Will Biden’s Saudi Security Pact Spark a Nuclear Arms Race?

The Biden administration is reportedly close to finalizing a controversial security agreement with  the Saudi kingdom. Beyond a contractual obligation to defend Saudi Arabia with American troops, the agreement also offers Riyadh American assistance in developing the nuclear fuel cycle. This would grant the Saudis access to sensitive enrichment technology, which critics argue would put the kingdom on the brink of acquiring nuclear arms. Given Washington’s long-standing policy of restricting the spread of enrichment technologies, Biden’s proposed deal is raising concerns in the global non-proliferation community.

What are the non-proliferation implications of the Saudi security pact? Given Saudi Arabia’s past expressed interest in developing nuclear weapons, can the deal guarantee that Riyadh won’t militarize its program down the road? Given the near-collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, can Biden’s offer to Saudi Arabia spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East? 

To discuss these questions and more, the Quincy Institute held a conversation with Thomas Countryman, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, Ariel Petrovics, Non-Resident Fellow at the Quincy Institute and Assistant Research Scholar at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, and Robert Einhorn, Senior Fellow in the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution. James Walsh, Senior Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program (SSP) moderated. 


Thomas Countryman

Thomas Countryman is the former Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security and Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN). Prior to retiring in January 2017, Countryman served over 35 years as a Foreign Service Officer. He received several Superior Honor Awards for his work and in 2007 received the Presidential Meritorious Service award. Since 2017, Tom has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Arms Control Association.

Ariel Petrovics

Ariel Petrovics is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Quincy Institute, a Research Fellow with Managing the Atom at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and a Research Associate and Lecturer at University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. Her research examines the effectiveness of foreign policy strategies on issues of international security. Her book project compares foreign policy effectiveness for inducing nuclear reversal, while related research evaluates engagement strategies with renegade regimes, and the effects of new proliferators on international security.

Robert Einhorn

Robert Einhorn is a senior fellow in the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and the Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, both housed within the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. Before joining Brookings in May 2013, Einhorn served as the U.S. Department of State special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control, a position created by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009. In that capacity, he played a leading role in the formulation and execution of U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program, both with respect to sanctions and negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries.

James Walsh

James (Jim) Walsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program (SSP). Walsh’s research and writings focus on international security, and in particular, topics involving nuclear weapons. Walsh has testified before the United States Senate and House of Representatives on topics relating to nuclear terrorism, Iran, and North Korea. He is one of the relatively small number of Americans who have travelled to both Iran and North Korea for talks with officials about nuclear issues. His recent writings include,"The Implications of the JCPOA for Future Verification Arrangements (including the DPRK)," "The Digital Communications Revolution: Lessons for the Nuclear Policy Community," and “Laser Enrichment and Proliferation: Assessing Future Risks.”