It was only a matter of time. Give the growing challenges that besiege this Kingdom, bin Salman had to acquiesce to the challenge thrown down by Iran and achieve parity with the Shia. The House of Saud wants nuclear weapons and has asked South Korea, China, Russia and the American’s for bids. If we assist them, we have no credibility when we speak of proliferation. Somehow, sharing the neighborhood didn’t calculate how dominant Sunni’s would seek a regional predominance of power. Having Riyadh go nuclear complicates regional balances that have been underwritten by Washington since Truman. The American’s can no longer say they hold the center of gravity for emerging nuclear powers.
While Russia assists the Iranians with their nuclear ambitions, the Chinese do the same for North Korea. But the American’s and South Korean’s have assisted the United Arab Emirates finish their first nuclear reactor 137 miles from Abu Dhabi.
The House of Saud is gambling big, they seek 16 reactors at a cost of $80 billion. It wants enrichment, so it plans on denying export control laws called 123 agreement. These are clauses negotiated for tough safeguards on the export of spent fuel into plutonium or enriched uranium. The UAE agreed to 123, Riyadh isn’t.
What the Iranians agreed to do was mothball their centrifuges while processing both spent plutonium and enriched uranium without official inspections. The Iranians are keeping their technology and their sovereignty about inspections. Riyadh wants what the Iranians have.
Westinghouse is the only U.S. firm provisioning for the Saudi’s, but they have several other suitors. The Russian state firm Rosatom secured Egypt’s $21.3 billion dollar nuclear reactor. Jordan signed with the Russians in 2015 for an identical deal.
Prince bin Salman knows that diversification out from oil dependency remains a marketing ruse. The Kingdom spends about 465,000 barrels of oil per day on electricity, its a paltry amount that the Kingdom can afford. During periods of peak demand, the Saudi’s will need at least 120 gigawatt to fuel its growing demography; any nuclear plan that goes on line by 2030 will only provide a sixth of its need. bin Salman has ignored pleas for solar and natural gas, opting instead for nuclear power.
The world’s most volatile region is about to get more difficult. With Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan going nuclear, it will remain for these nation states to secure conventional means of deterrence after nuclear parity. This means returning to addressing core weaknesses in the Islamic polity: the nation state, political economy and demography. What the west can expect is a return to 19th century diplomacy.
They’ll need more than plutonium to secure the tenements of a functioning political economy. They’ll need Statesman. Is there an Islamic Golda Meir?