How Bad Might the Middle East’s Nuclear Future Get?
By Henry Sokolski
Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Tehran to give up enriching uranium and forswear reprocessing spent fuel—two nuclear activities that can allow states to make their first batch of bombs in a matter of weeks. As the Secretary made clear, the United States was asking Iran’s neighbors, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, not to enrich or reprocess, but it was difficult to do so if Iran continued enriching.
This raises the question, how grim might the Middle East's future become if several states in the region acquire "peaceful" nuclear weapons options? The short answer is: pretty grim.
My latest piece, "In the Middle East, Soon Everyone Will Want the Bomb," just published by Foreign Policy, gives the specifics. It details how Iran could get the bomb in less than a year, how Saudi Arabia could get one in five, and how Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey might follow.
Such nuclear proliferation, however, is hardly inevitable for two reasons. First, nuclear power makes no economic sense in the Middle East and enriching and reprocessing make even less sense. Second, many Middle Eastern states are economically strapped.
Will states in the region forswear enriching and reprocessing? And will those outside of the region join Washington in pushing this standard? We have to hope the answer is yes.
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