-fetched to des cribe the United States and Britain's long-term relationship with Saudi Arabia as a love affair, although the elements of romance, blind infatuation and lustful mutual gratification have never been entirely absent. But what has become painfully clear from the furious row over the sycophantic official reaction in Washington and London to the death, this month, of King Abdullah is how much the relationship has changed, at least on the West's side of the bed. As is common in such awkward situations, the outward trappings of the relationship appear undisturbed, for now at least, as shown by Barack Obama's homage to Abdullah in Riyadh on Tuesday. But the ties that bind are shredding. In reality, the magic and the meaning have fled. In fact, the whole unreformed Saudi-West situation grows ever more embarrassing - and is thus ever less likely to endure intact. Intent on offering his condolences and meeting Abdullah's successor in person, Obama led an exceptionally high-powered delegation to Riyadh that included former secretaries of state, past presidential candidates and senior military commanders. Britain had already sent David Cameron and Prince Charles. Yet when asked to justify this level of attention and, for example, the flying of flags at half mast on government buildings, Downing Street was hard put to explain its stance. Saudi Arabia was an important ally and economic partner came the muttered reply from No 10, and others. This kneejerk diplomatic kowtowing, embedded in the thinking of a cold war, 1980s world that no longer exists, looks increasingly anachronistic and warrants close scrutiny. All the main policy planks underpinning the Saudi relationship are, more or less, under challenge. Take oil, Saudi Arabia's economic lifeline, and the main reason it has been so assiduously courted in the past. Saudi remains the world's biggest oil producer and exporter, and the country with the largest proven reserves. It leads the mainly Middle Eastern, 12-member Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel and has unique influence over the global oil price. But times have changed - as has the geopolitical power balance. Saudi Arabia's refusal to cut oil production last year is a principal reason for the current, dramatic fall in prices. Riyadh appeared to be trying to undermine shale-oil production in the US, which was reducing its export earnings. But the ploy did not work. According to Citibank, shale oil and new Arctic oilfields may see US production doubling to 14.2 million barrels per day by 2020. That could leave the US free to become a net exporter, to the tune of 4.7 million barrels per day of oil and liquefied natural gas. The current US need to import 2 million barrels per day, much of it from Saudi Arabia, may soon simply evaporate. In short, it is very possible the West will just not need the Saudis any more. Away from commodity prices, increased Western focus on human rights around the world, combined with the greater transparency forced on the kingdom by the globalisation and enhanced reach of conventional, digital and social media, has placed the Saudi record under unprecedented scrutiny. Riyadh must endure unceasing bad publicity about cases such as that of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes, and the recent street beheading of a Burmese woman. Public pressure means Western governments are forced to take notice of these concerns in new ways. Lack of women's rights is another hot topic, previously skated over, but no longer possible for US and British politicians to ignore. The relationship with the West has survived several wars between Israelis and Arabs, in Afghanistan and in Iraq (twice); the chilling predominance of Saudi nationals in the September 11 attacks and the rise of al-Qaeda; serious bribery and corruption scandals and diplomatic rifts; recurring oil crises; deepening concern over Saudi funding for extremist religious teaching and its links to terrorism; escalating rows about egregious human rights abuses and the repression of women and, most recently, the Syrian calamity and the ascendancy of the black-shirted head-cutters of Islamic State . But it has survived at what cost? For many in Britain and the US, the rationale binding Western interests so closely to the Saudi state is no longer obvious, persuasive, welcome or easily justified. Writing days before Abdullah's death, the American author Stephen Kinzer warned that the basis of the West's relationship with the Saudi regime was shifting in fundamental ways, while Saudi Arabia's position in a region beset by insurrection and civil war was ever less secure. "The most intriguing candidate for collapse is Saudi Arabia," Kinzer wrote. "For more than half a century, Saudi leaders manipulated the United States by feeding our oil addiction, lavishing money on politicians, helping to finance American wars and buying billions of dollars in weaponry from US companies. Now the sand is beginning to shift under their feet. "After [King Salman, Abdullah's successor, departs the scene], a power struggle within the royal family is likely. No one can say how intense or violent it might become, but the prospect of crisis comes at an especially bad time. The region is afire, and oil prices are plummeting. It would be foolish to bet that Saudi Arabia will exist in its current form a generation from now." The growing gulf between Saudi Arabia and its more sceptical Western partners is nowhere more apparent than in the key area of security and defence cooperation, upon which the relationship was founded in 1915. The West has long viewed the Saudis as a pillar of stability in an unruly region. But it was the Saudis, who - encouraged by the US - funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan in their fight against Soviet occupation. But it was also the conservative Wahhabi Sunni Muslim establishment and their oil-rich billionaire supporters who went on to channel cash and arms to what morphed into the Taliban and whose intolerant and anti-Western views laid the ideological ground for the creation of al-Qaeda, led by a Saudi citizen, Osama bin Laden. According to regional and American reports, the Saudis also helped create IS in Syria and Iraq, again by funnelling arms and cash. It was the unelected, despotic Saudi regime that, terrified by the implications of the Arab spring, opposed pro-democracy movements in Egypt and elsewhere, and energetically assisted in the brutal suppression of Shia Muslim reformers in Bahrain. And it is the Saudis who now, in improbable alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel, lobby most forcefully against any American nuclear deal, or broader Western rapprochement, with Shia Iran, their sworn enemy. In Britain and other Western countries a sea change is under way with which governmental authorities have yet to catch up. What was tolerable or ignorable 30 years ago is no longer so. Happily, attitudes in British society, especially on individual rights, have shifted. Unhappily, in Saudi Arabia, they have not - not yet. But change there, too, is inescapable. The medieval game of thrones that is the absolutist Saudi system cannot endure.