Saudi Arabia has threatened to spark a new kind of nuclear arms race in the Middle East, setting out a bullish stance ahead of a rare, high-profile meeting of the US and its Gulf allies at Camp David.It is revealing that Saudi Arabia was never this concerned about Israel's nuclear weapons program.
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According to the New York Times, one Arab leader who is preparing to meet Mr Obama today has said: “We can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research.”
And while the figure behind this claim asked to remain anonymous until he had put it directly to the President, the Times said it was the same message as that touted by former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal, who said in South Korea recently: “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too.”
It sets up the prospect of a new kind of arms race between the Middle East’s various parties – the implication being that if Iran is to be left to its nuclear programme, why shouldn’t Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE?
The Gulf leaders are concerned that the White House’s nuclear deal with Tehran, instead of limiting the threat posed by that state, will allow Iran to grow into a dangerously destabilising force in the region.
In any event, some aren't convinced that the Iran deal with lead to nuclear proliferation. Citing an article by Jessica C. Varnum at World Politics Review (behind a paywall), Daniel Larison contends that the lack of nuclear know-how will prevent Saudi Arabia and others from pursuing their own weapons programs, and that claims of pursuing a nuclear weapons program is merely empty rhetoric. The key reasons for Varnum's and Larison's opinion is that Saudi Arabia and other Middle-East countries will have to go to a country like Russia or South Korea for nuclear technology and assistance building nuclear power plants, but those nations, in turn, have treaty obligations that will restrict them assisting in the development of nuclear weapons programs.
Of course, that is the path that Iran initially followed--obtaining assistance from the Soviet Union and Russia to build the power plants, then building the necessary infrastructure and knowledge base to refine the nuclear materials and design a bomb. So, Varnum's and Larison's arguments aren't that it cannot be done, but that it cannot be done in time.
The problem with the foregoing theory is that the nations from which Saudi Arabia seeks assistance will comply with their treaty obligations, or that Saudi Arabia might not be able to obtain assistance from a nation (Israel) with nuclear weapons, but not bound by non-proliferation treaties.