PakDef Military Consortium Press Release November 09, 2013
Pakistani transfer of nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia unfeasible
The November 6 BBC report by Mark Urban, the diplomatic and defense editor, for its ‘Newsnight’ program outlining a possible Pak-Saudi agreement to transfer nuclear weapons in some capacity and/or to supply ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, in the event of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon capability is a rehash of a very old story that holds no merit. The timing of these claims appears to be governed by events elsewhere in the Middle East, namely Saudi-US tensions, and they are made with malicious intent, though probably not on the part of Urban.
As the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs countered, “Pakistan’s nuclear program is purely for its own legitimate self defence.” It also drew attention to confidence expressed by US President Barack Obama in October in “Pakistan’s commitment and dedication to nuclear security” and also that “Pakistan is fully engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues.”
As a state Pakistan has a faultless proliferation record and would not want to change this, (only private proliferation by the A Q Khan network has tarnished its reputation). As Saudi Arabia is a Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory state it would also be forbidden for Pakistan to provide any such assistance.
Some Saudi officials may believe past aid rendered to Pakistan (Saudis did provide oil payment relief by agreeing to Pakistani requests for deferred payments on oil supplies.), would allow it to ask for the transfer of nuclear weapons in some capacity, at short notice.
However, Pakistan knows it would be hit with very harsh sanctions from the US, other western nations, the UN, and that this would even damage its close relationship with China, which is also no doubt opposed to Pakistan proliferating such technology. The report also mentioned the possible transfer of Pakistani Shaheen solid fueled ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia. However, though it stated these were without nuclear warheads, even this would be a step too far for the international community, including China.
Even if any transfers could not be prevented therefore, the aftermath would be severe for Pakistan and it is unlikely it could withstand the pressure of such sanctions. Pakistan would also not want to take sides in the Iranian-Saudi/Sunni-Shiite stand-off, due to its shared border and large Shiite minority.
Other reasons to discount these claims are more obvious. Saudi Arabia is a NPT signatory state, therefore it is illegal for it to obtain or develop nuclear weapons. It also lacks the ability to build its own weapons because it lacks the technology, infrastructure, and skilled personnel. Though it will continue to fear Iranian intentions, Saudi Arabia is limited by the NPT. Any effort to develop nuclear weapons would be laborious, and members of the Nuclear Supplier Group would only supply a reactor and associated fuel, not fuel cycle technology that would allow it to enrich weapon grade uranium or manufacture plutonium. It is also debatable that even the Saudis would be able to withstand international pressure from overtly obtaining a nuclear weapon capability for which it would have to opt out of the NPT, inviting fierce international reaction. Therefore, its only real option is to seek protection under a US nuclear umbrella, not help from Pakistan.