Stephen Walt: Saudi Arms Deal Might Be Counterproductive

Harvard International Relations Professor Stephen Walt offers his take on what the Saudi arms deal means for U.S.-Iran policy.

While pundits have suggested that the deal might signify a shift in the Obama administration’s posture from preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon to deterring and containing a nuclear armed Iran, Walt, a dyed-in-the-wool realist, questions whether the arms sale might be counter-productive and create further incentives for Iran to acquire a nuclear deterrent.

Walt writes:

[I]f our primary goal is to discourage Iran from developing nuclear weapons, then might this new initiative be counter-productive? Doesn’t it just give Iran an even bigger incentive to get a nuclear deterrent of its own? Think about it: if you had a bad relationship with the world’s most powerful country, if you knew (or just suspected) that it was still backing anti-government forces in your country, if its president kept telling people that “all options were still on the table,” and if that same powerful country were now about to sell billions of dollars of weapons to your neighbors, wouldn’t you think seriously about obtaining some way to enhance your own security? And that’s hard to do with purely conventional means, because your economy is a lot smaller and is already constrained by economic sanctions. Hmmm….so what are your other options?

He concludes:

And I’m all for maintaining a favorable balance of power in the Gulf. But if we are still hoping to convince Iran that it would be better off without some sort of nuclear weapons capability (even if only of a “latent” sort), this move strikes me as a step in the wrong direction.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. Surely Walt knows that the USA needs to sell another 60billion dollars worth of arms, since that is its only success these days, besides invasion and destruction of Muslim lands;

  2. I think Walt is overreaching here. You’ve got to have sticks as well as carrots to make progress.

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