The current political instability in Pakistan and regional tension over Iran's nuclear aspirations suggests its time to look at the shadows that the media and Government policy-makers ignore.
In 1987-88 Saudi Arabia secretly purchased 40 to 60 long-range CSS-2 (aka DF-3A) ballistic missiles from China. CSS-2s where specifically designed by China to carry nuclear warheads (ranging up to 3 megatons) but China removed the warheads from those missiles sold to Saudi Arabia.
The missiles have a range of around 3,000km and a payload up to 2,150 kg. The missiles where deployed in 1990 at two Saudi Arabian military bases, al-Sulayyil and al-Karj (al-Jafr), 500km and 100km south of Riyadh, respectively. Each site is reported to include four to six concrete launch pads.
When sold to the Saudis the missiles were believed to have an accuracy of only 1km Circular Error of Probability (CEP). Because the CSS-2 missiles still may not be accurate enough to be used effectively against point targets with conventional munitions, analysts speculate that Saudi Arabia may have envisaged (or still intends) to have nuclear warheads for the missiles.
Press reports have speculated that China has approached the Saudis with offers to sell more modern missile systems. The highly accurate 600-km range CSS-6 and 1800-km range DF-21 (CSS-5) solid-fueled missiles have been mentioned.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia is examining the prospect of raising the level of its strategic relations with nuclear armed Pakistan. The Saudis have accelerated talks with Islamabad for the purchase of Pakistani weapons as well as joint military and strategic projects. Riyadh may be seeking to exploit Pakistan's expertise in missiles and nuclear weapons.
In Part 2 I’ll describe the geopolitical background to Saudi Arabia's missile purchase.
Why haven’t we heard that the Saudis bought or possess around 50 Chinese made ballistic missiles? Perhaps just as the US ignored Saudi nationals, with possible al Qaeda associations, entering the US before 9/11 the US may have decided to ignore these missiles when deployed in 1990 because they are "safely Saudi". Maybe its assumed they could not come back and bite American interests.
I suggest that the Saudis, like Israel, are an ally of the US (and Australia) and should be treated differently from (post Shah) Iran. When Iran had nuclear weapons aspirations under the Shah (pre 1979) the US actually sponsored Iran's nuclear program.
The moral of this tale is that we shouldn't talk about and should conveniently forget the nuclear weapons and/or ballistic missiles owned by our allies. Don’t you agree?