April 17, 2010

Off to the races - Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear energy

It was only a matter of time.

Once the Iranians began their "peaceful" nuclear research and development program, it was inevitable that soon thereafter other countries in the region would also start some sort of nuclear program as well. No one in their right mind still believes that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. That fact is obvious to regional powers - the Saudis, Egyptians and Turks at the minimum. They as well as all the Arab states of the Persian Gulf view Iran's acquisition of a nuclear arsenal and associated delivery systems as a threat.

Saudi CSS-2 Missile Capability - click for larger imageWhen faced with a threat, most countries react to try and mitigate the threat. Normally Saudi Arabia would just purchase any capability they want. I remember when I deployed to Riyadh during Operation Desert Shield in 1990 the Saudis looking at all of our various systems and asking, "Who makes that, how much is it, and when can we take delivery?" We were very concerned when they demonstrated this trait with the acquisition of the CSS-2 medium-range ballistic missile system from the Chinese - the missile was designed to carry a nuclear warhead well in excess of 1,500 miles.

The Saudis just announced that they will begin construction of the King 'Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energies, to be built in Riyadh. The purpose of the center will be to conduct research into nuclear and alternative energy sources to "diversify the kingdom's power generation away from oil and natural gas."

Where have we heard that before? HINT: Tehran. We are still hearing it from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he insists that his country is only seeking to develop an electical power generation capability. What he doesn't say is that if all of the nuclear facilities in the country were used to generate power, they would still generate less power than the nation's oil wells flare off as waste. The power generation argument just does not make sense.

Saudi Arabia is looking across the Persian Gulf at what is likely the world's next nuclear-armed nation. The Saudis, long-time American allies, are unsure of the direction of American foreign policy in the region and probably think they may need something to counter Iran's accession as a regional power. A Saudi nuclear energy research and development center is the logical answer - after all, that's how Iran's program got started.

American intelligence analysts for years have suspected that Saudi Arabia was interested in a nuclear weapons capability. This may well be the start of the world's next arms race.