Overview Last updated: December, 2011
Although rumors surface occasionally that Saudi Arabia is interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), there is no concrete evidence to support such contentions. Saudi Arabia has not expressed an interest in acquiring chemical or biological weapons, and has joined international agreements to ban such armaments. Rumors that Riyadh has explored procuring nuclear weapons have not been substantiated. No evidence suggests that Saudi officials are currently interested in developing a nuclear arsenal, and Saudi Arabia lacks the domestic infrastructure and physical resources required to develop advanced nuclear weapons domestically. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1988 and signed a comprehensive safeguards agreement in 2005. Since 1999, Saudi leaders have consistently supported the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia does possess about 36 intermediate-range ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver unconventional warheads, although it has publicly declared that it will only use these missiles with conventional payloads. For all of these reasons, Saudi Arabia does not appear to be interested in developing — or seem to be developing — weapons of mass destruction.
Periodic rumors, mostly in articles from media sources, allege that Riyadh is interested in developing nuclear weapons. Many of the reports asserting Saudi Arabia's interest in a nuclear weapons program originated from statements made by Mohammed Khilewi, a former Saudi diplomat, who contends that Saudi Arabia actively pursued a nuclear weapons program between 1975 and the mid-1990s. Saudi Arabia also is alleged to have provided financial support for Pakistan's and Iraq's nuclear weapons programs. Yet there is no concrete evidence that Saudi Arabia has ever attempted to develop nuclear weapons, or that Saudi Arabia is currently trying to develop a nuclear arsenal. Nonproliferation experts generally conclude that, although Saudi Arabia has the financial resources necessary to build nuclear weapons, they lack the physical resources and scientific expertise necessary to domestically develop an advanced program. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has not demonstrated that it intends to acquire nuclear weapons from foreign sources. Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the NPT, has signed a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has consistently supported the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East.
Biological and Chemical
There is no confirmed evidence that Saudi Arabia possesses either a chemical or biological weapons program, or that Saudi Arabia intends to develop such weapons. Saudi Arabia signed and ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972, and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1996. A 2005 law bans the production, possession, and storage of both chemical and biological weapons within Saudi Arabia, and declares that any individuals found to be in noncompliance will face a fine of one million Riyals and prison for up to 20 years.
Source: "Saudi Arabia: Weapons of Mass Destruction Capabilities and Programs," James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, http://cns.miis.edu.
Saudi Arabia procured approximately 36 CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missiles from China in 1986. The United States urged Saudi Arabia to join the NPT in 1988 to assuage fears that the ballistic missiles would be used to deliver nuclear warheads. Saudi Arabia currently deploys the CSS-2s with conventional warheads, and has pledged that it will not couple the missiles with unconventional payloads. Saudi Arabia does not have the capability to develop ballistic missiles domestically. Yet since the CSS-2s are getting older and are relatively inaccurate, analysts worry that Saudi Arabia may soon decide to buy newer missiles from a foreign supplier.
This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright © 2011 by MIIS.
Get the Facts on Saudi Arabia
- State party to the NPT, CWC and BTWC
- Possesses 40 to 60 CSS-2 medium-range ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 2,650km
- Has no nuclear research or power reactors
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