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Keeping Saudi Arabia Nuclear-Free

Viewpoint by Joseph Gerson

Photo: Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 16, 2018. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/Public Domain]

The writer is President of the Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security and author of ‘Empire and the Bomb’.

NEW YORK (IDN) – There is growing concern over the ruthless Crown Prince’s campaign to purchase $80 billion of U.S. nuclear power plant designs and technologies from the U.S. and his reported insistence on producing Saudi Arabia’s own nuclear fuel – a potential path to nuclear weapons development.

Concerns that Saudi Arabia aspires to become a nuclear power need to be seen in the larger context of the dangerous ambitions and delusions of power hungry elites, nuclear and otherwise.

For years rumors have abounded that Saudi Arabia had ambitions to join the nuclear powers. Yet, evidence has been lacking. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ambition to transform his kingdom’s economic dependence on production and export of oil to a 21st century post-industrial dynamo has its logic.

Yet, with advances in solar power technologies, it is difficult to see a benign logic to sun-drenched Saudi Arabia planning massive investments to generate nuclear power.

Unfortunately, there is a tragic logic to such a course.

One driving force is the historic tensions and competing regional hegemonic ambitions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These, in turn, are rooted in the more than millennium-old struggle between Sunni and Shiite Islam.

(Such religious tensions, which have led to violence and catastrophe wars, are hardly unique to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Think in terms of the Thirty Years War between Protestantism and Catholicism, or the Catholic vs. Orthodox tensions that fueled the more recent collapse of Yugoslavia.)

While these Saudi-Iranian tensions may continue into the indefinite future, the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran should have removed the nuclear dimension of the competition.

With the Trump/Bolton/Pompeo violation of the Iran deal and their commitment to regime change in Iran in the cause of reconstituted U.S. Middle East hegemony, the Islamic Republic of Iran has threatened to increase the number of cyclotrons enriching uranium, which would contribute to pursuit of near-nuclear weapons capability and possibly worse.

Saudi Arabia’s functional absolute ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has warned that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will follow suit. And, what better method to prepare the way than building nuclear power plants, to enrich their own nuclear fuel, and to do so with the support and blessing of the misguided American superpower?

The skids of a Saudi Arabian path to nuclear weapons capability have been further greased by Trump’s stated endorsement of nuclear weapons proliferation. If, as Trump has said, Japan and South Korea “may need to develop nuclear weapons”, why not Saudi Arabia or any other number of nations?

As Mohammed bin Salman and much of the world have learned from Trump’s defense of Adnan Khashoggi’s murderers and his new-found tolerance of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the American Bully is no more than an ignorant and greedy coward.

He certainly won’t want to lose the $80 billion and geostrategic advantage that would come if France, China, Russia or Britain sold their nuclear know how to the desert kingdom instead of Westinghouse and its subsidiaries raking in the profits.

And, who can image Secretary of Energy Rick Perry standing in the way of possible nuclear weapons proliferation when the Texan didn’t even know that the agency had been chosen to lead is responsible for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Add to the forces encouraging Saudi Arabia in the direction of developing nuclear weapons capacity, the history of U.S. tolerance of and diplomatic protection for Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Dating as far back as the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, domestic political calculations and geostrategic considerations have led successive presidents to turn blind eyes in the direction of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

More, despite its 1995 pledge to co-convene a conference to develop a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in order to win indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the U.S. has refused to fulfill this commitment.

In 2015, despite its ostensible commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world, the Obama Administration sabotaged a successful outcome of the NPT Review Conference by refusing to agree to a date for the promised conference. Thus, international respect for the seminally important NPT Treaty was further undermined.

The NPT had already been weakened by the hypocrisies of the nuclear powers practice of do what I say not what I do. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei spoke for much of the world when he denounced the nuclear powers’ double standard and warned that the vast majority of the world’s nations would not long tolerate.

This contradicts their now 46-year-old NPT obligation to engage in “good faith” negotiations for the complete elimination of the five original nuclear powers’ nuclear arsenals, and the 1996 International Court of Justice’s reiteration of that obligation, each of the nuclear powers has prepared and or threatened to initiate nuclear war at least once to protect what they termed their “vital interests.

And all are now engaged in increasingly unrestricted and dangerous nuclear arms races, with the U.S. leading the pack with its $1.7 trillion commitment to building a new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

The reality is, as former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned, “there are no good hands for nuclear weapons.” And there are, of course, alternatives to encouraging and making possible a Saudi path to nuclear genocide or omnicide. Among them:

  • Domestic and international political and diplomatic pressure to force Trump to reverse course and honor the JCPOA P5+1 agreement with Iran. This would not be the first time the naked would be Emperor has changed his mind.
  • Agreement among the nuclear powers not to sell nuclear power plant designs or technology to Saudi Arabia, and certainly not if it insists on enriching its own fuel
  • Great power commitments to increase global security and providing the model of Common Security diplomacy

Credible commitments by the U.S. and other nuclear powers to fulfill the NPT’s Article VI nuclear disarmament obligations, beginning with U.S. reaffirmation of the INF Treaty and extension of the New START Treaty and U.S., Russian and Chinese commitments to halt and reverse their nuclear weapons “modernizations.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 November 2018]

Photo: Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 16, 2018. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/Public Domain]

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate.

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