I was a bit surprised to read this morning’s Edward Markey authored oped in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why is Bush Helping Saudi Arabia Build Nukes?”
With all due respect to Congressman Markey who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, the article is laced with a hubris about American power that is out of sync with reality. The piece seems to suggest that America can dictate to the Saudis what energy systems they will build or not build and seems to think that the American taxpayer is carrying the burden for Saudi Arabian technological development.
I don’t want to drill deep into this one for time reasons — so let me stay on the surface. First, the Saudis have helped fund and offset various US strategic needs for decades. This kind of international support has some fungibility. The Saudis are not an “aid case” and if getting nuclear technology assistance from the U.S. have paid for it many times over. To try and set accounting for what we have done for them and they for us in one of the key strategic relationships in the world would be counterproductive.
But more importantly, the Saudis want a non-weapons oriented nuclear energy industry not just for consumption needs but for science and building an engineering base in the country in one of the key energy sectors.
America can’t dictate to the Saudis to go solar. But along those lines, as King Saud University is doing now in nanotechnology and other high technology sectors, it would not surprise me at all if the Saudis invested in engineering, design and research in photovoltaics like they are planning to do in the nuclear field.
The Saudis can easily buy the technology assistance support in this arena from the French, the British, the Russians, the Italians, or the Japanese — and all of it is legal. There are no proliferation issues involved — and it’s disingenuous for Markey to assert that “nukes” like beneath Saudi Arabia’s intentions, when they have said clearly that they will not build or acquire the capacity to weaponize this nuclear program.
In my view, Edward Markey — who has been a great leader in a number of important technology arenas — is off target on this and is using the Saudis as a springboard for really wanting to talk about solar capacity development. If that is the case, then write an oped about solar!
As the CEO of Applied Materials Mike Splinter made clear in a speech recently to the New America Foundation, there is a great deal that the American government of which Ed Markey is a key part, is not doing to make solar development practical on an industrial scale in the U.S. Let’s focus on our solar game plan before trying to dictate the energy direction of other nations.
And the other thing frankly is that Markey should visit Saudi Arabia and get a handle on the high technology development in many sectors that the kingdom is investing in. Yes, nuclear energy development and research will be a piece of this — but Cisco Systems is installing one of the biggest, highest capacity networks for data movement in the world in one of the new economic cities. Again, Markey should ask whether such a thing is happening in the U.S. — and why not.
Hopefully Congressman Markey will reorient his perspective here because undermining the peaceful use of nuclear energy abroad, particularly with key allies, is no way to foster the international partnerships needed to deal both with fossil fuel dependence and global warming.
— Steve Clemons