The Saudis want to go nuclear

Briefly: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to renew requests for US assistance in developing the Kingdom’s civilian nuclear energy program during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit this week (6-8 June).

Saudi Arabia is a long way from its pledge to generate half its power from renewables by 2050; renewables contributed ~0% as recently as 2021. But sitting on up to 5% of the world’s uranium reserves, the Saudis say they could quickly bring a nuclear power program online with the right foreign support.

Plus, Saudi Arabia has listed American nuclear assistance as a prerequisite to normalise Saudi relations with Israel, a top US regional goal. And Saudi officials say the US would have substantial oversight over any nuclear program.

But for all the upsides, there are a few downsides. The Kingdom already has:

  • 🚀 An advanced missile program
  • 🤷 A norm-flouting leader who might be bluffing on normalisation, and
  • 🇮🇷 A determination to “follow suit” if its rival Iran develops the bomb.

And if the US has learned anything from its ~80 years as a nuclear power, it’s that peaceful nuclear programs don’t always stay that way.

Intrigue’s take: If the US declines to play ball, the Kingdom has flagged it may turn to US rivals like China and Russia, whose oversight regimes may not be quite as strict.

So no matter the outcome, the lesson for some world leaders may be that playing the US and its rivals against each other is a great way to get things done.

Also worth noting: