Bucking conventional wisdom, a US security think tank said Tuesday that even if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons capability, it would be unlikely to trigger a Middle-Eastern atomic arms race.
Currently, Pakistan is the only country in the region with a known store of nuclear arms. Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons but has never publicly acknowledged them. If Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, analysts have widely assumed that the countries in the Arab world would also seek to develop them in response.
A report by the Center for a New American Security, which focused solely on a potential Saudi Arabian response to Iran’s nuclearization, said that the “prospects of Saudi ‘reactive proliferation’ are lower than the conventional wisdom suggests” but the West should still seek to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Conventional wisdom says that the Saudis would embark on a “crash program” to develop nuclear weapons or receive them from ally Pakistan if Iran goes nuclear, the report stated.
However, the kingdom “lacks the technological and bureaucratic wherewithal” to develop nuclear weapons “in the foreseeable future” and there are “profound security and economic disincentives cutting against Riyadh’s motivation to seek a bomb from Islamabad,” as well as “considerable, though typically ignored, strategic and economic reasons for Pakistan to avoid an illicit transfer.”
The report contends that the possibility of Saudi nuclear weapons is “not zero,” however, and recommends that the US enter into an agreement with the kingdom to “significantly expand civilian nuclear cooperation” if the Saudis agree to “forgo uranium enrichment” and implement “safeguards and transparency measures.”
Both Riyadh and Tehran are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970, which keeps them from pursuing nuclear weapons.
The report also recommends the US maintain “leverage” over Pakistan with a “robust economic and security relationship,” and create a “deterrence and containment architecture, including a possible nuclear guarantee to Saudi Arabia… in case preventive measures (up to and including military force) fail” in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.