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The Emirate’s nuclear plans 25, November 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, The Emirates.
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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will, according to an official, continue to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the creation its peaceful nuclear programme. The move to start negotiations over the possibility of the Emirates nuclear programme comes as electricity demand is expected to more than double by 2020 (from 15,000 megawatts to 42,000). This turn to nuclear power does sound, however, somewhat counterintuitive given that the Emirates (and especially Abu Dhabi) have such large oil and gas reserves. Furthermore, given that whenever Middle Eastern states begin discussing nuclear issues, it is often – rightly or wrongly – suggested that they have nefarious intentions, ought the UAE’s decision trouble the international community?

On the surface there seems to be no problem at all. The Emirates is a Western-orientated country with generally very good relations with the vast majority of countries in the world. They are reliant on various flows to and from the Western world, be in in the influx of Western tourism, Western educated skilled workers or Western companies along with their need of routes to sell their oil and gas, products and services as well as projects to invest in with their sovereign wealth funds. Their future, therefore, appears to be somewhat contingent on amicable and improving Western relations. Indeed, America and France, for example, both have military bases in the country and value the Emirates as a friendly nation in a critical region of the world and would, therefore, defend the Emirates to some degree. However, the question is to what degree? If, for a minute, the discussion can be taken along a more academic or even implausible route, when countries are faced with questions of existential importance, issues of status quo, trade and common ties become somewhat redundant. The only existential element that could possibly come into this equation is, of course, Iran.
Iran has been seeking to begin its own peaceful Nuclear programme for years now. The international community, however, do not believe Iran’s peaceful intentions and seemed determined to stop Iran from acquiring significant nuclear technology so that they could manufacture a weapon and thus deter the West from meaningful actions against it. However, it is not just the West that fears an Iranian nuclear power. Many of the Gulf states are somewhat perturbed by examples of bellicose rhetoric emanating from Tehran towards their favourable attitude towards the West generally and America specifically. Qatar and Bahrain arguably have the most to fear from an angry, nuclear powered Iran given that they host massive US military bases. Bahrain in particular has a huge Shia community which contributes to their nervousness. The Emirates too have a sizable Shia community as well as large natural resources that Iran might well be covetous of.

If Iran acquired a nuclear bomb, for example, it would be extraordinarily difficult for either the West or the Gulf states themselves to deter Iran from interfering explicitly or implicitly in their affairs, perhaps under the guise of safeguarding their Shia brethren. Furthermore, with Iran’s population reaching 100m in the coming years, its critical dependence on a high price of oil to maintain its budgetary needs (apparently Iran needs oil prices to be around $85 per barrel to break even), its weak and impoverished infrastructure, its large military, its problems with securing sufficient water resources and its difficult relations with both the West and some of its neighbours, the spectre of an un-deterrable Iran, coveting the vast wealth of the Gulf states could well have the Shaikhs and Emirs of the region scrabbling for the beginnings of a deterrent themselves.

The great American give away 17, May 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Foreign Policies, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Western-Muslim Relations.
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Saudi Arabia are proud of the fact that they are the world’s largest swing producer of oil. They are the only country in the world with enough spare capacity to, at the drop of the proverbial and highly theoretical hat, pump out more of the black stuff. However, they are being – as you may have noticed – rather coy about putting their extra capacity where their mouth is. This fact is not lost on Gal Luft, the executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), a Washington based think tank specifically focusing on energy security. He was commenting on Bush’s seemingly fruitless visit to the Kingdom on MESH and concluded by suggesting that perhaps the best way for America to proceed would be to name an aircraft carrier the USS Ibn Saud. While this is unlikely to happen (!) it is only faintly less ridiculous and far less dangerous than the policy that the Bush administration is currently pursuing; namely helping Saudi obtain ‘peaceful’ nuclear technology.There are several issues with this. Firstly, has no-body else noticed that Saudi has some 262 Billion barrels of known oil reserves left, as this map neatly shows? They ought to be (literally) the last country on earth that would need alternative sources of fuel. Secondly, adding more nuclear issues to the Middle East does not seem to be the prudent course of action. The frosty Saudi-Iranian relations based on competition for leadership of the Islamic world and Sunni-Shia relations hardly need another complicating factor. Not to mention the potential knock-on effects of this with other Gulf countries, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and who knows who else looking over their shoulders’ at Saudi developments. Lastly, Saudi have dabbled in the nuclear playground before. There has been a mass of circumstantial evidence of Saudi’s desire to acquire nuclear weapons. Meetings between Saudi and Pakistani scientists and government officials, Saudi bankrolling of various Pakistani nuclear developments and Saudi’s acquisition of nuclear capable missiles from China are but a part of the puzzle.

There will, of course, be a number of safeguards including no doubt, IAEA inspections and who know what else. Yet these are, as has been proven time and again, not foolproof. And overall, is this is kind of message that the Bush wants to be sending? It is hardly a resolute stand against economic blackmail as some commentators are declaring it. Whilst this latter view is overstating the matter, giving the Saudi’s nuclear technology seems to be a high price to pay for…nothing. Nothing tangible at least. The Saudi’s need the Americans just as much as America need Saudi, primarily for the American security guarantee. The Saudi Army, Navy and Air Force, while modern and well equipped is generally regarded as being not capable of safeguarding the Kingdom as the Gulf War conclusively proved.  Indeed, the only thing that could change this status quo would be some wildly implausible course of action such as Saudi obtaining the bomb…


Breaking news – UAE don’t want Iran to get the bomb 8, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in French IR, Iran, Middle East.
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The Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum has revealed that the UAE are opposed to Iran having nuclear weapons. One might suppose that asking France to set up a military base in Abu Dhabi, facing the Straits of Hormuz and Iran, would be a hint, but still, in international politics, I suppose one can never be too clear.

Al-Siyassa, Kuwait (8.02.08)

Ahmadinejad severely criticised by ex-Presidential advisor and Parliamentary spokesman 26, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
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Mohammad Shari’ati, advisor to former Iranian President Khatami, savaged Ahmadinejad on Al Jazeera. His criticism were wide ranging and severe. He began by prefacing his criticisms by saying that considering that Ahmadinejad had little international experience when he started, he changed far too many policies. With their neighbours, he believes that Iran ought to have continued along with their ‘friendlier’ policies of the last regime. He is also critical of the Ahmadinejad’s dealings on nuclear issues. The policies of Khatami, Rafsanjani, and al Rouhami were all “more realistic.” The fallout of this is that the former Iranian UN nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani had to resign – he seemed to be inferring – because of the dichotomy between the old and new policies and the difficulties of negotiating across the change.

Regarding Hamas and Hezbollah, Shari’ati maintained that they could not be cut off, but that they must be dealt with in some kind of framework. It was unclear what he was specifically referring to, but he went on to maintain that Iran ought not to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, be it Iraq, by supporting militias about whom they really know quite little, or Lebanon where Iran “has ties everywhere.”

Domestically, he complained that there is, overall, less work and less money for Iranians and he castigated the government for signing fake contracts, to look as if they are doing something productive. Ahmadinejad’s excuse that this “is the result of out steadfastness” cut no ice whatsoever. Also on domestic issues, Hadad’Adel the Iranian Parliamentary spokesman, angrily reacted to Ahmadinejad’s attempts to abolish certain Majlis (parliamentary laws) by saying that only the Guardian Council had the right to do so.