Friday, March 28, 2008

Spheres of Influence

More on the deal between Egypt and Russia, with Russia supplying Egypt with technology to build a commercial nuclear power plant.

Nuclear power has become intensely interesting to the Arab nations. The logic behind oil-rich nations finding nuclear appealing is simple:

Arab nations cite their need for energy security in the face of ever-expanding domestic energy demands. This includes countries with vast oil and gas reserves, which can be more profitable if exported.

"It's Iran's wish to accelerate its dubious programme that has pushed Arab countries to throw themselves into the race for nuclear power," said Antoine Basbous, [director of the Paris-based Arab World Observatory told AFP.]

With Russia in the mix trying to reestablish its reputation as an economic force in the middle east (and crack open a potent industrial niche, since Russia wants to build the plants it designs), the potential for mischief intensifies. In fact, mischief might trump good sense: As Basbous says, Iran's wayward lurches toward nuclear power has unsettled the region considerably and is causing its neighbors to scurry along in its wake.

So far, though, no worries:

The IAEA's Egyptian chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in February that "all the Arab countries' nuclear activities will be under agency safeguard systems, so I don't see why anybody should be concerned."

Fair enough. Russia is not the only non-Arab vendor in this effort. The U.S. has pacted with Bahrain and France (via AREVA) with Algeria, Libya and the United Arab Emirates. So far, the race for nuclear power has not set off alarms and perhaps need not.

It is just a scent in the air, a tangy waft that occurs when positive action is motivated by other than inherent benefit - for geopolitical gain, for example, and not environmental concern (not mentioned in any story on the Egypt-Russia pact I've seen). The scent is quite faint, though, and may very well represent nothing more than a need to proceed cautiously when giants - the U.S., Russia, the EU - are lumbering around and sniffing the air too. 

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