Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai write: A highly regarded member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family recently repeated assertions that Riyadh will want the same capabilities that Iran is allowed under a final agreement on its nuclear program. The Saudi stance, articulated most recently by former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, has raised fears that a nuclear agreement between six world powers and Iran will produce a regional domino effect that could spread civilian nuclear programs across the Middle East and increase the number of nuclear weapons states in the region.
Although such a possibility can’t be dismissed entirely, a close analysis of probable scenarios suggests that a final Iranian nuclear agreement is unlikely to trigger a regional nuclear weapons cascade.
On their own, civilian nuclear programs do not necessarily imply a military threat. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), member countries are allowed to pursue civilian nuclear programs. Because of a growing energy demand, many countries in the Middle East are exploring nuclear power as part of their energy mix. While some, including the United Arab Emirates, have succeeded in starting civilian nuclear power programs, others face serious financing and technical capacity issues. Developing a nuclear program is neither easy nor cheap. Nuclear power plants cost $4 billion to $10 billion each, and acquiring nuclear technologies requires significant financial and scientific investment and, for most countries in the Middle East, foreign help. [Continue reading…]