When Saudi Arabia goes nuclear

The Saudis realize that developing a nuclear industry may be good energy policy, but it is also good foreign policy.

April 29, 2010 00:24
3 minute read.
When Saudi Arabia goes nuclear

michael freund 88. (photo credit: )

Last week, a news item appeared which should send a shiver down the spine of anyone concerned about the future of the Middle East. In a story out of Riyadh, the official Saudi Press Agency announced that the kingdom has decided to go nuclear.

That’s right. The same country which boycotts Israel, finances the spread of radical Islamist fundamentalism worldwide and, less than a decade ago, spawned 15 of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks, now plans to develop nuclear technology.

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According to the report, the Saudi regime will open a new center, dubbed the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy, ostensibly because of “sustained growth in demand for power and desalinated water due to high population growth and subsidized prices of water and power.”

In other words, the Saudis are insisting that their motivation is entirely peaceful.

But it’s hard to take such claims seriously. After all, according to the US Energy Information Administration, Saudi Arabia has some 264 billion barrels of oil reserves, which amounts to “around one-fifth of proven, conventional world oil reserves.” In addition, it maintains “the world’s largest crude oil production capacity,” estimated at some 11 to 12 million barrels a day.

So it is not as if Saudi citizens are in danger of having to dim the lights.

Clearly, Riyadh is casting a wary eye northward, watching nervously as Teheran sprints virtually unhindered toward the nuclear finish line.

The Saudis realize that developing a nuclear industry may be good energy policy, but it is also good foreign policy, especially when Washington appears to be asleep at the switch.

IN THIS respect, the Saudis are not alone. Gulf Arab states, which traditionally view Iran with suspicion, are naturally terrified at the prospect of the ayatollahs having their finger on the button, so an increasing number have begun to plunge down the path toward nuclear know-how.

Earlier this month, oil-rich Kuwait signed a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with France. And last week, the United Arab Emirates’ Nuclear Energy Corporation announced that it has chosen a site to construct the country’s first nuclear power station, which will go on-line within seven years. Other Arab states, such as Egypt and Qatar, have also declared an interest in developing nuclear technology and infrastructure.

And at a conference in Paris last month, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal Mekdad said Damascus is looking at “alternative energy sources, including nuclear energy.” He insisted that “the peaceful application of nuclear energy should not be monopolized by the few that own this technology but should be available to all.”

And so we have all the makings of a region-wide proliferation of nuclear know-how. Of course, all the countries involved have adamantly maintained that they are only seeking to split atoms for “peaceful purposes” and that they have no military aims in mind. But can we really rely on the assurances of an array of Middle Eastern dictators and despots?

I don’t know about you, but the thought of the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia or the Kuwaiti royal family going nuclear just doesn’t help me sleep at night.

This dreadful scenario is a direct result of Washington’s mishandling of Iran’s atomic ambitions, first under George W. Bush and now under Barack Obama. By allowing Teheran to proceed apace across the nuclear threshold, Washington has unwittingly created the conditions for a nuclear arms race that will destabilize the entire Middle East.

The lack of American will to confront the ayatollahs and stop them in their tracks has given various Arab leaders plenty of incentive, as well as a good excuse, to proceed down the nuclear trail. Indeed, it may already be too late to prevent this trend from spreading, as contracts are signed and checks cashed.

But in any event, it is time that Washington realize the damage it is doing to its own interests, as well as to its allies, by allowing Iran to continue its mad dash to build nuclear weapons. If the Iranians aren’t stopped, and soon, we may wake up a few years from now to discover that Saudi Arabia and other unfriendly regimes have decided to upgrade their “civilian” nuclear programs into weapons-making industries.

Like it or not, the only way to prevent this is to remove the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. It should be clear to anyone who wishes to see: The sooner the tyrant of Teheran is stopped, the safer all of us will be.

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