Discovery or announcement?
Multiple reports say Saudi Arabia has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program. The advance has come through acquisition of missiles and technology. Assuming the story is true it is not a development that moves the region closer to peace. It is a development threatening decades of US efforts to limit such proliferation in the Middle East. A question not being asked is whether the development is a good thing?
Enter the Dragon…
The Washington Post was first in reporting satellite imagery suggesting the acquisition by the Saudis. Analysts say the images appear to match Chinese technology. The missile base and Riyadh’s interest in a domestic fuel cycle are significant. They demonstrate the Kingdom’s commitment to hedging against Iran’s military capabilities. The kingdom purchasing from China makes sense. China is not signatory to applicable non-proliferation treaties.
The discovery has the U.S. Congress humming. There is political posturing in the U.S. Congress about administration approval such a purchase. Evidence supporting the congressional posturing is currently unavailable. There has been Congressional criticism of the Kingdom’s war in Yemen. The Saudi’s killed dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and there has been criticism of that.
Saudi commitment to countering Iran…
An obvious point is the Saudi’s declaration of a sovereign need to counter Iran. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has made clear that: Should Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would work to do the same. Recently, the administration has pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. Now the Kingdom faces ballistic missile threats from Iranian proxies in Yemen. The Saudi arsenal of Chinese made ballistic missiles is a way to signal military strength to the region.
The missile advancement marks another step in Saudi efforts to acquire and deliver a nuclear warhead. Saudi Arabia is among the biggest buyers of US weapons. It is, however, barred from purchasing US ballistic missiles by the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime. We are also blocked from selling to them.
Foreign policy in the region…
Our trade position with China is not warm. Also, we have decades of U.S. policy against missile technology proliferation. Administration approval of the Saudi missile acquisition from the Chinese at this point that seems incongruent.
The missile acquisition also brings into question Chinese intentions. It is an obvious expansion of influence in the Kingdom. But, given the U.S. is energy self sufficient, does that moderate our national interest in the region? Are we reducing our commitment in the region?
It is also true the White House has publicly sought a closer relationship with the Saudis. The administration has decided to sell the Kingdom a lot of weapons and munitions, despite opposition in Congress. To what extent should Congress be consulted prior to foreign policy decision making in this volatile region?
What’s important here? Is the criticism partisan political posturing or legitimate questioning of a national security matter? The countries of this region have been at war for thousands of years. What overriding interests do we have in the region? How significant is the expansion of Chinese influence in this oil rich area? What doe this mean for the future of Middle Eastern and Chinese money in Silicon Valley?