2003 June 09 Monday
Without US As Ally Saudi Arabia Could Go Nuclear

Michael A. Levi of the Brookings Institution argues that if the United States breaks with Saudi Arabia, ceases to guarantee its security, and becomes openly hostile toward it then Saudi Arabia has the money to buy nukes from either Pakistan or North Korea and plenty of motives to want nuclear weapons:

Why would Riyadh want nukes now? Because of a potentially dangerous confluence of events. The rapidly progressing nuclear program of traditional rival Iran has no doubt spooked the Saudi leadership. Last fall, dissidents revealed the existence of a covert Iranian uranium-enrichment program, forcing analysts to drastically revise down their estimates of how long it might take Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Reacting to that development, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently wrote that "Saudi Arabia is the state most likely to proliferate in response to an Iranian nuclear threat" because, he argued, the Saudis fear a nuclear-armed Iran could have designs on Saudi Arabia, a Sunni monarchy that is home to a large number of oppressed Shia.

We ought to think twice about breaking with the Saudis. Will doing so reduce the amount that wealthy Saudis donate to terrorist groups? Will doing so reduce the amount of hatred of non-Muslims taught in their mosques and schools? Will a declaration that the Saudis are our enemies make them spend less money to spread Wahhabism around the world?

The United States needs to keep in mind its goals. We need to reduce the amount of money flowing to terrorists and to the spread of the most militant forms of Islam. We need for Middle Eastern governments to reform their school curriculums and to take the anti-Western venom out of their government-controlled media. How to do that short of invasion and regime change?

We must also consider the possibility that we do not have the ability to work a change on Muslim societies on a scale sufficient to change what causes them to be threats to us. We need to ask how we can reduce their ability to create terrorist threats without their becoming any more enlightened. The biggest single thing we do that helps them create threats to us is that we buy oil from them. One element of a much longer term strategy to reducing the threat from the Muslim countries is to fund basic research that can lead to the development of technologies that could create non-fossil fuel energy sources that are cheaper than oil.

Unfortunately, US government energy policy is pretty dumb. Even when money gets spent on alternative energy sources most of it gets spent on tax credits and subsidies to pay for construction of solar, wind, and other installations using today's technology. For example, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn recently inserted a clause into a federal appropriations bill to to spend $1.3 billion installing solar panels on US federal buildings. Sound like a nice idea? Well, refinement of current photovoltaic cell manufacturing processes is not going to make photovoltaics cheap enough for mass deployment. We need to find new kinds of materials to use to make photovoltaics cheap. Paying the manufacturers to make more stuff using existing materials and processes is a very cost-ineffective way to advance the state of the art in photovoltaics. The federal government spends only a few tens of millions on basic research (approximately $30 million) on photovoltaics. If spent more wisely that $1.3 billion could increase the rate of basic research on photovoltaic materials literally by an order of magnitude. Oberstar had the support of Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D CA) for this spending idea. This in spite of the fact that elsewhere Woolsey has had the temporary sense to speak in support of increases in basic research on energy. Congresscritters need to stop causing mischief with symbolic feel-good spending proposals and work on supporting the fundamental advances needed to make non-fossil fuel sources cost competitive.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 09 12:45 PM  Politics Grand Strategy


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