• Even if Iran signs a nuclear agreement, an arms race could still occur in the Gulf states.
• The Gulf states fear that if the oil and financial sanctions are lifted, Iran will have far greater resources at its disposal for its pursuit of supremacy in the Gulf and the Levant in the future.
• President Obama assured that the U.S. has an "ironclad commitment" to the security of its Gulf partners. However, he did not offer a defense agreement.
The competition between the Sunni Gulf states under Saudi leadership and Shiite Iran is becoming more and more aggressive – which presents President Barack Obama with an almost impossible problem: How can an atomic bombs race be prevented?
Obama has always put forward an important argument for the nuclear negotiations with the regime in Tehran: If Iran comes into possession of nuclear weapons, then a nuclear arms race in the region will be unavoidable. The nightmare could now become a reality, even if Iran does sign a nuclear agreement. The agreement with Tehran will be negotiated until June 30, but regardless of the diplomatic progress, Saudi Arabia and other countries are considering the "nuclear option."
Gulf States Consider Iran's Realpolitik To Be Aggressive
On the one hand, the Gulf states fear that if the oil and financial sanctions are lifted, Iran will have far more resources for its pursuit of supremacy in the Gulf and the Levant in the future. This was the prospect held out to Iran in the event of an agreement. Tehran's rivals already consider Iran's regional policy to be aggressive and deplore interference in their internal affairs.
They perceive this to be confirmed by the Houthis' seizure of power in Yemen, in addition to incidents in the Persian Gulf. Iran's Revolutionary Guard has fired warning shots there against merchant ships in international waterways. Furthermore, Iran has openly threatened war, should the Saudi Arabian-led military coalition prevent Iranian ships from accessing one of the ports controlled by the Houthi militia in Yemen.
On the other hand, the Gulf states criticize the fact that even during the period covered by the agreement, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium and conduct centrifuge research – which is also vehemently opposed by the Israeli government.
The Arab states have now voiced their criticism personally to President Obama. At a meeting in Washington and Camp David, Saudi Arabia made it clear to the president that it will utilize any technology that Iran is also allowed to use. In other words: If Iran continues to enrich Uranium and research its nuclear program despite a nuclear agreement, then they can do that too. The agreement in principle between the five UN veto powers plus Germany and Iran, in principle, does indeed allow room for enrichment and nuclear research, even if it is within strict limits and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The enrichment produces fuel for nuclear power stations, but also highly enriched uranium – the type that is used for nuclear warheads. The U.S. wanted to prevent nuclear technology from spreading. In addition to enrichment, it also includes the reprocessing of spent fuel, which produces plutonium, the second substance required to make a bomb.
Offer of a Defense Agreement Missing
The U.S. has signed a cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates. The agreement offers help with peaceful uses of nuclear energy, but only if the UAE refrains from sensitive nuclear technology. Obama has assured that the U.S. has an "ironclad commitment" to the security of its Gulf partners and pledged to supply weapons more quickly than planned.
However, Obama didn't offer to sign a defense agreement with the six monarchies in the Gulf Cooperation Council, nor did he offer to extend the America's nuclear protective shield to them. The Americans succeeded in preventing a nuclear arms race in Europe during the Cold War with such a pledge to NATO states. Only France and Great Britain acquired nuclear weapons.
In 2006, the Gulf states already decided to jointly consider the use of nuclear energy. They want to use the technology to meet the rising energy needs, become less dependent on oil and gas and generate power for the desalination of seawater. The UAE has made the most progress and is currently working in cooperation with South Korea to build two nuclear power stations, with two more to follow. Saudi Arabia plans to construct 16 nuclear reactors, with the first one connecting to the grid in 2022.
The Gulf states have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and support a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East, which targets Israel's arsenal. However, Saudi Arabia has funded a large proportion of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program – with the expectation that it can obtain nuclear technology, if not functional warheads, if need be. In addition, Riyadh had already bought DF-3 booster rockets from China in the 80s, which it presented publicly for the first time at military parade last year – a clear message to Iran.