GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Saudi Arabia and Nuclear Weapons: What is the Role of Asian Powers?
Paper Proposal Text :
As the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program worsens, those most likely to be directly effected by an Iranian bomb are showing greater alarm. While the media fixates on Israel and its possible reaction, other regional players have no less at stake.

Despite Riyadh’s long-held advocacy of making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, there has been much speculation the possibility of its acquiring or developing nuclear weapons should Tehran obtain the bomb. In the words of King Abdullah: “If Iran developed nuclear weapons … everyone in the region would do the same,” a sentiment echoed by Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate.

A major deterioration in U.S.-Saudi relations, (especially if the United States fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program, or decided to scale back its military presence in the Middle East due to its recent energy discoveries), could force Riyadh to reconsider nuclear weapon acquisition to avoid having to face foreign aggression without U.S. security assurances. Additionally, the Saudis are increasingly nervous about the strength of any U.S. commitment in light of the Obama administration’s abandonment of such a longstanding regional ally as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Riyadh is most concerned about Iran’s ambitions especially because it and many other Gulf States have substantial Shiite populations that could potentially become radicalized were a nuclear-empowered Iran to step up its “incitement”. Many analysts argue that in the event of an Iranian nuclear breakout, Riyadh would feel compelled to build or acquire its own nuclear arsenal. Given Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth and strategic weakness, such a decision might seem logical.

In this context, if the United States failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program; will that prompt Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons? What rule Asian Powers (China and Pakistan in particular) will have in the Saudi new calculations? This paper attempts to answer these questions by reviewing the possibilities and the obstacles if the kingdom decided to follow that path.