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HOME > REGIONS > Greater Middle East & Africa      
Greater Middle East & Africa
Dec 06, 2020 "A Biden Plan for Riyadh and its Neighbors," Foreign Policy
Among the foreign policy dogs that are yet to bark, is Biden’s policy toward Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are anticipating a chillier tone, but when asked the Biden team had no comment. Last December, Biden said he’d stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia and make them “the pariah that they are.” Holding Saudi Arabia accountable for pursuing nuclear weapons and committing human rights violations makes sense. The question is how. The attached Foreign Policy piece by NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan supplies an answer: Rather than shunning Riyadh, Washington should afford them tough love. The Saudis believe the US will soon abandon them and that they’ll soon be at the mercy of mullahs from Tehran. Washington and other Western capitals can ease these concerns, which are shared in other Middle Eastern capitals, and in exchange should get them to clean up their proliferation and human rights act. The best way to do this, Spacapan argues, would be to form a league of Western and Middle Eastern states to enhance the region’s security, energy, economic, and social development. “Even if the coalition started somewhat small – just the US, UK, EU, Saudi Arabia, and smaller Arab states such as Jordan, Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, and Tunisia – it would,” he notes, “demonstrate that the US and its western allies will not soon leave Saudi Arabia at the mercy of Iran or other outside powers.” This alone could damper Riyadh’s drive to go nuclear. America’s ties to Riyadh epitomize the dilemma that plagues its foreign policy: Maintaining relations with influential authoritarians is only politically sustainable if you get them to behave better. Ignoring human rights violations and nuclear proliferation would contradict American values, but abandoning states rarely improves matters. The idea of creating a league is surely ambitious. The alternatives, which mostly amount to doing nothing or spending a great deal in reactionary military operations, recommend trying. It is something a Biden Administration should consider.
Op-Eds & Blogs
Oct 15, 2020 "Say No to Enrichment and Reprocessing In the Middle East," Foreign Policy
One foreign policy promise both Biden and Trump have made is to prevent further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East by cutting a nuclear deal with Iran. Biden wants to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement Trump pulled out of. Trump says he wants to cut a “better” deal... But as Victor Gilinsky and I explain in our Foreign Policy piece, “To Prevent Proliferation, Stop Enrichment and Reprocessing in the Middle East,” blocking the bomb’s further spread in the Middle East requires more than just “fixing” Iran. The Saudis have threatened to acquire nuclear weapons and have secretly been working with the Chinese on processing uranium. Washington also must soon review and renew the terms of its civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with Turkey (whose president, Recep Erdogan, recently said Ankara has a right to acquire nuclear arms), as well as with Egypt (which once harbored weapons ambitions) and Morocco.   Unfortunately, the United States now has not one, but three different nonproliferation standards in the Middle East.  Each takes a different approach to limiting uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent reactor fuel (enrichment can produce weapons-grade uranium; reprocessing nuclear weapons explosive plutonium).  In the case of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, Iran is allowed to enrich and may eventually reprocess as well. Meanwhile, the deal Washington cut with the UAE requires Abu Dhabi to uphold what is referred to as the nonproliferation gold standard by forswearing both activities. In the case of Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, Washington only prohibits enriching and reprocessing of U.S.-origin nuclear materials.  As Victor and I argue, this conflicting patchwork is unsustainable. In its place, the United States should promote the Gold Standard from Morocco through Iran, including Israel. This means Iran should give up enriching and reprocessing as the UAE already has and the Saudis, Turks, Egyptians, Moroccans, and Israelis should. This would not impact Israel’s current nuclear weapons arsenal. But it would cap it and point the way for [Israel’s] security to depend less on nuclear weapons.  Our proposal for a no-enrichment and no-reprocessing zone in the region also would help address Middle Eastern states’ demands to move towards a nuclear weapons free zone. In fact, it would be more feasible, and if achieved, have more lasting significance since it would preclude the possibility of non-nuclear states in the region making nuclear weapons.    
Op-Eds & Blogs
Sep 29, 2020 "Time for a New Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy," RealClearDefense
With Saudi Arabia secretly pursuing nuclear technology and Turkey and Egypt pushing nuclear programs as well, Washington should ponder why states tied to Washington or NATO for their security may go nuclear anyway. The short answer is, they increasingly believe America will abandon the region or already has. This suggests what’s needed — an American-led effort to create more credible security and improved economic conditions in the region. As NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan argues in the attached piece for RealClearDefense, “What if Middle Eastern States worked together?”, America now has an opportunity to organize a coalition of friendly Middle Eastern states that would provide more security and prosperity than a nuclear bomb or reactor ever could. Rather than profer more bilateral deals state-by-state, Washington needs to approach the region by cultivating a coalition of like-minded states.  On the security side, Washington could start by leading efforts to strengthen the ground forces of a group of friendly states, such as the UAE, Israel Jordan, Tunisia, Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco with improved joint training and exercises. The U.S. and other Western states would promise this aid along with air power and intelligence assistance, but not ground forces, for members that come under attack. On the economic side, the United States and other Western states would redouble their long-term development financing for non-nuclear energy alternatives, new infrastructure projects, and programs to promote entrepreneurship and improve schools. Diplomatically, the U.S. and its Western allies would facilitate solutions to regional energy disputes. This diplomatic, economic, and security initiative would insist on coalition members forswearing dangerous nuclear weapons-related activities, such as enriching uranium and reprocessing spent reactor fuel. Members would accept the International Atomic Energy Agency’s highest standard of inspections under the Additional Protocol. Washington and others assisting the coalition would encourage nonnuclear energy options, not nuclear ones. The ultimate aim of this effort would be to strengthen and expand it to include Turkey and Saudi Arabia. None of this will be easy but, if anything of lasting value is to come from the recent diplomatic opening to Israel, it should be this.
Op-Eds & Blogs
Sep 25, 2020 "Let's Try an Honest Nonproliferation Policy in the Middle East," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Yesterday, something quite odd occurred. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Under Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs David Hale was asked what our government’s nonproliferation goals were in striking a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia. Was the Trump Administration aiming to get Riyadh to agree to the “Gold Standard”? This would require Riyadh to forswear enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel—two activities that could bring it to the brink of making bombs. This was hardly a trick question: In May of 2018, Secretary Pompeo publicly testified that the United States was pushing this objective. Yet, yesterday, Under Secretary Hale refused to confirm this, pleading the matter was classified. It’s not entirely clear why Mr. Hale refused to go on the record. But he did have cause to be cautious. Increasingly, Washington is getting crosswise with itself as it pushes U.S. power reactor technology exports to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan, saddling them and Iran with a patchwork of conflicting nuclear nonproliferation conditions. As Victor Gilinsky and I note, in the attached Bulletin of Atomic Scientists piece “Toward an honest Middle East nonproliferation policy,” America’s agreement with the UAE requires it legally forswear enriching uranium and reprocessing entirely and adopt intrusive international nuclear inspections. In contrast, Washington agreed to allow Iran to enrich in a limited fashion. Meanwhile, current U.S. agreements with Turkey and Egypt permit them to enrich in an unlimited manner so long as they do not use U.S. – origin materials. The proposed agreement with Saudi Arabia, if there is one, may be some kludge of these three approaches. The United States needs to simplify. In specific, Washington should push the Gold Standard for all existing civilian nuclear programs in the Middle East and encourage states there not to build any additional large reactors. This may be difficult, but it should be our goal. Given the abundance of cheap natural gas, solar energy, and new opportunities to connect Middle Eastern pipelines and grids, nuclear power in the region no longer makes economic sense. It does, however, pose a worrisome security risk both for nuclear bomb making and presenting tempting missile targets. Pretending otherwise or, worse, being silent when we should speak honestly about these liabilities is a luxury we can no longer afford.  
Op-Eds & Blogs
Sep 05, 2020 "To Stop A Possible Iranian Nuclear Bomb, Don't Cave, Don't Bomb," The National Interest
Next June, Iran will select a new president to replace Hassan Rouhani. Soon, the 81-year-old cancer survivor Ayatollah Khamenei will pass from the scene as well. What does this suggest about how the US should approach Iran’s nuclear program? Rather than rushing for a deal that merely pauses Iran’s nuclear program, leaving future Iranian leaders tempted to weaponize, Washington should lay the groundwork for an eventual deal that rolls it back.  NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow, John Spacapan, makes this case in the attached piece for The National Interest, “To Stop A Possible Iranian Nuclear Bomb, Don't Cave, Don't Bomb.” Of course, Tehran won’t roll back its nuclear program today, but three conditions might get it there: First, with continued economic pressure, the Mullahs may need to bargain. Second, the United States could make clear, through how it trains and equips Iran’s neighbors and operates in the region, that it has no plans to attack Iran. This would deprive Iran of the “deterrence” pretext to acquire nuclear weapons. Third, the US and other nuclear suppliers should insist Iran and all other non-nuclear weapons states in the Middle East forswear enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel. Blocking states from making nuclear fuel is the only way to guarantee civilian programs aren’t secretly fueling bomb efforts.    This is a hybrid of the Biden and Trump approaches and it's the right one regardless of who wins in November. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Aug 24, 2020 "Will North Korea Benefit from Joe Biden's Plan for Iran?," The National Interest
 "Will North Korea Benefit from Joe Biden's Plan for Iran?" is an op-ed Henry Sokolski wrote. It appeared in The National Interest on August 24, 2020. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Jul 07, 2020 "Conventional wisdom says Turkey won't go nuclear. That might be wrong.," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Turkey's successful military intervention in Libya has raised eyebrows in the West. No other Middle Eastern state would dare deploy conventional forces hundreds of miles from its borders, with no international coalition backing it, to defeat the dominant Libyan force backed by nuclear powers Russia and France. If Ankara is as set on becoming a regional power player as their recent moves suggest, what else might they do?  Think nuclear. As NPEC's Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan argues in the attached piece for The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, "Conventional wisdom says Turkey won't go nuclear. That might be wrong," three signs point to Turkey pursuing the bomb. First Erdogan has made it clear at the UN General Assembly and at a Turkish political rally in Antalya, he wants the bomb. Second, Turkey is building nuclear power plants. They can provide bomb materials and a cover to acquire weapons-related technology. What they won't provide in Turkey, is cheap electricity. Third, Erdogan has bent over backward to form a military alliance with nuclear-armed Pakistan, a country that has previously shared nuclear weapons-related technology with Iran, Libya, and North Korea. All of this suggests the United States should act now to convince the Turks to change course.  
Op-Eds & Blogs
Apr 11, 2020 "Iran Says It Does Not Want a Bomb: We Should Listen," The National Interest
While the world focuses its attention on battling the Coronavirus, Iran has made several provocative moves, including a threat to pull out of the NPT and build-up of low-enriched uranium. Many analysts have interpreted these actions as the opening moves in a sprint toward the bomb. Others interpret Iran as a state desperate for sanctions relief.  Which view is correct? This desperate. As John Spacapan argues in the attached The National Interest piece, "Why America Should Believe Iran When It Says It Doesn't Want Nuclear Weapons", Iran learned a lesson from the Arab Spring, and particularly the case of Libya, that contradicts the conventional wisdom on why enemies of the United States pursue, or don't pursue nuclear arms proliferation. In particular, the last decade has taught Tehran that dictators in the Middle East are far more likely to be killed or overthrown by their own people than by the United States. This suggests that when Iranian officials say they do not want to get a bomb, maybe we should listen. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Mar 16, 2020 Missile Wars: What's Coming
On March 16, 2020, NPEC's Executive Director, Henry Sokolski gave the following lecture at University of California: San Diego. Missile Wars: What's Coming Since the 1970s, military theorists have predicted wars would be waged with super precise missiles that would penetrate most defenses. Recent successful missile attacks against oil facilities at Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, and Ain Assad Airbase in Iraq suggest that their predictions have come true. How real is this revolution? What new civilian and military targets might now be vulnerable that previously were not? In the case of civilian targets, such as nuclear power plants and cities, what are the moral and military considerations? This presentation will answer these questions.
Presentations; Audio & Video
Jan 23, 2020 Dealing Preventively with NPT Withdrawal
  Last week, Pierre Goldschmidt, former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency for Safeguards, spoke on theHill and visited senior officials in the executive branch. The NPEC-commissioned paper he presented (see below) focused on what’sneeded to deter additional withdrawals from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). His suggestions could not be more timely. In January, Iran’s foreign minister threatened to leave the NPT. His threat came only months after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, complained at the United Nations General Assembly that the world’s recognized nuclear armed states should give up their nuclear weapons or allow all other nations to get them. Erdoğan’s complaint followed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s public announcement that Riyadh would leave the NPT if Iran was found developing nuclear weapons. The last time a country withdrew from the NPT was North Korea in January of 2003. At the time, Pyongyang was able to withdraw, expelled all resident IAEA nuclear inspectors, and was not even sanctioned. Only after North Korea exploded a nuclear device did the United Nations impose economic sanctions. This is not a model to follow. Instead, as Mr. Goldschmidt recommends, the United States should work with like-minded states to promote country-neutral rules before the next state gets its first bomb. The United States should also take up Mr. Goldschmidt’s recommendations with the Russians and Chinese.  
Working Papers & Monographs
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founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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