In recent negotiations with the White House, Saudi officials requested American aid in building a nuclear program, including the ability to enrich uranium—a process that can be used for both military and civilian applications. (Most countries with civilian nuclear programs purchase already-enriched uranium, but don’t have the capacity to enrich it further into fuel for atomic weapons.) Jonathan Schachter sees these demands as evidence that America’s failure to restrain Iran has sparked a regional arms race that is already well under way:
Riyadh’s insistence on enrichment follows previous revelations of Saudi activity since the conclusion of the [Iran deal] that appears aimed toward matching Iran’s growing ability to produce and deliver nuclear weapons. In August 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that, with the help of China, the Saudis have built a facility to process uranium ore. In December of the following year, the Journal revealed that the kingdom, again with Chinese assistance, is producing its own ballistic missiles.
The U.S. is incentivizing regional nuclearization by downplaying the Iranian nuclear threat, excessively restraining its responses to Iranian nuclear violations and other provocations, and alienating and undermining its allies.
The way to halt and even reverse the Middle East nuclear arms race is straightforward and requires two steps under U.S. leadership. First, it is well past time to end, rather than enable, Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The U.S. should work with its European allies to . . . reimpose the United Nations arms embargo on Iran and a complete ban on Iranian uranium enrichment.
Second, the United States should take a complementary approach to its allies and partners in the Middle East, by providing them with the diplomatic and military support necessary both to deter Iran and to instill in them sufficient confidence to obviate their own pursuit of nuclear weapons.