Saudi Arabia plans to develop its own nuclear power industry using local uranium, according to energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman.
Recent field studies have shown promising uranium resources in the kingdom, he said during a speech at the Future Minerals Forum held in Riyadh in January.
“This would involve the entire nuclear fuel cycle: the production of yellowcake, low enriched uranium and the manufacturing of nuclear fuel both for our national use and, of course, for export,” Abdulaziz said, citing potential joint ventures “in accordance with international commitments and transparency standards.”
Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in the mining industry, touting resources including aluminum, phosphate, gold, copper and uranium worth about $1.33 trillion. In 2022, its mining revenue increased 27% and there are dozens of exploration licenses accessible to foreign companies. Overall, the kingdom wishes to attract $32 billions of investments to the mining sector.
“Equipped with robust bilateral relationships with relevant countries and the funds to bring in foreign partners, Saudi Arabia is likely to advance its nuclear game plan with the support of external players,” says Bayly Winder, Penn Kemble Fellow at the nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy. “Saudi Arabia initiated a bidding process for its first nuclear power station with interested parties including South Korea, China, Russia and France. The Saudi and American governments are also working on a partnership framework for clean-energy development”
The idea that Saudi Arabia will seek atomic weapons remains a concern. In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said his country could develop nuclear weapons as a response to Iran’s nuclear program.
BY ANDREW LATHAM, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR – 02/02/23 1:30 PM ET
“Gradually, then suddenly.”
That line from Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises” reveals a lot about the way catastrophe happens. Tragedy strikes, as if out of the blue. But in retrospect, we realize that disaster was all but inevitable, the outcome of a long train of seemingly minor events building inexorably then abruptly in catastrophe.
And that’s precisely how South Korea is going to become a nuclear weapons state — gradually, then suddenly.
The systemic pressures pushing Seoul in the direction of acquiring nuclear weapons have been building for quite some time. The most obvious source of these pressures has been North Korea’s nuclear program. Since the 1960s, but with growing earnestness since the 1990s, Pyongyang has sought to acquire nuclear weapons to deter what it perceives to be an implacably hostile United States.
And in recent years this sense has been compounded by the gradual erosion of the credibility of the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent. That credibility rests on the assumption that the United States would be able to respond to a North Korean conventional or nuclear attack against the South without fear that this response would in turn trigger a retaliatory attack against the U.S. homeland.
That was the bedrock strategic reality that underpinned the 1953 Mutual Defense Treaty between Washington and Seoul, a reality that has persisted for decades after. But as North Korea has developed an increasingly credible ability to strike the United States directly with nuclear weapons, this bedrock assumption has been called into question. As this new strategic reality has gradually crystallized, doubts that Washington would actually sacrifice Seattle to save Seoul have called into question the United States’s promise to defend its Korean ally if the North attacked.
Perhaps not surprisingly, over time, as the South’s sense of insecurity has grown, so too has the sense that something needs to be done to address the North Korean threat. Public and elite opinion alike has long favored a diplomatic solution to the problem of North Korean nukes, pushing for a “comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible (nuclear) disarmament” agreement that would solve the problem once and for all.
In recent years, this has been paralleled by an increasingly widespread sentiment that a stable nuclear balance might be restored if the United States would simply return the tactical nuclear weapons it withdrew from the peninsula as part of a disarmament deal with the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. What has never enjoyed widespread support throughout this period, however, has been the option of Seoul acquiring its own nuclear weapons.
And then suddenly.
In the last few years this has begun to change dramatically. To begin with, there has been an abrupt shift in popular sentiment. Beginning abruptly in the run up to the 2022 presidential election, South Koreans began to express widespread support for the idea that their country should not merely host U.S. nuclear weapons but should acquire weapons of its own. Indeed, recent public polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of South Koreans now support developing their own nuclear weapons, as opposed to merely calling for the return of U.S. nuclear weapons to their country.
And this has been echoed by a similar shift in elite opinion, with some officials, like retired Gen. Leem Ho‐young and National Assembly politician Cho Kyoung‐tae, now actively promoting the idea.
The reasons for this shift in elite and public opinion are perhaps obvious. North Korea continues to develop its nuclear weapons capabilities, including new delivery systems like solid-fuel ballistic missiles that are easier to move and hypersonic missiles that are more difficult to intercept. And then, of course, there’s the war in Ukraine, which has amplified the fear that, absent an independent nuclear deterrent, countries like Ukraine and South Korea will always be vulnerable to attack by aggressive neighbors — regardless of security “guarantees” like the toothless 1994 Budapest Memorandum or even the Mutual Defense Treaty between Washington and Seoul.
What is less obvious is whether the U.S. will support South Korea acquiring its own nuclear deterrent. Historically, Washington has been opposed to such a development, in part out of a general aversion to the proliferation of such weapons and in part out of a desire to retain the diplomatic leverage afforded by its nuclear patronage over allies and partners in the region.
But there are indications that this too is changing, albeit gradually. As some pundits and even some members of Congress are now asking, if the United States was unwilling to sanction Israel when it went nuclear, and if it quickly acquiesced when India and Pakistan did the same, would it seriously oppose Seoul’s development of an independent nuclear deterrent?
And what happens if, with or without the United States’s blessing, Seoul does suddenly develop and deploy nuclear weapons of its own? Two possibilities. On the one hand, such a development might usher in an age of stability (if not exactly peace and harmony) based on mutual assured destruction. Imagine the Soviet-American nuclear relationship during most of the Cold War, but on a peninsular scale.
On the other hand, it might heighten the North’s sense of vulnerability and insecurity, generating endless nuclear crises, any one of which could spiral out of control and end with a general nuclear war. Imagine the Soviet-American nuclear relationship during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Let’s hope that if South Korea does decide to go nuclear, the former scenario comes to pass. For if not, well, that’s how the world ends – first gradually, then suddenly.
Andrew Latham is a professor of international relations at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn., and a non-resident fellow at Defense Priorities in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @aalatham.
Why it matters: It’s the strongest confirmation so far that the Biden administration believes there’s no path forward for the Iran deal, which leaves key questions about the future of Tehran’s nuclear program.
Driving the news: Biden made the remark in a short conversation with a woman who attended an election rally in Oceanside, California.
The woman asked Biden to announce that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran deal is formally known, is dead.
Biden responded that he would not “for a lot of reasons.”
But then he added: “It is dead, but we are not gonna announce it. Long story.”
The woman replied that the Iranian regime doesn’t represent the people. “I know they don’t represent you. But they will have a nuclear weapon that they’ll represent,” he said.
What they’re saying: “The JCPOA is not our focus right now. It’s not on the agenda,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios.
“We don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon,” the spokesperson said, pointing to Iran’s crackdown on protesters and support for Russia in the war in Ukraine. “Our focus is on practical ways to confront them in these areas.”
The governments of France, Germany, United Kingdom, and the United States issued a statementin which they expressed concern about a “change in the configuration” of some of Iran’s centrifuges. This is noted in a statement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and posted on the website of the US State Department.
“As stated by the Agency, this unnotified change is inconsistent with Iran’s obligations under its NPT-required Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. Such lack of required notifications undermines the Agency’s ability to maintain timely detection at Iran’s nuclear facilities. The newly reported change in configuration of centrifuge cascades used to produce near-weapons-grade uranium underscores the need for Iran to meet all its safeguards reporting obligations and to accept whatever safeguards monitoring the IAEA sees as necessary in light of Iran’s production of such highly enriched uranium.
Iranian claims that this action was carried out in error are inadequate. We judge Iran’s actions based on the impartial and objective reports of the IAEA, not Iran’s purported intent.
We recall that the production of high-enriched uranium by Iran at the Fordow Enrichment Plant carries significant proliferation-related risks and is without any credible civilian justification.
Iran’s actions are all the more concerning since it has stopped the implementation of its commitments on transparency and verification under the JCPOA, including implementation of its Additional Protocol, for close to two years. Iran has also offered no credible answer yet to the IAEA’s outstanding questions as part of the IAEA’s safeguards investigation, despite the adoption of two resolutions on this issue by the Board of Governors last year,” adds the statement by France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States on the IAEA’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program.
Voices within ruling party call for deployment of U.S. arms
SEOUL/TOKYO — Nuclear weapons have entered political debate in South Korea as moves by China and North Korea push Seoul to consider all of its options — even one that could transform the security landscape in Asia.
In a November report circulated within South Korea’s ruling People Power Party, a special party committee suggested stationing a submarine armed with American nuclear missiles in the Sea of Japan.
U.S. nuclear weapons should be deployed in South Korea and Japan if a nuclear attack by Pyongyang appears imminent, it said.
The report was cautious toward Seoul developing its own nuclear capabilities, focusing instead on boosting deterrence through the presence of U.S. arms. But it urged an examination of the technology, time and cost needed for South Korea to develop its own nuclear arsenal.
“Deploying tactical nuclear weapons, or developing our own nuclear capabilities, is a possibility, but it is important for us to choose an option that is feasible,” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told Foreign and Defense ministry officials in January.
Such discussions come in response to the growing threat from Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently called for mass production of tactical nuclear weapons.
The U.S. and Russia are each limited to 1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers under their New START Treaty.
The U.S. has not sent troops to Ukraine, in order to avoid triggering a wider clash with Russia. An expansion of China’s nuclear capabilities could impact how Washington responds to a crisis in the Asia-Pacific, including in the Taiwan Strait.
Washington is exploring options for extending deterrence in the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. called for multilateral dialogue with South Korea, Japan and Australia in its nuclear posture review published in October.
Still, “there’s not a lot of advantage with tactical weapons deployed on the territories of South Korea and Japan, range-wise and capability-wise,” Randall Schriver, who was assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs under former U.S. President Donald Trump, told Nikkei in a recent interview.
The growing arsenals of China and North Korea “should really compel us to discuss the full range of options, including deploying tactical weapons,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re at the point where we should be making that decision, yet.”
Hideya Kurata, a professor at Japan’s National Defense Academy, said that tactical nuclear weapons deployed at U.S. bases in South Korea “could become targets” for the North’s short-range missiles.
“The U.S. is reluctant about the idea,” he said.
Kurata warned against using excessive posturing as a means of deterrence.
“If the U.S. retaliates against a North Korean tactical nuclear weapon by leveling Pyongyang, for example, North Korea will respond with a nuclear attack on Seoul, Tokyo and Washington — and that is not a reasonable choice for the U.S.,” he said.
“Deterring North Korea from using a tactical nuclear weapon requires low-yield nuclear weapons that can’t easily be neutralized,” he said, citing nuclear-armed submarines.
Additional reporting by Yukihiro Sakaguchi in Washington.