Dear Editor,

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.