Saudi Arabia going nuclear - why no uproar?

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Saudi Arabia recently announced its intention to launch its own nuclear program, saying it needs to diversify its energy sources. But a Saudi prince raised the possibility that the kingdom might develop nuclear weapons if Iran joins Israel as a nuclear weapons possessor.

Why no international uproar?

While Iranian officials, whether sincerely or not, insist that their nuclear program is solely for peaceful energy purposes, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal openly linked his country's nuclear energy and nuclear weapons interests.

If both Israel and Iran have nuclear weapons, "it is our duty toward our nation and people to consider all possible options, including the possession of these weapons," Prince Turki, a former Saudi intelligence chief and U.S. ambassador, told a Persian Gulf security conference in Riyadh in December.

That same month, Saudi Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Zainal told a U.S.-Saudi business conference in Atlanta that his country will spend $100 billion on building 16 nuclear power plants over the next few years to generate electricity.

On Jan. 13, Saudi Arabia announced it had signed an agreement with China for increased cooperation in development and use of atomic energy, including maintenance and development of nuclear power plants and research reactors, and manufacturing and supply of nuclear fuel elements.

"The pact with China is the fourth nuclear agreement signed by Saudi Arabia following similar deals with France, Argentina and South Korea," the Wall Street Journal reported.

Saudi Arabia has also been in discussions with the U.S., UK, Russia and the Czech Republic over more cooperation on nuclear energy, the Journal said.

This is not a new program. Saudi Arabia set up the King Abdullah Atomic and Renewable Energy City, devoted to research and application of nuclear technology, in 2010.

Although Saudi Arabia and Iran are considered arch-rivals for regional dominance, their nuclear moves seem to have much in common.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is said to be "struggling to keep up with rapidly rising power demand." According to the Reuters news agency, "The kingdom plans to turn to solar and eventually nuclear energy to reduce its need to burn fuel oil for electricity and preserve oil for lucrative export markets."

Iran, with the world's fourth biggest oil reserves, is undoubtedly facing the same issues.

They share other characteristics too.

Speaking of Saudi Arabia's nuclear program in terms that could well apply to Iran, Lebanese commentator Housam Matar writes, "the program is partly prompted by a perceived need to transform the established image of Saudi Arabia from a state with a reactionary and corrupt rentier regime ... to one of modernity, progress, and science."

Saudi Arabia's soft power in the region, "which is essentially based on sectarian proselytizing and pumping money," is in jeopardy, says Matar.

"Since the regime is not about to change the nature of its internal policies, it has opted to launch initiatives in other areas that do not threaten the regime's control over Saudi society.

"The Saudi regime pushed the idea of a nuclear program to the forefront as a key element in reconstituting Saudi soft power."

"The Saudi nuclear initiative therefore does not target Iran as much as it aims to reinforce the Saudi regime's internal legitimacy and strengthen popular cohesion around the Saudi leadership, which is plagued with uncertainty, behind-the-scenes rivalries, and political infirmity.

"The move also seeks to strengthen the kingdom's regional presence."

Much the same can be said about Iran.

Iran has its repressive theocracy and ties to armed militias in other countries. Saudi Arabia, a feudal monarchy, has been linked to similar activity, for example in Iraq. And it is home to the fanatically reactionary Salafi sect of Islam also known as Wahabbism, to which the Saudi monarchy is closely tied. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia, as did Osama bin-Laden. What if nuclear technology got into the hands of such elements?

Yet there has been barely a whisper in the U.S. media about Saudi Arabia's nuclear program. The State Department and European leaders appear to have been silent on the matter, even as they pursue an increasingly aggressive campaign over Iran's nuclear program, and even though President Obama has strongly advocated for nuclear non-proliferation. Republican warhawks have been silent on it too.

Meanwhile the Sidney (Australia) Morning Herald notes Saudi Arabia's close ties to nuclear-armed Pakistan:

"Throughout the 1980s and '90s, hundreds of millions of Saudi dollars were poured into Pakistan's efforts to build nuclear weapons, funding as much as 60 percent of the program.

"That money was given, it is widely believed, on an understanding that Pakistan would offer Saudi Arabia nuclear protection, or, at some future date, the chance to buy weapons or the technology to make them."

"Most analysts are convinced the Saudis will turn to Pakistan," the Morning Herald says. But it would have to be done covertly, since "Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the U.S., cannot be seen to be buying nuclear weapons from Pakistan, and Pakistan, already a nuclear pariah, cannot afford to be cast, again, as a proliferator of arms."

Photo: Stock image of a nuclear reactor. Michael Kappel // CC 2.0

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  • if saudi arabia don't make their own atomic bomb with in 1 or 2 or 3 years then i think saudi arabian government is the foolish government of the world

    Posted by imran, 05/01/2012 1:30am (3 years ago)

  • Why there should be an uproar? There was no uproar when India was given green signal by Bush for transfer of Nuclear Technology. Why can't Saudi Arabia have nuclear energy for power supply. And why can't or why shouldn't Pakistan help Saudi Arabia. The west don't want Muslims to progress. We were not the barbarians who started the world wars and killed mercilessly millions through conventional and nuclear weapons. White Race the barbarians are getting worried that their hold of Humanity is about to be ended. Peace

    Posted by Hamid Farooqi, 04/21/2012 9:48pm (3 years ago)

  • Saudi Arabia has been a reliable puppet of the USA as well as, along with China and Japan, one of its principle creditors. That's why no uproar. But, of course, Susan's question is a rhetorical one.

    Posted by John Whiskey, 02/14/2012 10:28pm (3 years ago)

  • It is all about Oil and our Oil Cartels will do all they can to keep the Saudi Government happy and the oil spickets flowing.
    As to the little mushroom cloud bombs, in the 1960' the U.S. had enough Bombs to destroy the world 25 times over and enough to dig a trench from N.Y. to California one mile wide and one mile deep which ever you wanted.
    After viewing the Bomb damage to the Japenese people one would hope the Islamist and others will think twice before unleasing such on humanity.

    Posted by Chuckwagonchuckie, 02/14/2012 3:57pm (3 years ago)

  • Why there never was any uproar in the American media about the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel? Why there was no uproar by the American media over Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons. Why there was no uproar by American media over India's possession of nuclear weapons. Why there is such great uproar by the American media and the American government over the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear weapon power? Who controls American media? Is American media "independent"?? No, No, No, according to my analysis. America is the only country in this world with the most nuclear weapons and it is the only country in this world which used nuclear weapons. If the "peoplesworld" claims to be an "independent" news and analysis outlet, let it write about all the nuclear weapon powers in this violent world. Let the readers analyze and understand if the nuclear weapons are for good or bad purpose.......

    Posted by K. K, 02/14/2012 1:17pm (3 years ago)

  • Great article , Susann. Spread it far and wide.*

    It's like the old "blackout" on political persecution in

    Saudi Arabia. For years the only decent article I saw about

    it was in the pages of an old, sorry to say defunct

    CPUSA publication, Jewish Affairs.


    At least try to get it into Antiwar, Information Clearing

    House, MRzine and Counterpunch.


    Posted by André Brochu, 02/14/2012 1:08pm (3 years ago)

  • I'm curious about what your basis is for describing Saudi Arabia's monarchy as "feudal"? The UK has a feudal monarchy but not Saudi Arabia. Also "Salafi" and "Wahhabism" are not sects. I am concerned that in the process of pointing out the falseness of imperialism's propaganda against Iran you are actually enforcing Islamophobia, which helps imperialism and is counter-productive to your intention.

    Saleh Waziruddin
    Former Anti-Discrimination Committee Chair,
    Islamic Council of Greater Pittsburgh

    Posted by Saleh Waziruddin, 02/14/2012 12:14pm (3 years ago)

  • The world we all live in -- and certainly the Middle East -- need LESS or NO nuclear weapons, not more. It's bad enough that Israel has "the bomb" and now we have this to worry about.
    Oil is a great big business. How much more will we all be endangered for OIL?
    Good that this danger is being publicized in the People's World. Would also be interested to know how peace groups, clean energy orgs and forces for international solidarity can work on this issue.

    Posted by Barbara R, 02/11/2012 1:10pm (3 years ago)

  • This is the first i have heard of this. It is a very good question though, why is this not being discussed?

    Posted by Steven, 02/11/2012 11:09am (3 years ago)

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