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The Saudi-Arabia-Iran Cold War and the Looming Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East

By Naomi Yilma on June 18th

by Angelo Olayvar

“While recognizing our limitations in fully perceiving the complexities and ambiguities pertinent to the Middle East conflict, we feel compelled to articulate our concerns on matters which are critical in modifying tensions in the area and moving toward a solution.” – Church of the Brethren 1975 Resolution: Concern for Peace in the Middle East.

The Church of the Brethren has long been concerned with issues of war as it goes against the teachings of Jesus Christ. The adherence of the Church to pacifism and promoting non-violent means of resolving conflicts is driven by its faith in the love of Christ. The instability of the Middle Eastern region greatly concerns the Church of the Brethren due to the immoral and unethical engagement of the United States military in the past decades. It is just and right to analyze and scrutinize all of the factors that exacerbate the conflict. The main focus of this blog would be the rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Islamic Republic of Iran and the looming nuclear arms race between the two states.

75 years ago — June 15, 1946: the United States presented the ‘Baruch Plan’ to the United Nations as an effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world. The ‘Baruch Plan’ would require an immediate halt to the development of nuclear weapons by all countries, followed by the close monitoring of peaceful nuclear programs. In exchange for this proposal, the United States promised to turn over all its nuclear weapons to the agency — at a time when the United States possessed a monopoly on these destructive weapons. This plan, however, was rejected by the Soviet Union due to its fear and distrust of the United Nations – which was dominated by the United States and its Western allies. In turn, the Soviet Union presented their counterproposal, however, it was rejected by their American counterparts as expected. The series of events that followed the rejection of the plans both presented by the United States and Soviet Union resulted in the inexorable collapse of negotiations between the states, which eventually led to an extremely dangerous nuclear arms race. Today, the world faces a similar dilemma. The rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran is stirring up events that could lead to a nuclear arms race between the two countries. Furthermore, US involvement in the Middle East via military engagement, weapons sales, defense transfers, and security assistance are fueling the instability of the already volatile region.

The rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the many factors that has destabilized the Middle East. It has plunged the region into a cold-war style conflict that is complex, fueled not only by political differences but

religious ones. It elicited events that casted the region into a state of geopolitical instability defined by despair, countless deaths, endless wars, worsening humanitarian crises, and a looming nuclear arms race between the Saudis and Iran. The effects of the instability of the Middle Eastern region can be felt all over the globe due to the far-reaching negative implications it presents to global peace and security, global economy, and promotion of human rights.

How did the rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran come about? After the 1979 Iranian revolution the last Shah of Iran was overthrown, ending the 2,500-year-old Persian monarchy. It resulted in the establishment of the Islamic theocratic state of Iran with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader. He reinvisioned the purpose of Iran: establish Iran as a Middle East regional power through Shia Islam. Today, Iran strongly believes that the dynamic political climate of the Muslim world is needed to be seen as forces of change in the Middle East, a region which is long exploited by the US and other Western powers. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim state, which had seen itself as the long-established leader of the Muslim world and guardian of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest place in Islam, is threatened by the rise of Iran and its idea of how the Muslim world should be.

Throughout the years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been involved in conflicts all over North Africa and the Middle East, even extending their competition in South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Both countries have funded, trained, and armed opposing groups in the Middle East in order to establish power and dominance in the region. The involvement of the two Islamic states in conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have resulted in disastrous humanitarian crises. It is important to note that these two Muslim countries would have not been able to successfully compete with each other without the support of powerful countries such as the United States, China, and Russia. With the United States backing Saudi Arabia and Russia and China supporting the Iranian cause, the complexity of the Middle Eastern cold war makes the region more volatile and prone to prolonged and intense conflict.

Although Iran’s nuclear program is not specifically aimed at Saudi Arabia, it stokes fear and distrust among its neighbors, especially to the Kingdom. Currently, Saudi Arabia does not possess any nuclear weapons and is a party to most relevant nonproliferation treaties and agreements. However, as mentioned by the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman on CBS program 60 Minutes in March 2018, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”. The rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran exacerbates the potential for a nuclear arms race between the two countries.

Countries rely on weaponries to protect their sovereignty, preserve national security, and ensure their survival. Oftentimes, some countries pursue the production and/or acquisition of weapons that would give them an advantage over their competitor. In the context of the Saudi Arabia-Iranian rivalry, both states want to protect their sovereignty and national interests. The Iranian nuclear program greatly concerns the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to the threats it poses to their national security and interests. This compels the Kingdom to pursue policies that will address the issues posed by the Iranian nuclear program. Recently published reports declare that Saudi Arabia is working with China to build industrial capacity to produce nuclear fuel. The analysis of the report has alarmed many experts and American lawmakers because there might be a hidden agenda behind the cooperation between the two countries,which may allow the Kingdom to process raw uranium into a form that could be enriched into a fuel for a nuclear weapon. If the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia successfully produces its own nuclear weapon, it may result in the nuclear arms race with its rival, Iran. The United States along with it Western allies and its unlikely ally — Russia — need to ensure that no other countries obtain nuclear weapons, especially in the volatile region of the Middle East.

Producing weapons that are capable of causing cataclysmic events that can result in the extinction of the human race is ludicrous. If the United States and the world is bent on preserving global peace and stability and ensuring the survival of the human race, they would provide mechanisms that would prohibit the proliferation and eliminate nuclear weapons. In the context of the Middle Eastern Cold War, Saudi Arabia and Iran need to step and pursue diplomatic measures before adopting irrational decisions and repeat the same mistakes that the United States and Soviet Union did before. They need to set aside their differences, political and religious, to ensure that they would not obliterate each other and cause irreversible consequences.


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