In 2013, it was uncertain whether Iran would succumb to Western duress and give up its nuclear weapons program or continue developing a deterrent to address its security concerns in the Middle East. The situation was so critical that Israel and Saudi Arabia threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites, if the international community failed to stop the Iranian program from moving forward.
In this environment of uncertainty in the Middle East, Mark Urban of the BBC wrote a ridiculous article claiming that Pakistan was ready to sell or give nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia if Iran developed nuclear weapons. His claims were based on entirely fictitious information.
The fact was that the Saudi’s had not asked Pakistan for any kind of cooperation in regards to nuclear weapons. They did not ask Pakistan to sell them a bomb or to help them build a bomb. Heck, they did not even ask Pakistan to offer them extended nuclear deterrence.
Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, on many occasions while addressing the media, has clearly stated that the sole purpose of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is to deter Indian nuclear aggression, nothing else. Pakistan would never give or sell its nuclear weapons to anyone. Similarly, even Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister denied the false BBC story.
The only country Saudi Arabia sought help from was the United States. The Saudi’s had demanded that President Obama promise them protection under America’s extended nuclear deterrence policy, in the same way the Americans protect their allies in Western Europe and East Asia.
By asking for guaranteed extended nuclear deterrence, Saudi Arabia essentially insisted that the United States agree to use their nuclear arsenal to undertake the security of the Middle Eastern States against nuclear blackmail, threat or aggression from Iran.
In May 2015, President Obama called for a summit at Camp David with his Arab allies and assured them that the US would protect them against any Iranian nuclear threat..
This assurance allowed the Americans and five other major powers to broker a deal with Iran to freeze its weapons program.
Despite these developments and the countless times officials in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and even the United States have dismissed the initial claim made by BBC as mere rumor, the story keeps resurfacing in the media. It makes me feel like I am living in the twilight zone.
Apparently flogging this dead horse provides good diversion from the actual problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.
It is worth noting that Pakistan and Iran also enjoy good relations as neighbors. For this reason Pakistan would never take sides, if a conflict ever arose between the Iranians and the Saudis, instead it would try to mediate between the estranged brothers. Islamabad did exactly that a few months ago when the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen erupted into a full-scale war.
Pakistan would never offer Saudi Arabia nuclear weapons, because of the political, strategic, and normative consequences. Saudi Arabia would never want to obtain nuclear weapons because it is a party to the Nonproliferation Treaty and is treaty-bound not to acquire nuclear weapons. The costs of violating the treaty far outweigh any potential gains.
If they were to seek Pakistan’s help in developing their own weapons program, it would jeopardize their plan to build 16 nuclear reactors with American help. The US has made it very clear that it will only help those countries acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes that abide by the NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency requirements. India has been the only exception to the rule as America desperately tries to enact a plan to use India to contain China’s growth and influence in South Asia. For this reason the United States has proliferated nuclear technology to India and created dangerous precedence that more than twelve other champions of non-proliferation now shamelessly follow.
Pakistan knows that if it were to help Saudi Arabia develop a nuclear weapons, it would destabilize the Middle East, which is something it is not in favor of seeing happen. Therefore, Pakistan would never deploy nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia, nor would it ever help them acquire the technology required to build their own bomb.
Israel has shown its clear contempt for the American led and internationally brokered deal with Iran, and that seems to have led Israel on a campaign of manifesting a fictional Saudi-Pakistan nuclear cooperation deal, all in the hopes of reversing the American-Iranian détente, at the cost of Pakistan.
Interestingly, everyone seems to miss the elephant in the room. If Kenneth Waltz, the father of neorealism were to rise from his grave, he would ask why should we trust Israel with a bomb and not the States that it can target. Waltz was the proponent of the idea that more nuclear weapons powers would be better – it balances the terror.
Giving the bomb to Saudi Arabia would essentially kill the prospects of Pakistan’s membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group. As an energy-starved nation, it cannot afford undermine its interest in greater access to civil nuclear technology. Pakistan has long wanted to become a member of the NSG, so it can address the energy shortfall by expanding its civil nuclear projects. There is growing acceptance for the idea of mainstreaming Pakistan into nuclear order and it would not like to undermine this prospect. It would be irrational for Pakistan to ruin its hard earned reputation as being one of the best, most secure nuclear states in the world.
Although Pakistan is not a member of the Nonproliferation Treaty, it has always respected global nonproliferation norms. Its own nuclear program is purely for self-defense, and for maintaining a credible minimum deterrence against India. Pakistan has no global ambitions.
Perhaps the States that desire to revise the global order can pick this project of extending deterrence to States that need it.