Congress Angered by ‘Escalated’ Ballistic Missile Program Amid Concern of a Saudi Nuke

Rather than preventing ballistic missile proliferation in the region, the U.S. seems more intent on seeing Saudi Arabia strengthen its military muscle against Iran, explains Giorgio Cafiero.

By Giorgio Cafiero
Special to Consortium News

The U.S. has obtained intelligence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “significantly escalated” its ballistic missile program with Chinese help, CNN reported on Wednesday. Beijing has enabled the Saudis to expand their missile infrastructure and technology at a time of escalating tension in the Persian Gulf, CNN said, with both the Saudis and Iranians perceiving a growing threat from each other.

The previously unreported classified intelligence has led U.S. lawmakers to express concern about undermining decades-old efforts to limit the proliferation of missiles in the Middle East.

The CNN report cited two former senior U.S. intelligence officials who said it is “likely” that President Trump received this intelligence in a Presidential Daily Briefing, given the close monitoring of ballistic missile developments and flows of material worldwide by U.S. intelligence.

Yet the Senate Foreign Relations Committee only acquired this intelligence from a committee staff member who learned about the ballistic missile activity in Saudi Arabia from a “foreign counterpart” while on “an unrelated trip to the Middle East.”

The news increased anger in Washington about a perceived lack of congressional oversight on foreign policy matters in the Trump era.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez, (D-NJ)  reprimanded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and blamed the administration for its “unacceptable” failure to initially provide the committee with the classified information. Menendez declared that the State Department must “do a better job of engaging with us.”

Such outcry comes against the backdrop of mounting bipartisan criticism over the administration’s support for the Saudi/Emirati-led campaign in Yemen and the cover that Trump provided Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) following the CIA’s conclusion that he ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.

Most recently, the administration’s decision to sell  $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while overriding congressional opposition by citing a national security emergency, highlighted how Saudi-related issues are creating partisan flashpoints between lawmakers, and conflict between Congress and the White House.

The Trump administration likely avoided disclosing the intelligence because of its tacit approval of the Kingdom’s ballistic missile activity. Based on the logic that if Saudi Arabia strengthens militarily Iran will come under greater pressure, the Trump administration may view China providing ballistic missile technology to the Saudis as a positive. The 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime restricts the U.S. and other countries from providing Saudi Arabia with such technology. Notably, China is not a party to this multi-country pact.

Next Step: A Nuclear Warhead?

News of this recent intelligence must also be read within the context of U.S. -Saudi nuclear cooperation, which is another Saudi-related flashpoint pitting lawmakers against the White House. Members of Congress have been accusing the administration of recklessly authorizing U.S. firms to provide sensitive nuclear power information to Riyadh, and in an insufficiently transparent manner in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing.

Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force Emblem. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some analysts worry that such information transfers could help the Kingdom develop a nuclear weapon at a later point if the Saudi government makes that decision.

Saudi Arabia’s ballistic missile production thus raises important questions about a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East. As MbS articulated in March 2018, Saudi Arabia will develop nuclear weapons if Iran pursues that path. 

China’s Foreign Ministry responded defensively, maintaining that such cooperation between “comprehensive strategic partners” is no violation of international law, nor a threat to efforts to thwart the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Not everyone was soothed by Beijing’s words.

There are concerns that the technology that China has provided Saudi Arabia could enable the Kingdom to possess ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the future if the Saudis become a nuclear weapons state.

Such a move would indicate Riyadh’s declining trust in Washington’s ability and willingness to continue serving as Saudi Arabia’s security guarantor. Apparently, Saudi Arabia believes it most prudent to hedge against a perceived Iranian threat by investing in the missile program with help from Beijing. It is not clear, of course, what the Saudi end-game is.

With the U.S. no longer a signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and Iran in reaction scaling back on its commitments under the nuclear accord, there are sharp increases in tensions between the U.S. , Saudi Arabia, and the UAE on one side and Iran on the other. Concerns about a potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East are valid.

To prevent such an escalation, the U.S. and China could use their leverage to pressure Riyadh and Tehran to hold talks and engage directly in bilateral discussions. It appears instead that China is keener to exploit the lack of Saudi trust in the U.S. and Riyadh’s perceptions of a rising Iranian threat to capitalize on a new client, while making Beijing of greater strategic value to the Kingdom.

Rather than preventing ballistic missile proliferation in the Middle East, the Trump administration meanwhile seems more interested in seeing Saudi Arabia strengthen its military muscle as Tehran refuses to capitulate to U.S. demands under “maximum pressure.”

Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy.



24 comments for “Congress Angered by ‘Escalated’ Ballistic Missile Program Amid Concern of a Saudi Nuke

  1. June 10, 2019 at 00:33

    Quote “…… U.S. lawmakers ….. express concern about undermining decades-old efforts to limit the proliferation of missiles in the Middle East” Unquote. Nonsense.

    America honored its policy of non-proliferation in the breach. Nixon allowed Israel to make the bomb and France, Norway and UK helped. Reagan prevented CIA from stopping proliferation to Libya, Iran and Iraq by A Q Khan because he wanted Pakistan’s help in his war against Afghanistan. After the CIA officer was punished the agency lost interest in non-proliferation and ‘anything goes’ became the policy. Mainly it was Reagan who spread nukes around the world. For an assessment of that President just read the history of McCarthyism and Reagan’s role in its aganist his former friends and colleagues in Hollywood. Not a man of courage or principle.

    Its absurd to say the Saudis might get a bomb if they want it. Of course, they want it. The only thing standing between the House of Saud and a nuke has been pressure from the world community. Now that has ended there are many countries ready willing and able to do the calculations and make the thing. Is that the west’s gift to the world?

    • elmerfudzie
      June 14, 2019 at 20:23

      RBHoughton. Points of clarification and correction. It was not Nixon who permitted the Israeli’s to obtain the bomb, it was the CIA/DIA/FBI who were either totally incompetent, looked the other way or were directly complicit in Plutonium diversions from nuclear re-processing facilities here in the states. Again, to amplify and demonstrate where the real powers that be are seated, (and is not inside the beltway) it was the CIA who refused a direct order from a sitting president, Richard Nixon, to release for his personal review, all the so called “vault 7” records on the JFK assassination. This Intel and corporate take over of what was once well within the purview of our political realm, and now is irreversibly, a condition through out the Western Occident.

      A. J. Woolston-Smith was a British National and New York Private detective who uncovered an MI 6 Plot that discredited Nixon by mucking up a simple break-in, now known as the Watergate scandal. This, primarily due to his lack of enthusiastic support for the Zionist movement in general and specifically, Oval Office influence(s) to ensure that Israel would have the Bomb.

      On the other hand, Pakistan remains the cornerstone of our deepest national security interests and is central to U.S. deep state actions world wide. The Pakistani bomb was originally intended to offset China’s rise as a nuclear power. As of late I have come to believe it was intended to (strategically) offset the Israeli A bomb. For insight into this carefully hidden history from MSM comment or view, visit those web articles that focus on Obama’s visit to Pakistan in 1981. He was already in the throes of being groomed, by the deep state, for the presidency!

  2. Paora
    June 9, 2019 at 22:44

    This wouldn’t be the first time the Saudis have turned to China for help with its ballistic missile program. The Saudis purchased DF-3A missiles from China in the late 1980s after the Israel lobby put the kibosh on sales of US missile tech. Perhaps this explains who the “foreign counterpart” was who brought this to the attention of Congress. Saudi-Israeli relations may be much closer today than in 1988, but Israel will not tolerate the end of its nuclear monopoly in the region.

  3. June 8, 2019 at 21:29

    What happens if the extreme whabist one day oust the royal family which is very much on the cards .Thier first target will be the chinese as payback for enslaving thier muslim brothers in China closely followed by the great Satan then of course Israel , this could easily backfire on all those involved .

  4. mike k
    June 8, 2019 at 17:52

    How can anyone fail to see the insanity of the US government? Ask the members of the brain washed America public.

  5. Abe
    June 8, 2019 at 16:05

    The Israelis must be apoplectic about the behavior of their new BFFs, the Saudis.

    My goodness, what would happen if a nuclear weapon fell into the hands of one of the many terrorist groups the Saudis have so generously backed in Syria?

    Netanyahu must be getting busy again with his magic markers, anxiously preparing another cartoon bomb to wave in front of the United Nations.

    No, wait…

  6. elmerfudzie
    June 8, 2019 at 12:14

    This is sheer madness! I had high hopes that our new POTUS would take firm steps to halt global nuclear proliferation. If the Saudis desire commercial nuclear power, fine, let that reactor core be constructed for Thorium 232 use and not Uranium 235 or Plutonium streams. Even this alternative energy idea is ridiculous because the Saudis are knee deep in oil, why go nuclear?, for the same disingenuous reasons the Iranians wanted Uranium streams because with Thorium based technology, it is extremely difficult to fashion nuclear weapons. A Thorium A-bomb would be the size of a three story residential building.

    If the argument surfaces, just as it did during Iran’s propaganda spin for going nuclear, that oil conservation for future generations is their intention, then the latest research on this subject completed by the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, should prove their justifications wrong. The study shows that fossils from animals and plants are not necessary for crude oil and natural gas to be generated (even Russian petrochemical experts agree with this conclusion). In summary, wrong about peak oils (of botic origin) and wrong about recoverable reserves, yet to be tapped. The more recent discoveries in Venezuela, below the floor of the Mediterranean sea and off the coast of Brazil (the worlds third largest) reveal that “fossil” fuels are far, far, from any so called, peak production scare tactic. Again, the Russians have enough oil and gas to last for hundreds of years. The Chinese know this and the commodity rich with marry with the manufacturing prowess of the largest economy of the world. These economic ties will very soon become a reality.

    My final commentary may seem off topic but it is not. The need for a carbon based energy source and manufacture of finished products can only be interrupted or slowed by propaganda lie(s) that revolve around carbon dioxide as an evildoer responsible for “climate change”. This hocus-pocus will not fool our economic competitors nor will it slow the financial integration of Russia and China. Only a major war can prevent it.

  7. Rochelle
    June 8, 2019 at 04:40

    Americans — ordinary Americans — need to understand that if a full-scale war does break out, they may be in a greater risk of annihilation than the Russians will be. The non-military elite in the US seem convinced that the Aegis missile defense systems spread across the world will keep them safe from Russian retaliation. But some experts have cautioned against putting too much faith in the Aegis system, including Theodore Postol (the same Postol who disproved the mainstream narrative about CW in Syria). Even that only touches on the subject of the ineffectiveness of ballistic missile defense against hypersonic vehicles, and doesn’t take into account the multitude of decoys and other countermeasures inbuilt in the new Russian Sarmat nuke.

    Meanwhile, Russia has, of course, the best air defenses on the planet. The S-400 is an effective air defense against aircraft and cruise missiles alike, and the upcoming S-500 is expected to provide protection against aircraft, cruise as well as ballistic missiles, stealth aircraft and, get this, hypersonic vehicles. The US has only started on hypersonic weapons development and may take 5 to 10 years — very possibly more, with the corruption and ineffectiveness of the MIC — while Russia already has a few fully working ones. The S-500 is expected to complete the forming of an ‘iron dome’ blanketing Russian airspace against any hostile aerial intrusion.

    The top brass in US military likely know, if begrudgingly, that the US is at a disadvantage — which is why they littered Eastern Europe with the Aegis Ashore missile defense system with the goal of shooting down Russian nukes in the most fragile phase of launch. But if a war does break out, then Russia has no reason to hold back, and it could neutralize NATO missile defenses in Eastern Europe with its Iskander missile systems easily. If the US sends carrier battlegroups with a serious intention of destruction, they would perish by the hypersonic Kinzhal or the super-secretive Zircon missiles before the planes could be launched. $13 billion Gerald Ford supercarrier? Gone against a squadron of Kinzhal-armed fighter planes. That alone would deal heavy enough psychological damage to those Americans who have yet to be disillusioned from the myth of their military’s invincibility.

    The problem starts after that. If the neocons don’t back down but instead escalate — and when do they ever not escalate? — then hug your beloved ones and spend quality time with them, for there is no winner in this game, and “not playing” isn’t an option either.

  8. June 7, 2019 at 14:56

    Is this “intelligent” intelligence or more of the same b.s.?

  9. Eddie
    June 7, 2019 at 11:21

    No one in the ratings-obsessed corporate media or the sleazy and corrupt US Congress seems to have noticed the obvious. Trump, who has no emotional ties to any ideology, is only motivated by what delivers a financial or control benefit directly to him. Thus the motivation for his seemingly irrational motivation to sell a bunch of nukes to crazed head choppers that are relics from the seventh century is money. Trump engineered a big payday for his willingness to pony up $8.1 billion worth of the goods.

    Just another fine example of capitalism in the US of A.

    • Dunderhead
      June 7, 2019 at 21:39

      I agree with your assessment of Trump though I am still hopeful he may be possible to manipulate in a positive direction if the right circumstances were to arise and I agree with the article in its assessment of the military industrial complexes chalice disregard to the lives of the citizens of this planet.

      Still there could be some positive equilibrium to a Saudi bomb, the house of Saud is likely due for a shake up, most people would agree, that being said there is such a thing as the Arab street and at a certain point hopefully that will come to mean some relief from Western imperialism, I understand that this sounds completely absurd when speaking of the Saudi’s however the incredibly corrosive affects of a near constant state of ottoman and European colonialism for most of its history, the bomb could finally give it its own internal security, who controls Saudi Arabia and how Borders expander contract is just not our business. The Palestinian problem, that is our business and Yamin and all the complications that a Saudi bomb will bring.

    • Taras77
      June 7, 2019 at 23:47

      And of course, there is foreign agent kushner; it is a question as to whether he is more greedy than trump but he appears to be closely involved in all “deals” with his friend, clown prince, and with nitenyaahoo.

      It would be impossible to make this up to the degree of conflicts of interest in the admin; former chief of staff gen kelly has publicly railed at the close presence of kushner and invanka in the white house-his bottom line, they need to be gone.

  10. Bob In Portland
    June 7, 2019 at 10:56

    I don’t suppose that this means the US will have sanctions against the House of Saud for trading with China.

  11. June 7, 2019 at 10:12

    A fissure in the Saudi-Zio Terror Network?

  12. Skip Scott
    June 7, 2019 at 08:42

    Head choppers with nukes. What could possibly go wrong?

  13. Sally Snyder
    June 7, 2019 at 07:53

    As shown in this article, Washington clearly ignores human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia:

    In the case of Saudi Arabia, it certainly appears that Washington is able to turn a blind eye to the kingdom’s misdeeds as long as the Saudi royal family is willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States, an investment that will create jobs for Americans.

    • AnneR
      June 7, 2019 at 09:20

      Sally Snyder – yes the US (and UK, FR) does – profoundly hypocritically ignore the many long-standing, grotesque human rights abuses of Saudia. It also ignores – as it has for over 70 years – the human rights abuses of its other main ME partner *Israel* – and this “state” it continues, as it has for just about as long, financially supported and militarily armed to the gills.

      Meanwhile, in true hypocritical fashion it condemns Iran (a country, a state, which hasn’t invaded another country, state, in well over 100 years) right, left and center – for its “human rights abuses,” for its “having missiles,” for its “having nuclear energy,” and for its supporting Hizbullah and supposedly the Houthis (a different branch of Shi-ism), though how it supports the latter other than rhetorically is not explained given the blockade on Yemen and its distance from Iran.

      • MichaelWme
        June 7, 2019 at 10:49

        The official US version of history was put forth by Bush, Jr in his 2003 State of the Union address, an address the Washington Post says was one of the 5 best in US history.
        Bush, Jr said 9/11 was planned and financed by Iran, and perpetrated by their co-religionists led by Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, Saddam in Iraq, and Kim in the DPRK, all of whom trained in Iran for the attack. Bush, Jr later added, to the perpetrators of 9/11, Libya, Syria, and Cuba.
        US courts have said Iran is the sole nation guilty of the 9/11 attack, and Saudi had absolutely nothing to do with it, not one Saudi was involved.
        The official US government version of history has little or no connection to anything that actually happened, but that’s what the US is going on.

        • AnneR
          June 7, 2019 at 15:49

          Well, yes, a concocted “history” because the American puppet and brutal Shah was overturned by the Shia Islamists led by the Ayatollah Khamenei (I think I have the transliteration right) in 1979 thus reducing/removing US access to Iranian oil.

          However, “official” historical lies or no, that doesn’t explain why the media and others run with it, eagerly it would seem, like so many headless chickens. Of course, it almost certainly suits their paymasters.

          • michael
            June 7, 2019 at 16:43

            “The aide (Karl Rove) said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off.
            “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”
            He continued “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
            Seems to be the mantra/ religion of all our politicians today.
            Also is indicative of psychopathy.

          • Rochelle
            June 8, 2019 at 03:30

            Just a minor correction; (Ali) Khamenei is the current Grand Ayatollah, while the previous and first one who led the revolution was Ruhollah Khomeini.

      • Dunderhead
        June 7, 2019 at 21:41

        Why do you suppose the Zionists seem to be silent over this?

  14. June 7, 2019 at 04:23

    Humanity faces a far-greater threat of nuclear holocaust than it did during the Cold War. It is argued that Deterrence doctrine kept the peace then. But now? Today it is irrelevant. Deterrence theory is increasingly unable to prevent the scenarios where Mutual Assured Destruction might have to be resorted to. We will face the scenario where (unlike the Cuban missile crisis or Euro missile crisis) one protagonist will not be able to step back from the brink, blindly stumbling into a situation they cannot de-escalate. All that is left is Deterrence’s fall-back position – annihilation. It might begin in the Middle East, Europe or Asia.

    • MichaelWme
      June 7, 2019 at 10:41

      In 1945, Truman ordered the US military to drop all its nuclear weapons on Japan (it only had 2 after 1 had been used for a test).
      Knowing that nuclear bombs were possible, and knowing the requirement was 60 tonnes of a combination of metallic uranium and uranium oxide, by 1949, the USSR had a nuclear weapon. In 1951, China was driving the UN forces out of the DPRK, while the US wanted regime change. MacArthur told Truman the only way to defeat the Chinese was to use nuclear weapons. Truman said, ‘The USSR has MAD. You’re fired.’ MAD has convinced people to step back from the brink since then.
      But you’re right that the threat is now greater than ever, because the top US ‘experts’ say that MAD no longer exists, the US military is so advanced over the other nuclear powers that the US has AD, and they cannot retaliate. Since US ‘experts’ have never been right about anything, the US thinking that no other nation has MAD makes this the closest, by far, to MAD that the world has ever been.
      In the 3rd debate, Secretary Clinton promised regime change in Russia on Day 1, and her supporters said, when she ordered Putin to step down and let her name his successor, Putin would have had no choice but to meekly obey. Fortunately, she lost the College, but Trump, who as candidate promised peace with Russia and Syria and bringing all the boys and girls home, now is sending the fleet into Chinese waters and the Oman Gulf, while imposing crippling sanctions on the DPRK, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, and ordered Canada to arrest a Chinese woman who is facing a life sentence in US prison for selling phones to Iran
      Trump is acting, two years late, as Secretary Clinton promised to act on Day 1, and that cannot work out well.

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