February 19, 2013

CNAS Experts Ask in New Report: If Iran Builds the Bomb, Will Saudi Arabia Be Next?

Washington, February
19, 2013 - It is taken for granted in Washington that Saudi Arabia will
inevitably pursue nuclear weapons if Tehran succeeds in its quest for the bomb.
However, CNAS Senior Fellow Colin Kahl, Visiting Fellow Melissa G. Dalton and
Research Associate Matthew Irvine argue in their new report Atomic
Kingdom: If Iran Builds the Bomb, Will Saudi Arabia Be Next?
the prospects for Saudi reactive proliferation are lower than the conventional
wisdom suggests.

Atomic Kingdom: If Iran
Builds the Bomb, Will Saudi Arabia Be Next?

Join Kahl for a
Twitter conversation about

today at 1:00 p.m. EST. Send your questions to @ColinKahl #AtomicKingdom and follow the conversation @CNASdc .

In Atomic Kingdom, the
authors maintain that Riyadh would be highly motivated to acquire some form of
nuclear deterrent to counter a nuclear-armed Iran, but there are significant
disincentives weighing against a rush by Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear
weapons or illicitly acquire them from their close ally Pakistan.  The
authors contend that Saudi Arabia is much more likely to seek a nuclear
security umbrella from either Pakistan or the United States instead.
Ultimately, they conclude, a U.S. option would prove more attractive.

While this
outcome is preferable to a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia or a nuclear alliance
between Riyadh and Islamabad, it is still far from desirable.  Such an
arrangement would keep the United States bogged down in costly defense
commitments in the Gulf for decades to come, cementing U.S. ties to the least
democratic countries in a democratizing region and limiting Washington's
ability to strategically rebalance toward Asia.

authors recommend three concrete policy actions for the United States:

  • Emphasize
    prevention of Iranian nuclear weapons acquisition while planning for the
    worst case scenario of a nuclear-armed Iran;
  • Make
    Saudi proliferation more difficult by conditioning nuclear cooperation
    with Riyadh on rigid safeguards and controls; and
  • Maintain
    leverage over Pakistan to mitigate the prospects of a destabilizing
    nuclear arrangement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

a video interview with report author
Colin Kahl on
Atomic Kingdom and the prospects
for Saudi reactive proliferation.

This report is the second
in a series assessing the potential consequences of Iranian nuclearization. The
first report in the series,
Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel and the Bomb, was published by CNAS in June


The Center for a New American Security
(CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research
institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security
and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the
national security leaders of today and tomorrow.


Kay King

Director of External

and Senior Advisor

Email: kking@cnas.org

Ph: (202) 457-9408

Sara Conneighton

Director of External Relations

Email: sconneighton@cnas.org

(202) 457-9429