By Anisimov Sergey and Fedoruk Vladimir
Saudi Arabia may obtain nuclear weapons. This comes in a high-profile statement earlier this week by the former chief of the Saudi Intelligence Service, Prince Turki Al-Faisal. This is by no means the first time that a member of the ruling dynasty has hinted on the kingdom’s plans to obtain nuclear technologies.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal warned that the following two factors could prompt Saudi Arabia to set up its own deterrent forces, – Israel’s likely nuclear arsenal and the probability that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. The Saudi Prince said the probability of Tehran’s joining the nuclear club was the main threat.
Tehran is Riyadh’s main rival in the efforts to influence the Islamic world. Prince Turki, – King Abdullah’s nephew, is a person who actually determines Saud Arabia’s foreign policy today. He has always been tough on the Shiite Iran, but has tried to avoid making blunt statements to the effect that his country is prepared to join the nuclear race; possibly because it is only six months ago that Riyadh officially made public its plans to set up a nuclear research centre of its own. Saudi Arabia wants to build 16 reactors for nuclear power plants that should start active operation in the next 20 years. That Saudi Arabia will not use its nuclear power for peaceful purposes only is indirectly evidenced by the fact that Riyadh bought 36 Chinese-made Dunfen-3 ballistic missiles and 9 launchers for them, several decades ago. These medium-range ballistic missiles can hit targets at a distance of up to 2,500 kilometres and are nuclear capable.
Meanwhile, the statement that Saudi Arabia may set up its own nuclear deterrent force can trigger a chain reaction in the region, the Director of the Centre for Public and Political Research, Vladimir Yevseev, says, and elaborates.
“Saudi Arabia hasn’t got the required infrastructure, Vladimir Yevseev says. But since it boasts huge financial resources, it will start looking for a country that could make the bomb. One option is Egypt, because Cairo does have this kind of infrastructure. Ankara is closely following Riyadh’s moves, so if the Saudis opt for developing their nuclear arms, Turkey may well follow suit.”
Prince Turki is known to be pro-American. Some experts point out that his “nuclear demarche” had been agreed with Washington. Meanwhile, a Dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, Nikolai Tikhomirov, begs to differ.
“Saudi Arabia is an independent state, so it hardly needs to agree each move with the United States, Nikolai Tikhomirov says. True, the two nations are known to be very close, but I think that even such a statement as the one about a likely development of a nuclear bomb could have been made without looking back at Washington.”
The expert points out that the Saudi monarchy is increasingly inclined to rely on its own forces to guarantee security. Specifically, the member-states of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf met last week to consider bringing their armies under a single command, to quicker and more effectively react to the growing threat from Iran.
But Professor Yelena Melkumian of the Russian State Humanitarian University feels that one should not overestimate the importance of Riyadh’s statement on Iran. She is certain that this is basically a political demarche in order to bring more pressure to bear on Iran. However, an expert with the Centre for International Security of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Piotr Topychkanov, warns that Riyadh’s aggressive rhetoric calls for looking at ways to settle Iran’s nuclear problem from a new perspective.
“Iran’s crossing nuclear threshold will have a knock-on effect, Piotr Topychkanov says. Sanctions will never stop Iran’s programme. Altogether different moves should be made, including the building of confidence and normalizing relations between Washington and Tehran. Unless this is the case, Iran will take all sanctions as politically motivated and unrelated to its nuclear programme.”
The US may use the threat that a nuclear Saudi Arabia may pose as an argument in its talks with Russia and China. Moscow and Beijing are known to be opposed to sanctions against Tehran. But even if they weren’t, expert Vladimir Yevseev says, Washington would hardly secure the desired results.
“The United States has been using various levers to bring pressure to bear on Russia and China, Vladimir Yevseev says. Washington claims, for example, that unless the sanctions are toughened, Israel will be the first to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Now, this is nothing short of blackmail. The United States should look for weightier arguments to secure Russia’s cooperation in finding a solution to Iran’s nuclear problem.”
Saudi Arabia’s official religion is Wahhabism, one of the more radical branches of Sunni Islam. When Prince Turki Al-Faisal was at the head of the Kingdom’s Intelligence Service, he was seen as the main ideologist behind exporting the Wahhabi ideas. His recent statement gives the green light, one way or another, to Wahhabis getting their own nuclear bomb. His idea is also dangerous because it may well bury the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by prompting Iran, for example, to pull out from the treaty. Then there will be many more nuclear powers than today. But neither the US, nor Russia, nor China, nor any other nuclear club member needs that knock-on effect.