What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nuclear energy and the Gulf - An improbable association?

Over at Abu Aardvark, prof Marc Lynch's excellent Middle East weblog, I ran into a post that I didn't agree with very much, for a change. Concerning the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, he asked some questions implying arguments that are quite well known from the debate on the (rather more controversial) Iranian nuclear program.

" These large, energy-poor countries clearly need nuclear energy programs to meet the power needs of their vast populations and energy-dependent manufacturing economies. Where else could they find reliable supplies of energy? And from a security perspective, there really doesn't seem to be any better place to locate nuclear power plants than in small, weak states in the Persian Gulf, where would-be nuclear terrorists would have no chance of getting close and the plants themselves couldn't possibly become military targets.

Of course, what Gulf watchers really want to know is whether Dubai's peaceful nuclear energy program will be taller, shinier and more expensive than Qatar's.

Seriously, does anyone else find the GCC's rush to acquire "peaceful nuclear energy programs" and the West's seeming enthusiasm for the prospect a bit odd?"

The security concerns are of course rather legitimate. That's what makes this a tricky issue. Otherwise most Middle Eastern countries, including the oil producers, do actually need nuclear energy. They could use it in a rational, economic way. And they know that full well - how surprising. And there is therefore the question of whether, and why, the West should help them in getting what they want.
Some of the things that need to be considered are outlined in this pdf from Giacomo Luciani.
Things one should highlight in general:
- Growing demand for oil and natural gas both in and outside GCC countries. I know you knew that.
- GCC oil producers need energy for generating heat and electricity for industrial use as well as for generating power for household use (with e.g. air conditioning installed in most homes nowadays).
- They need natural gas as feedstock in the petrochemical industry.
- They need natural gas for pressure-stabilising injections into oil fields.
- They need energy for water desalination (through distillation and reverse osmosis). Water is kind of an important issue in the Middle East...
- Therefore, if you give GCC countries alternative energy sources, you'll have that much more supply of oil and natural gas meeting your demand.
- If you don't cooperate with them, they will get the technology from others. Because they need it.
So, too bad, GCC energy needs are a sticky issue, no matter how much we try to securitise it out of our minds as something beyond contemplatability.
Sarkozy by the way is very much one of the heads of state behind the Western readiness to sell nuclear technology. Marc Lynch mentions the Emirates' related deal with the French, from January. And it's telling that one of the major issues Sarkozy raised in his talks in London in the previous days was the nuclear energy issue. He made the point that nuclear energy is the way to go at a time of climate change, calling it even the energy of the future. A "Nu Clear World Order" envisioned there - do I like it? It doesn't matter, does it?
Anyway, in terms of the possibility of some mighty nuclear terrorism spillover, raised in the above quote as well, I can imagine worse locations for nuclear plants than the GCC countries. If nuclear plants will indeed proliferate over the coming decades, that is cause for concern.

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