The war against Saddam Hussein, along with the current crises involving North Korea and Iran's nuclear activities, underscore the centrality of the issue of nuclear proliferation in today's politics. Many governments, not just the United States, have concentrated on the danger of terrorists or of states who sponsor them getting hold of nuclear weapons.
However, apparently defying those international concerns, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are now reported to have arranged a deal by which Pakistan will provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology in return for cheap oil. The US-based Defense and Foreign Affairs Daily even goes so far as to say that Pakistan will station nuclear weapons on Saudi territory. These weapons will be fitted to a new generation of Chinese-supplied long-range missiles with a reach of 4,000 to 5,000 kilometers.
This "cheap oil" is still a concern. Several days ago, the following article appeared, Government paying Rs 13 bln per month subsidy to check POL prices, of which an excerpt is reproduced here (variations of this article can be found at many Pakistani news sources):
ISLAMABAD, Dec 22 (APP): Interim Finance Minister Dr Salman Shah Saturday said that the government is paying Rs 13 billion per month as subsidy to keep the oil prices in check.
Talking to Dawn News he said, global oil prices have increased to unprecedented level from $20 to $100 per barrel within a few years. Government will have no option but to ultimately pass on the increase to consumers as huge subsidy is increasing budget deficit.
In next six months of current financial year the oil increase will have to be passed on to the consumers in small chunks, he added.
Oil prices are a powerful domestic political issue, not just for developed nations like the United States, but for developing nations like Pakistan, as well. In Pakistan, the government has been subsidizing oil prices, and this has kept food prices low. But, that can't continue forever.
So, the issue is so serious in Pakistan that Islamabad is willing to trade its nuclear weapons for a good price on Saudi oil.
Regarding new generation Chinese missiles, in the late 1980's, the Saudis procured from China the Dongfeng 3 (CSS-2) surface-to-surface missile with conventional warheads. The Dongfeng 3 is an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), and it gave the Saudis the capability to strike Iran, Israel and other regional powers; the Dongfeng 3 is now quite obsolete, hence the need for newer Chinese missiles.
It is worth keeping in mind that in the 1980's, Iran and Iraq were at war, and one weapon often used in that war was surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. There was a reasonable assumption that the US could keep any situation from flaring up between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but Iran was a loose cannon in the Persian Gulf, and there was no love lost between Saudi Arabia and Iran. First, there was old-fashioned power politics (Arabs and Persians; oil); second, Iran's fanatical Shi'ism and Saudi Arabia's hateful Wahhabism don't mix, either.
Consequently, although Israel could be considered a nuclear threat to Saudi Arabia, it is far more likely that the Saudis had Iran in mind when developing their surface-to-surface ballistic missile program, hoping to deter the SSM's that Iran already had and was using against Iraq.
Continuing with the 2003 article Saudi Arabia's nuclear gambit:
There are numerous motives for this deal, as reported by different sources. In the Saudi case there is evidently growing disengagement with Washington due to the "war on terrorism" and the war on Iraq. These events have created an atmosphere where Saudi elites evidently feel less inclined to rely on American protection in the face of regional threats, specifically the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear weapon. They also see no pressure from Washington being directed against Israel's nuclear arsenal, even though there is no sign or even consideration of an attack on Saudi Arabia. They also clearly resent the evidence of a Saudi connection to al-Qaeda and accusations against them of less than wholehearted cooperation with Washington and other Western capitals in efforts to break up al-Qaeda and its source of financing.
Some Saudis probably are serious about battling terrorists, but, sorry -- where there's Wahhabi hatred....
At the same time, Saudi Arabia has refused to stop supporting the financing of Palestinian terrorism, even as its officials and elites' ties through various intermediary organizations to al-Qaeda remain a source of anxiety to Western and Israeli officials. Nor is it only Pakistan that Saudi Arabia might use as a source for nuclear weapons. Speculation by Jane's that Saudi Prince Abdullah's recent visit to Moscow might indicate an interest in arms trading with Russia, and it also raised the possibility of Saudi Arabia buying an entire weapon rather than technology.
Pakistan's fears of an Israeli-Indian alliance are well known and out in the open. As India is reported to have some 200-400 nuclear weapons, Pakistan is seeking equalizers to deter India, and weapons located outside India's targeting reach offer that possibility. At the same time, because its other oil sources are located in areas that might be unreliable, like the Gulf or Central Asia, a deal with Saudi Arabia eases fears of an energy boycott or blockade in time of crisis.
The links between Israel and India seem to slip under the American public's radar.
Even farther under the radar were the ties between New Dehli and Saddam's Baghdad.
Another consideration is that a possible Saudi nuclear deterrent might also check Iran, with whom Pakistan has issues, especially over Afghanistan. Thus, a possible Riyadh-Islamabad axis would offer those two capitals, both of which continue to sponsor terrorism in Palestine and Kashmir respectively, a way to check India and its allies or partners, Iran and Israel.
It is important to keep in mind the role of China. India is a strategic opponent of China; China is the source of the Saudi IRBM's; China is a supplier of military equipment to Pakistan, China is helping Pakistan in various economic and industrial endeavors -- in short, China and Pakistan are close allies.
Currently, China is investing heavily in developing the port of Gwadar in Balochistan, which is a very large province in the west of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan and Iran, on the Arabian Sea at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
Thus, while important for a variety of reasons, perhaps some of the key reasons that Gwadar is important are that it offers Pakistan a deepwater port for trade and power projection toward the Persian Gulf, enhancing its ties with regional allies, and making its shipping (including imports of oil) and any naval units based there less vulnerable to Indian attack in the event of war -- goals which are in China's strategic interests as well.
Returning to the 2003 article Saudi Arabia's nuclear gambit:
Although both governments have firmly denied these allegations of nuclear cooperation, the explosion of reports from different sources in the US and Europe, many allegedly based on sources with access to these governments, appears to have some basis in reality.
Reportedly, President George W Bush and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage have confronted Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and other officials about these reports. Certainly, if they possess any element of truth, the news would represent a further escalation of the proliferation threat, but this time it would be clear that one is dealing with states which sponsor terrorism as proliferators.
Obviously, that kind of transformation of the proliferation situation raises the possibility of several more crises in different regions of the world, all of which could occur in relatively simultaneous fashion and which would all involve the linked threats of either terrorists with access to nuclear weapons or states possessing those weapons which extend their protection and deterrence to those terrorists.
Furthermore, there are still more considerations. If one looks at the history of Pakistan's nuclear program there immediately arises the issue of Pakistan's widely-reported assistance to North Korea, which at the same time is apparently proliferating missiles all over the Middle East. Adding Saudi Arabia to this chain of proliferators only extends the process of secondary or tertiary proliferation by which new nuclear powers assist other nuclear "wannabes" to reach that state. Thus, the threat expressed by the US of being at the crossroads of radicalism and technology becomes that much more real.
That's it in a nutshell.
Then, as I alluded to above:
Finally, there is the role of China. Beijing has been the main foreign supplier to Pakistan, and has a long record of supplying missiles to Saudi Arabia. Although some analysts claim that China is becoming a good citizen of the proliferation regime, and certainly now shows considerable anxiety about Pyongyang, its military ties to Pakistan remain as robust as ever, if not stronger.
The history of Chinese policies to orchestrate a network of such secondary and tertiary proliferation to include North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, and the reports that the missiles involved in this Saudi-Pakistani deal come from China, all lead one to ponder to what degree China knows about this relationship and supports it as another way of weakening the US by undermining its alliances and by disseminating nuclear know-how around the world to multiply potential threats to American forces and capabilities abroad.
While one cannot know what role China may have here; it is clear that this issue of a Saudi-Pakistani connection has the potential to become a major threat to many states and to trigger another international crisis in both the Middle East and South Asia. If there is anything the world does not need now it is a further escalation of the threat posed by proliferation to and from states with a record of extensive support for terrorism against their neighbors.
"If there is anything the world does not need now it is a further escalation of the threat posed by proliferation to and from states with a record of extensive support for terrorism against their neighbors."
And now, Benazir Bhutto is assassinated in Pakistan, causing just that.
The China connection is particularly interesting in light of what the Army's Information Dominance Center came up with through Able Danger in the 1999-2000 time frame. As addressed in previous posts (see Information Dominance, Part 7 and Information Dominance, Part 4), while this automated Able Danger system was going through open source information looking for leads and connections dealing with Al Qaeda, it came up with Condoleeza Rice's name in connection with proliferation to China.
Bizarre, unless one considers 1) the connections described here among China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and 2) the A. Q. Khan network addressed in The Islamic Bomb, Part 1.
It should be recalled from Part 1 that the Bush Administration did not cooperate with the Congressional hearing on Khan's network, nor did Bush pressure Islamabad for access to Khan so international investigators could question him.
Perhaps Able Danger's result -- connecting Condoleeza Rice to Chinese proliferation while investigating Al Qaeda -- is not so bizarre after all.
Perhaps Bush, Rice et al., deliberately decided not to pursue the Khan issue for the same reason they shut down inquiries regarding Able Danger: because they already knew where it would lead -- to their buddies in Riyadh, and ultimately to themselves in Washington.
Perhaps this is the same reason the Bush Administration has gagged Sibel Edmonds -- to cover up international criminal activity, involving terrorism, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and the nuclear black market.