A fierce nuclear contest on Saudi energy plans among Washington, Beijing and Moscow

From Washington, Khalid Al Tarif

Saudi Arabia's ambitious plans, has brought back the “the nuclear show competition", between the US on one side and China and Russia's at the other side, in a scene that shattered the stalemate of the nuclear energy market since the Cold War.


According to a report by (The War on the Rocks) website, western nuclear countries lose market share and approach bankruptcy, while Chinese and Russian state-owned companies are rushing in to fill the vacuum in the nuclear supply with competitive bids and alluring capital investments,


The report, prepared by experts Nicholas Miller, an assistant professor in government administration at Dartmouth College, whose researches focus on nuclear proliferation and international security, and Tristan Volpe, an assistant professor in the Defense Analysis Department of the Marine Naval Postgraduate School and a nonresident fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, - points out that Saudi Arabia is the current target of this Russian-Chinese approach.


This comes after China signed in 2016 a deal “invest $2.43 billion to build a nuclear manufacturing equipment industrial cluster in Saudi Arabia" highlighting the importance of the Kingdom’s position at the initiative "One Belt, One Way." 

Russia is also seeking to expand its limited footprint in the region with an attractive offer to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia.

So, if the United States relinquishes the nuclear supply game at this early stage of development in Saudi Arabia, Moscow and Beijing will become key supporters of Riyadh's nuclear ambitions. 

This is because Moscow and Beijing prioritize what Mark Hibbs calls "geostrategic nuclear exports" - the use of nuclear trade to build political relations and acquire leverage over key nations. 


“In pursuit of this trade approach, Moscow or Beijing often turn a blind eye to the weak nuclear industry standards and weak nonproliferation assurances in recipient countries." the authors note. Fortunately, the United States is taking steps to counter the Russian and Chinese nuclear export strategy.

 This comes after US Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s meeting last year with the Saudi leadership to prepare for negotiations on a nuclear cooperation agreement required by US law to transfer nuclear materials, equipment or components.


  By laying the foundations for managing the burgeoning nuclear ambitions in Saudi Arabia, the United States will put itself in a strong position to counterbalance Russia and China and restore its impact on global nonproliferation policy. 

Back to the nuclear show during the Cold War, the United States was a dominant force in the nuclear market and assessed in building dozens of power reactors in countries such as West Germany, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, India and Taiwan.  


As a crucial resource, Washington had a strong influence to set the rules of the game, cooperating with the Soviet Union - the main supplier of the Eastern bloc - to establish the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), its safeguards system and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


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