The regional arms race has begun

Obama’s actions have set in motion an arms race that is gaining steam.

March 24, 2015 21:36
4 minute read.
ROYAL SAUDI Air Force jets fly in formation.

ROYAL SAUDI Air Force jets fly in formation during a graduation ceremony for air force officers at King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh in January.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One of the primary concerns voiced over the deal-in-themaking with Iran has long been that leaving the Islamic Republic with its atomic infrastructure intact – thereby solidifying its nuclear threshold status – would trigger a dangerous arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

To the detriment of global security, this warning, which was not heeded, is now materializing.

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Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia and South Korea announced a multi-billion- dollar deal that will see two power plants built in the kingdom over the next two decades. Overall, Saudi Arabia has plans to build as many as 16 reactors by 2032. According to The Wall Street Journal, the agreement “rais[ed] concerns on Capitol Hill and among US allies that a deal with Iran, rather than stanching the spread of nuclear technologies, risks fueling it.”

In fact, Riyadh has warned that it will seek to match the nuclear capabilities Iran is allowed to maintain as part of any final agreement reached with world powers. Speaking to the BBC last week, Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal, a senior member of the royal family and former intelligence chief, was explicit: “I’ve always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same. So if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that. The whole world will be an open door to go that route without any inhibition.”

Specifically, the Wall Street Journal cited Saudi Arabia’s military alliance with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with a history of proliferation. Previous reports have alleged that Riyadh already has paid-for nukes stationed in Islamabad.

As regards conventional weapons, the release of the annual Global Defense Trade Report shows that the Saudis have become the world’s largest arms importer; overtaking India with more than $6.4 billion spent in 2014, an increase of 54 percent over the previous year. The study forecasted a further increase of 52% in 2015, to $9.8b.

A co-author of the report cited “an escalation of regional tensions in the Middle East” as one of the reasons for the military build-up.

News out of Saudi Arabia was preceded in February by the announcement that Cairo and Moscow had signed a preliminary deal that would see Russia, in President Valdimir Putin’s words, build “a whole new nuclear power industry” in Egypt. President Abdel Fattah Sisi confirmed the signing of “a memorandum of understanding to build [a] first nuclear plant in El-Dabaa,” with Russia providing staff and scientific research.

Egypt’s re-entry into Russia’s orbit follows the breakdown in relations with the US due to the Obama administration’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, now designated by Cairo as a terrorist organization. An impotent White House said it would not oppose the nuclear deal with Moscow so long as Cairo meets its “obligations.”

For its part, Egypt too has been spending freely to upgrade its military; this, despite Sisi admitting earlier this month at a summit that the country needs some $200b. to keep the economy afloat. Nevertheless, Cairo formalized in February an arms deal with Russia worth at least $2b., and also minted a major agreement to purchase 24 French-made Rafale fighter jets.

The regional trend applies to Jordan as well, which in December signed an accord which will see Russia build Amman its first nuclear power plant, expected to be operational by 2024.

For their part, both the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are ahead of the curve. The UAE has a $20b. contract with a South Korean consortium to build four nuclear reactors by 2020 at Barakah, two of which are already in construction. Ankara, meanwhile, is set to begin building – in conjunction with Russian company Rosatom – its first nuclear plant in Akkuyu as early as this summer. Turkey has plans to complete three such facilities by 2023.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Sudan are all, to various degrees, pursuing nuclear energy programs. It is no coincidence that all of the countries mentioned are majority Sunni; threatened by the prospect of Shi’ite Iran obtaining the bomb, they have launched their own atomic programs as a counter-measure.

Much of this traces back to US President Barack Obama’s appeasement of the mullahs and his acceptance of their ongoing nuclear transgressions.

Through his effective legitimization of Iran as a nuclear threshold state, Obama has made a mockery of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as more than a half-dozen legally binding United Nations resolutions which prevent the Islamic Republic from enriching uranium, among numerous other illicit atomic activities.

It is painfully ironic that Obama burst onto the scene promising to reduce existing nuclear arsenals and to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a major impetus for his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In fact, only three months after assuming the presidency, Obama began work on the New START treaty as part of his now failed “reset” in relations with Russia. Signed in April 2010 and ratified a year later, the bilateral accord was crafted with a view to reducing the former Cold War protagonists’ strategic nuclear stockpiles.

A handful of years later, Moscow is sharing nuclear technology throughout the Middle East, including in Iran, where the Bushehr nuclear reactor in already online.

Clearly, Obama’s actions have had the exact opposite of their intended effect: His courtship of Tehran and general geopolitical naiveté have set in motion an arms race that is gaining steam; one which will inevitably have dire consequences for the world as a whole.

The author is an editor at i24news, an international network based in Israel.

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