Saudi Arabia Doesn’t Need a Nuclear Program

March 8 2018

In 2012, Saudi Arabia announced its plan to build several nuclear reactors, claiming that these would be necessary to supply the country’s energy needs as part of a strategy to wean itself from its oil dependency. Although Riyadh has backed away from this proposal, there are still those who argue that the kingdom should, in cooperation with the U.S., build its own nuclear reactors and even begin enriching uranium. Washington, the reasoning goes, can’t say no to enrichment, since the 2015 nuclear deal grants Iran permission to do so. But Henry Sokolski is skeptical of these arguments:

[The] unspoken motive for the kingdom to pursue a nuclear program is to develop an option to make nuclear weapons, if needed, to deter Iran. . . . [The] Saudis don’t need nuclear power. In fact, recent studies found that the Saudis could more cheaply meet their energy and environmental requirements by developing their natural-gas resources and investing in renewables—photovoltaic, concentrated solar power, and wind. They also found economic value in upgrading the kingdom’s electrical grid and reducing subsidies that artificially drive up electrical demand. . . .

Supporters of the Saudi nuclear program argue that the kingdom should enrich, given the uranium reserves the Saudis have discovered. Uranium, however, is plentiful globally and priced at historic lows (less than $22 a pound), as are uranium-enrichment services. More importantly, the kingdom would have to spend billions on a variety of plants to enrich uranium and produce its own nuclear fuel. . . .

[However], proponents of a permissive U.S.-Saudi nuclear deal argue that Washington lacks the leverage to secure a Saudi pledge not to make enrich or reprocess. The best Washington can do, it is argued, is to ask Riyadh to defer such dangerous nuclear activities for several years. Some even suggest that acceding to Riyadh’s wishes is in Washington’s interest, since allowing the Saudis the capacity to make nuclear weapons-usable fuels might help “deter” Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. None of this seems sound. . . .

Besides the odd optics of looking like a version of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (which President Trump says is “the worst deal ever”), allowing Riyadh to enrich and reprocess would immediately excite the humors of the UAE and Egypt. Both have U.S. nuclear-cooperation agreements that allow them to request that their agreements be modified if the United States offers any of their neighbors a more generous nuclear deal. Then there are Morocco and Turkey: their nuclear agreements with Washington are up for renewal in 2021 and 2023. They, too, are likely to ask for equal treatment as soon as possible. How this serves anyone’s long-term interest is, at best, unclear.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Iran, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy