Saudi Nuclear Bomb?

Via The Poor Man and Tacitus, I read a news story on UPI and Washington Times (both stories are by the same guy) about Pakistan helping Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have concluded a secret agreement on “nuclear cooperation” that will provide the Saudis with nuclear-weapons technology in exchange for cheap oil, according to a ranking Pakistani insider.

[…]”It will be vehemently denied by both countries,” said the Pakistani source, whose information has proven reliable for more than a decade, “but future events will confirm that Pakistan has agreed to provide [Saudi Arabia] with the wherewithal for a nuclear deterrent.”

As predicted, Saudi Arabia —- which has faced strong international suspicion for years that it was seeking a nuclear capability through Pakistan —- strongly denied the claim.

Prince Sultan was quoted in the Saudi newspaper Okaz yesterday saying that “no military agreements were concluded between the kingdom and Pakistan during [Prince Abdullah’s] visit to Islamabad.”

Mohammad Sadiq, deputy chief of mission for Pakistan’s embassy in Washington, also denied any nuclear deal was in the works. “That is totally incorrect,” he said in a telephone interview. “We have a clear policy: We will not export our nuclear expertise.

[…]The Saudi rulers, who are Sunni Muslims, are believed to have concluded that nothing will deter the Shi’ite Muslims who rule Iran from continuing their quest for a nuclear weapons capability.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is concerned about a recent arms agreement between India, its nuclear archrival, and Israel, a longtime nuclear power whose inventory is estimated at between 200 and 400 weapons.

[…]Iran and India, located on either side of Pakistan, have also signed a strategic agreement whose aim is regarded with suspicion in Islamabad.

[…]To counter what Pakistani and Saudi leaders regard as multiple regional threats, the two countries have decided to quietly move ahead with an exchange of free or cheap Saudi oil for Pakistani nuclear know-how, the Pakistani source said.

This is obviously hearsay with a single anonymous source talking to a not-so-reliable paper. So I’ll hold off on considering it anything more than an unsubstantiated rumor for now.

On the other hand, it is an interesting and important issue and it does make some sense based on the geopolitical situation in the Middle East. Consider the region from India to Israel. Pakistan, India and Israel already have nuclear weapons. Iran might be pursuing them as well. Relations between Iran and Pakistan have fluctuated quite a lot over the years. Nowadays, they are not on good terms and have been rivals for influence in Afghanistan for quite some time. There is also the Sunni-Shia troubles. Iran is alleged to support some Shia groups in Pakistan. For example, the followers of militant Sunni Azam Tariq of Sipah-e-Sahabah allege that Iran was behind his assassination. In addition, relations between Iran and India have been good recently. Pakistan probably wouldn’t want to be sandwiched between two hostile (though in different ways) nuclear-armed countries. Also, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been trying to counter each other for quite some time.

Aside: The above logic is also why I didn’t believe the Pakistan-Iran nuclear cooperation stories that were in the news recently.

Regarding nuclear proliferation, I think we are going to see a few more nuclear countries in the next decade or two and not just in the Middle East or in conflict zones. Nuclear weapons give prestige and make the country a bigger regional power. So we might see a few African and Latin American countries go nuclear as well. The idea that current nonproliferation policies are going to prevent acquisition of nuclear weapons is dead wrong. The current system is inherently unstable and acquisition of nuclear weapons is widely popular in a lot of countries that aspire to be regional powers.

Looking at the issue from the self-interest perspective of an aspiring nuclear country, why shouldn’t they get nuclear weapons when other countries have them? The nuclear option will give them prestige and power and will deter other countries, including those with nuclear weapons, from messing with them. From our perspective in a nuclear-armed state, it is bad. From a human perspective, it is worse as it’ll lead to a very unsafe world. I don’t believe that nuclear weapons are never-use weapons. There is a small probability that someone will use them. As the number of nuclear countries increases, so does that probability.

So what do we do? The nuclear genie has been out for more than 50 years now. We can’t just put it back in the bottle or wish it to disappear. For better or worse, nuclear weapons are here to stay. I think it’ll be a difficult going but we have only one option. Work on disarmament of current members of the nuclear club as much as possible and try to reduce the number of states seeking nuclear weaponry. That is why the concepts of international law, cooperation between states and collective security are so important. They are the only way to keep the world safe from nuclear war.

UPDATE: Via Talking Points Memo, The Nelson Report says that this story is bogus.

This is one of those “famous last words” risks … but … reliable sources in Washington (including Capitol Hill, professional Middle East watchers, and fellow journalists) all say that the “Pakistan/Saudi nuclear weapons” story being passed around by UPI, The Washington Times, and by the head of Israeli intelligence in testimony to the Knesset, is false. Sexy as hell, but false.

— several sources note the “coincidence” that the stories come barely one day after the EU, Iran and Russia reached separate but interlocking agreements which offer real hope of defusing the Iran nuclear weapons crisis before it gets out of hand.

UPDATE II: Here’s what the US State department said in the daily press briefing:

As far as the reports that you’ve mentioned, we’ve seen them, we’ve seen the allegations. We have not seen, however, any information to substantiate what would seem to us to be rather bald assertions. We are confident that Pakistan clearly understands our concerns regarding proliferation of nuclear technology, and we would also note that Saudi Arabia is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, under which it has agreed not to obtain nuclear weapons.

Dawn has quotes from the State department as well as Pakistani and Saudi officials.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer