In last week’s Collegian, Ms. Abby Liebing wrote about the Trump administration’s apparent attempts to secretly sell $80 billion of nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia. It remains unclear whether the proposed deal was strictly financially motivated, or whether it was a subtle attempt to assist the Saudis in developing nuclear weapons. Ms. Liebing assumes the latter.
While she’s correct in bringing attention to a very serious foreign policy issue, her conclusion that America should assist Saudi Arabia in developing nuclear capabilities is shortsighted.
This is not to say that her goals are misplaced. Ms. Liebing rightly emphasizes that Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East and that the U.S. should do everything in its power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. However, once matters of international security are at stake, one question should be asked of any possible solution: What are the potential consequences?
First, if the Trump administration assisted Saudi Arabia in creating a nuclear program, it would significantly undermine American credibility abroad.
By jump-starting a Saudi nuclear program, the U.S. would violate the landmark 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Article 1 of the NPT clearly states that no nation may assist in spreading nuclear technology, either through direct or indirect means. If America’s sale of nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia did result in the country’s emergence as a nuclear state, the U.S. would violate the terms of this treaty.
Ms. Liebing addresses the NPT, but she dismisses the historic role it has played in preserving the international order. Considering that nuclear weapons provide the ultimate strategic deterrent, the fact that only three additional nuclear states — India, Pakistan, and North Korea — have emerged in the past 50 years after the treaty’s introduction is remarkable.
If the U.S. did deliberately violate the NPT by assisting Saudi Arabia in developing a nuclear program, it would deal a serious blow to its credibility. The U.S. has been at the forefront of the nonproliferation movement for decades. Intentionally violating the NPT would be rightly condemned as hypocritical.
Second, breaking the NPT would set a dangerous precedent, as other non-nuclear nations across the globe would be increasingly tempted to disregard it. This may open the Pandora’s box of global nuclear proliferation.
Again, nuclear weapons are sought after because they represent the ultimate deterrent. If the threat of international condemnation and backlash which accompanies developing a nuclear program is removed, non-nuclear states around the globe may decide that acquiring nuclear capabilities is in their interest. As a result, the likelihood that a nuclear weapon is actually used would increase significantly — a possibility that must be avoided at all costs.
Third, the conduct of the executive officials involved in planning the deal does not bode well for the state of the American political system.
As Ms. Liebing mentions, it’s highly unlikely that the Trump administration would have been able to pass a Saudi nuclear deal through a House committee. But she’s missing the point. Matters of this magnitude should be settled on the floor of Congress by elected representatives, not by executive officials and private companies in secret meetings. This isn’t how American government is supposed to operate.
Republican government functions through consent. As Publius explains in Federalist 22, “the fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of the consent of the people. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.” At best, the Trump administration’s attempts stretch the principle of consent significantly. At worst, they flagrantly violate it.
The Constitution specifically grants the Legislative branch the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign nations” (Art. 1 §8). The Saudi deal clearly falls under this category, regardless of its true intentions. To preserve their role in American government, the American people should protest any and all attempts by the executive branch to appropriate powers explicitly delegated to the legislature.
A Saudi nuclear deal has the potential to erode America’s international credibility, encourage global nuclear proliferation, and subvert the foundations of republican government. It represents a gross overreach of executive power.
Americans should respond with nothing short of deafening public backlash to keep these plans from transpiring. By flooding the offices of their representatives with phone calls, they can make their voices heard and encourage legislators to check the executive branch. Perhaps then this potential crisis will be averted.