The BBC reported this week that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are “sitting ready for delivery,” raising the possibility that the oil kingdom acquires such weapons before its nemesis Iran does.
The report, by the British broadcaster’s defense correspondent Mark Urban, was promptly denied by Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest petroleum exporter and most conservative of Sunni Muslim states, has resisted Shia Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts through the years which it fears could tip the regional balance in its enemy’s favor when it succeeds in making a bomb. King Abdullah exhorted his ally the United States to “cut off the head of the snake” by launching military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to American diplomatic cables leaked in 2010. The king’s former spy chief, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, warned a year later that the ruling family in Riyadh would “consider all possible options, including the possession of these weapons” to defend itself.
Citing Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s former advisor on weapons of mass destruction, Urban argued that under the most likely scenario, Pakistan would station its nuclear weapons, with their own delivery weapons, on Saudi soil.
This would give a big political advantage to Pakistan since it would allow them to deny that they had simply handed over the weapons but implies a dual key system in which they would need to agree in order for “Saudi Arabian” nukes to be launched.
Other experts deem the scenario less likely because it might undermine Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the Arab world when it is dependent on another country to protect it.
Saudi Arabia has intermediate range ballistic missiles of its own that can carry nuclear warheads — but they’re not made to carry Pakistan’s.
The two Sunni countries have maintained an alliance since the 1960s when Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan in its wars against India and opposed the secession of East Pakistan which became Bangladesh in 1971. It also collaborated with Pakistan and the United States in supporting the Afghan mujahideen in their resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s when the kingdom financed Pakistan’s military modernization efforts. The Saudis were also among few nations to congratulate Pakistan when it first tested a nuclear weapon in 1998.
Relations have been complicated in recent years as Saudi Arabia expanded trade with Pakistan’s rival India while Pakistan plans to build a natural gas pipeline into Iran, a project that Saudi Arabia and the United States both oppose.