Worst case scenario: Are North Korea's nuclear weapons designed for actual use? Photo: iStock

Much of the bloody turmoil in the Middle East and Africa during the past four decades has been due to their complete dependence on the world’s great powers for their political survival, and countries of the region that dare to slip out of their “sphere of influence” often find themselves in trouble.

In the tussle for supremacy by both the US and Russia along with China, Britain, France and Germany, the Middle East and Africa have been a playground for sowing discord, exploiting humans and inflicting catastrophe.

The Israel-Palestine issue has been a perennial plague since Israel, with nuclear capabilities at hand, has dictated terms to thwart all peaceful resolutions to the conflict since 1967. More recently, the emergence of Iran as a potentially nuclear-capable country and its ambition for regional supremacy has engulfed the Middle East in never-ending Shia-Sunni hostility that Saudi Arabia, under King Salman bin Abdulaziz and his son Mohammad bin Salman, claim they want to balance.

Nuclear weapons have no purpose except to make the already powerful nuclear club become even more powerful, in the name of security and safety, to threaten the destruction of smaller states devoid of nukes. Nuclear weapons are the hegemonic luxury of the few, and those who possess them don’t want others to have them, or allow only those whom they side with to possess the so as to increase their spheres of influence.

Nuclear weapons have no purpose except to make the already powerful nuclear club become even more powerful, in the name of security and safety, to threaten the destruction of smaller states devoid of nukes

In July 1996, the International Court of Justice offered an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons under international law at the request of the United Nations General Assembly. The ICC found that no law specifically authorizes or prohibits nuclear weapons. The court observed: “A threat or use of force by means of nuclear weapons that is contrary to Article 2, Paragraph 4, of the United Nations Charter and that fails to meet all the requirements of Article 51 is unlawful.”

In 2016, the world was said to have a total of 14,900 nuclear warheads: Russia led with 7,000, followed by the US with 6,800, France possessed 300, China stockpiled 260 and the UK kept 215. Then we have India with 120, Pakistan 130, Israel 80 and the latest addition, North Korea, with 15. No country in Africa, the Middle East, South America or Australasia possesses nukes. These nations, therefore, are either at severe risk of being threatened if they oppose nuclear powers to the point of war or they must take refuge under the hegemonic umbrella of any of the nuclear states for their survival.

Since such a huge stockpile of nukes is enough to destroy the world, they either must be dismantled completely or the countries of Africa and the Middle East must be allowed to possess some of them. Spreading nukes to these nations would not add more danger to the world, and if the question of “responsible state” is raised, the world has witnessed the devastation caused by a “responsible state.”

So the announcement of a new policy under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Energy Program by King Salman on March 13 to push forward the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes within the frameworks and rights defined by international legislation, pacts and conventions is a courageous act.

The announcement claimed that the kingdom’s nuclear-energy policy would be in accordance with the international principle of transparency in regulatory, operational aspects and supervisory framework. The Saudi cabinet also approved the organization of a Nuclear and Radiation Control Authority, and to complete the legal procedures the kingdom has recommended two draft laws – a Civil Liability Law for Nuclear Damage and a Nuclear and Radiation Control Law.

This was followed by the strong commitment of the powerful crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, who in an interview to the US television show CBS This Morning last Sunday spoke out on a much-needed Saudi stance when he asserted that the country would go for nuclear capabilities if Iran developed a nuclear bomb. The crown prince is absolutely right in his policy push to secure the kingdom’s integrity in the face of conflicts in the region.

Nuclear is the biggest deterrent in preventing nations from going for a full-scale war. The long Cold War between the US and Russia – from the late 1940s until 1989, when Mikhail Gorbachev and George H W Bush declared its end at the Malta Summit – there have been many instances when the world came to the brink of nuclear war, yet we heard only threats and warnings, not actual war.

India-China hostility since 1962 has caused continual tension, but it is only a threat, not war, since both possess nukes, and are therefore wary of going in for a full-scale war. In spite of all their hostile border skirmishes, India and Pakistan stop short of a war because both possess nukes.

The post-Cold War policy of the US directs it to “maintain a nuclear capability that could actually be used if the need arose for deterring attacks on the US by any other nation.” Doesn’t this apply to Saudi Arabia, allowing it to possess nuclear deterrence?

The Middle East is in a huge crisis of balance of power: Only a nuclear Saudi Arabia can correct the void, and along with Israel and Iran, it can have a bold and authoritative say against any ruthless interventions such as in Iraq and Libya or the bloody turmoil in Syria.

If the US and Russia really want peace in the Middle East, then they must either deny nuclear weapons to Iran and Israel or allow Saudi Arabia to have them

If Iran and Israel alone are allowed to have nuclear weapons, the big powers will have done a grave injustice to the majority of nations in the region, leaving them at the mercy of fetching favor either from the US or Russia for survival, and those two big powers, along with their allies, have transformed the region into a playground of conflicts.

If the US and Russia really want peace in the Middle East, then they must either deny nuclear weapons to Iran and Israel or allow Saudi Arabia to have them.

In recent times, the world has been a witness to the belligerent stance of North Korea over the possession of nuclear weapons and its frequent threats to the US, yet in spite of all the audacious threats and warnings from President Donald Trump, the US has stooped to negotiate with Kim Jong-un rather than actualizing the “fire and fury that the world has never seen before” rhetoric.

Likewise we have been hearing of the “Iran threat” for the last two decades, and in spite of all the embargoes it has completed the task while the US did not do enough to stop it.

M Shamsur Rabb Khan

M Shamsur Rabb Khan is assistant professor in the Department of English, King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia. He specializes in security issues, foreign relations and terrorism. He is writing a book on right-wing terror in India.

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