Michael Flynn is known for thinking outside the box, and we need ideas outside the box to solve some of the world’s problems. It’s also great when an action can address more than one problem. But it also helps to know what you’re doing.
Here’s an IDEA: The United States and Russia work together to supply Middle Eastern countries with civilian nuclear power. Several of those countries have been seeking nuclear power. The United States and Russia have companies that can build the plants. That’s the deal Flynn was seeking in October 2015.
The contracts would presumably specify that spent fuel go back to the supplier country, so that it wouldn’t be available for extracting plutonium for Middle Eastern nuclear weapons. The motivations for uranium enrichment and reprocessing, the technologies that could be used for making weapons, are undercut. The very wealthy Saudis would finance the program and thus have skin in the nonproliferation game. It would also help to bolster the US nuclear industry, which is suffering, among other things, from plant closures due to the currently low price of natural gas.
It seems like a great IDEA until you start considering some specifics: Should Iran be one of those Middle Eastern countries? The Saudis might not be pleased to finance their nuclear development. Why should Russia open those markets to the United States? Reactors and their associated services are a major source of income to Russia, one of their few manufactured exports. They already have been selling reactors in the Middle East, including sixteen to Saudi Arabia announced just after Flynn’s trip. And Iran is (more or less) Russia’s friend.
Given the plethora of Flynn’s IDEAs, it’s not surprising that the article lists additional downsides.
This IDEA looks quite a bit like one of Donald Trump’s old ideas. Back in 1987, Trump wanted to join with the Soviet Union to bully the rest of the world into nonproliferation. Supplying civilian nuclear plants to the Middle East to prevent proliferation is a kinder gentler version of that idea at a smaller scale. Trump mentioned the idea of a Middle Eastern NATO during his trip to the Middle East, which is defense-related rather than civilian nuclear, but more or less the same countries presumably would be included.
A question that might be asked is whether Flynn structured the deal to appeal to Trump, or if Trump was involved in formulating it. The lack of research that Flynn put into the background suggests not a lot of thought, so perhaps this apparent similarity to an earlier Trump idea is by chance only.
Flynn’s trip to the Middle East to broker the deal is another that he did not report on his security questionnaire. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are asking for more information on the trip.
Photo of reactors being constructed in Abu Dhabi by South Korea.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.