As some observers predicted, the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran has encouraged Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates to seek their own civilian nuclear programs. Jonathan Schanzer and Henry Sokolski contend that these programs are only a pretext for the development of technology that can be used for manufacturing nuclear arms:
[N]either Iran nor Saudi Arabia needs nuclear power. Nor, for that matter, does any other state in the gas-soaked, sun-drenched Middle East, where civil nuclear programs are simply nuclear-bomb starter kits. Instead of straining to control these programs, or even facilitating them, the U.S. should encourage less risky, cheaper, clean non-nuclear alternatives. . . .
[The] efforts to build nuclear plants in Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and Algeria, are dangerously misguided. When Washington encourages such pursuits, it accelerates an implicit arms race, even if the U.S. insists on additional safety measures. Whatever Riyadh has, Tehran will demand as part of the “better” nuclear deal the Trump administration wants someday to negotiate. Conversely, any concession made to Iran will become Riyadh’s next demand. Ditto, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, etc. What they’re buying is not an efficient source of energy; it’s an emergency option to build nuclear weapons.
To break this arms race, America should lead. First, it should stop bargaining over dangerous nuclear projects in the region, urge Riyadh to drop its nuclear plans, and press Tehran and other nuclear-supplier states to do the same.