Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz has just concluded an official visit to Pakistan. After the visit some defence experts are of the view that strong military ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now have a new view against the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Tales of the Pak-Saudi nuclear deal have been circulating in the international media after the inexplicable reporting of the BBC that the Saudis could obtain atomic bombs at will from Pakistan. Western analysts are now inclined to discuss regional security issues as the foremost motivators for Saudi Arabia to procure nuclear weapons, and Pakistan is most often cited as the country primed to export these nukes to Riyadh. As usual, the allegations of a Riyadh-Islamabad nuclear arrangement are fantastic ideas with no proof. On November 7, 2013, Pakistan rejected a misleading BBC report that alleged nuclear cooperation between Islamabad and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia also rejected the allegation.
Theoretically, if Iran joins the nuclear club, Saudi Arabia would perhaps be inspired to explore some form of nuclear deterrence in reaction but the expectation that Riyadh will acquire nuclear weapons swiftly — either by developing or obtaining them with the illegal assistance of Pakistan — is probably incorrect. Considering Riyadh’s contemporary security environment, it will be tremendously challenging for the Saudis to develop nuclear capability domestically or through purchasing nuclear bombs from countries such as Pakistan, since both countries would face substantial political and economic backlash after such trade.
If we consider the argument that security apprehension is a leading factor for Riyadh’s quest for nuclear weapons then neither Saudi official statements nor any Saudi actions endorse that this factor is currently convincing Saudi Arabia to seek a nuclear deterrent, or that such has previously encouraged Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons. After Israel allegedly developed nuclear weapons in the late 1960s, for example, the Kingdom did not rush to build the bomb.
If Saudis would want to proliferate then the US-Saudi partnership will come under further stress, perhaps to an irrevocable degree. Not only by getting a nuclear arsenal will Riyadh violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it will also breach a memorandum of understanding inked with Washington in 2008, promising US assistance with civil nuclear power on condition that Riyadh would not pursue sensitive nuclear technologies.
Riyadh’s objective to uphold a robust association with Washington prevents it from any desire to develop nuclear weapons. Kate Amlin, a nuclear analyst at the US-based Monterey Institute of International Studies, believes that Saudi leaders would not want to suffer the political and economic repercussions resulting from the quest for a nuclear arsenal at a time when they are trying to participate further in the international economy. Therefore, neither could Pakistan endure international criticism nor could Saudi Arabia bear the cost of such a nuclear trade.
Pakistan respects global non-proliferation norms despite its emergent disparity and discriminatory trends. Pakistan made a great effort in supporting the global nonproliferation regime, rules and initiatives. Learning lessons from A Q Khan’s independent proliferation network, the government of Pakistan has taken extraordinary export control measures since the early 2000s, which are now amply recognised by the international community. The idea that Pakistan would be submissive to this nuclear trade simply to honour cooperation with Saudi Arabia is no less implausible than Saddam Hussain arming al Qaeda with nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s established relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are deterring it from taking sides. Islamabad never assessed its connections with Tehran and Riyadh on the basis of Sunni versus Shiite interpretation or through the prism of Iran-Saudi enmity. There is no Iran-centric strategic rationale for Pakistani leaders to transfer nuclear weapons to the Kingdom. Therefore, Pakistan will always avoid such collaboration, which will initiate a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do not have any advantage in nuclear cooperation. Precisely, possession of nuclear weapons could be disadvantageous because it will attract international attention and engender suffocating sanctions. If Iran builds the bomb, it will aggravate Israeli insecurity and prompt Saudi Arabia to ask for a nuclear umbrella from the US. Regardless of the regional security environment of the Middle East and Pak-Saudi historical connections, the House of Saud is eventually likely to turn to Washington once again if Iran acquires the bomb.
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