|Saudi Arabia's nuclear
By Stephen Blank
The war against Saddam Hussein, along with the
current crises involving North Korea and Iran's
nuclear activities, underscore the centrality of the issue
of nuclear proliferation in today's politics.
Many governments, not just the United States,
have concentrated on the danger of terrorists or of
states who sponsor them getting hold of nuclear weapons.
However, apparently defying
those international concerns, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are now
reported to have arranged a deal by which Pakistan will provide
Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology in return for
cheap oil. The US-based Defense and Foreign Affairs
Daily even goes so far as to say that Pakistan will
station nuclear weapons on Saudi territory. These
weapons will be fitted to a new generation of
Chinese-supplied long-range missiles with a reach of
4,000 to 5,000 kilometers.
There are numerous
motives for this deal, as reported by different sources.
In the Saudi case there is evidently growing
disengagement with Washington due to the "war on
terrorism" and the war on Iraq. These events have
created an atmosphere where Saudi elites evidently feel
less inclined to rely on American protection in the face
of regional threats, specifically the likelihood of an
Iranian nuclear weapon. They also see no pressure from
Washington being directed against Israel's nuclear
arsenal, even though there is no sign or even
consideration of an attack on Saudi Arabia. They also
clearly resent the evidence of a Saudi connection to
al-Qaeda and accusations against them of less than
wholehearted cooperation with Washington and other
Western capitals in efforts to break up al-Qaeda and its
source of financing.
At the same time, Saudi
Arabia has refused to stop supporting the financing of
Palestinian terrorism, even as its officials and elites'
ties through various intermediary organizations to
al-Qaeda remain a source of anxiety to Western and
Israeli officials. Nor is it only Pakistan that Saudi
Arabia might use as a source for nuclear weapons.
Speculation by Jane's that Saudi Prince Abdullah's
recent visit to Moscow might indicate an interest in
arms trading with Russia, and it also raised the
possibility of Saudi Arabia buying an entire weapon
rather than technology.
Pakistan's fears of an
Israeli-Indian alliance are well known and out in the
open. As India is reported to have some 200-400 nuclear
weapons, Pakistan is seeking equalizers to deter India,
and weapons located outside India's targeting reach
offer that possibility. At the same time, because its
other oil sources are located in areas that might be
unreliable, like the Gulf or Central Asia, a deal with
Saudi Arabia eases fears of an energy boycott or
blockade in time of crisis.
consideration is that a possible Saudi nuclear deterrent
might also check Iran, with whom Pakistan has issues,
especially over Afghanistan. Thus, a possible
Riyadh-Islamabad axis would offer those two capitals,
both of which continue to sponsor terrorism in Palestine
and Kashmir respectively, a way to check India and its
allies or partners, Iran and Israel.
both governments have firmly denied these allegations of
nuclear cooperation, the explosion of reports from
different sources in the US and Europe, many allegedly
based on sources with access to these governments,
appears to have some basis in reality.
Reportedly, President George W Bush and Deputy
Secretary of State Richard Armitage have confronted
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and other
officials about these reports. Certainly, if they
possess any element of truth, the news would represent a
further escalation of the proliferation threat, but this
time it would be clear that one is dealing with states
which sponsor terrorism as proliferators.
Obviously, that kind of transformation of the
proliferation situation raises the possibility of
several more crises in different regions of the world,
all of which could occur in relatively simultaneous
fashion and which would all involve the linked threats
of either terrorists with access to nuclear weapons or
states possessing those weapons which extend their
protection and deterrence to those terrorists.
Furthermore, there are still more
considerations. If one looks at the history of
Pakistan's nuclear program there immediately arises the
issue of Pakistan's widely-reported assistance to North
Korea, which at the same time is apparently
proliferating missiles all over the Middle East. Adding
Saudi Arabia to this chain of proliferators only extends
the process of secondary or tertiary proliferation by
which new nuclear powers assist other nuclear "wannabes"
to reach that state. Thus, the threat expressed by the
US of being at the crossroads of radicalism and
technology becomes that much more real.
there is the role of China. Beijing has been the main
foreign supplier to Pakistan, and has a long record of
supplying missiles to Saudi Arabia. Although some
analysts claim that China is becoming a good citizen of
the proliferation regime, and certainly now shows
considerable anxiety about Pyongyang, its military ties
to Pakistan remain as robust as ever, if not stronger.
The history of Chinese policies to orchestrate a
network of such secondary and tertiary proliferation to
include North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, and the reports
that the missiles involved in this Saudi-Pakistani deal
come from China, all lead one to ponder to what degree
China knows about this relationship and supports it as
another way of weakening the US by undermining its
alliances and by disseminating nuclear know-how around
the world to multiply potential threats to American
forces and capabilities abroad.
While one cannot
know what role China may have here; it is clear that
this issue of a Saudi-Pakistani connection has the
potential to become a major threat to many states and to
trigger another international crisis in both the Middle
East and South Asia. If there is anything the world does
not need now it is a further escalation of the threat
posed by proliferation to and from states with a record
of extensive support for terrorism against their
Stephen Blank is an analyst
of international security affairs residing in
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