Fiddling While It Burns

A realist appreciation of Mid-East nuclear proliferation | 26/08/2010

Here is a compellingly sensible article on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East:

Who else needs a bomb? The United Arab Emirates, which has a civilian nuclear program that is further along than those in other Arab states, would want a bomb because it fears not only Iran but also its Saudi neighbor, with whom it has had territorial disputes. Kuwait, the Gulf state most recently invaded by an Arab neighbor, Iraq, has just announced it’s starting a civilian nuclear program. The fact that Egypt is restarting the program it halted several years ago suggests that it, too, is concerned about both Iran and Tehran’s ally Syria, a longtime Egyptian rival, whose own nuclear facility was destroyed by the Israelis in 2007. Jordan, which has also just started a civilian nuclear program, would want a bomb to keep at bay a Syrian neighbor that has worked to destabilize the Hashemite kingdom over a half century. Even Sudan wants a bomb, for prestige and to ward off Egypt, with whom it has frequent disputes over rights to the Nile. And then there are the non-Arab actors, like Turkey, which can hardly afford to let either Iran or the Arabs have a leg up.

It’s a nicely level-headed piece for an expressly Jewish publication (imagine Marty Peretz publishing a similarly calm appraisal of the near-certainty of Mid-East nuclear proliferation). While it neglects to discuss the Israeli and US role in compelling Arab states toward nuclear programs (the only way they can expect their territorial sovereignty to be respected), it has a refreshingly complex view of the region.

The arguments in favour of seeking nuclear weapons for smaller regimes are more compelling now than ever before. This does have the positive effect of reducing the likelihood of regional interstate conflict, but it does so by massively raising the stakes involved.

It’s worth considering in the context of the push for nuclear power as a solution to anthropogenic global warming. A lot of new reactors means a lot of enriched uranium lying around. The Cold War almost went hot and nuclear several times, in a comparatively simple bipolar equation; I hate to think how much more likely nuclear confrontation will be when dozens of nations are involved.

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