CSR Podcast Episode 5 with David Michel and Christine Parthemore

Welcome to the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) Podcast Network! Here we speak with leading experts who are working to anticipate, analyze, and address core systemic risks to security in the 21st Century. Our fifth episode focuses on climate, nuclear, and security dynamics in Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

Episode 5: with David Michel and Christine Parthemore (April, 2020)

Saudi Arabia and Iran are geopolitical rivals that have been at the forefront of global security discourse for the last several years. In this episode, host Dr. Sweta Chakraborty speaks to David Michel, a Senior Research Fellow with the Center for Climate and Security and a Research Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, and Christine Parthemore, CEO of the Council on Strategic Risks. 

Nuclear developments are a significant security concern in the Middle East and North Africa. This podcast explores the trends unfolding within Iran and Saudi Arabia. With the U.S. out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an important mechanism intended to unite nations appears to be losing its power to taper back nuclear developments and contribute to global stability. Tehran announced that it is now actively enriching uranium, flouting JCPOA guidelines as European signatories attempt to curb these potentially destabilizing activities. Alongside these measures, the government is building more reactors, one of which is in direct partnership with Moscow. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is building a small nuclear research reactor and plans to construct at least two large nuclear energy plants. The United States and China, among others, have proposed partnerships to help launch a Saudi civilian nuclear program. Conversations with the United States have stalled due to disagreements with Riyadh over details of a 123 Agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation.

At the same time, Iran and Saudi Arabia are struggling with water and environmental security challenges. Both countries are characterized by arid landscapes, low precipitation rates, limited renewable water supplies, unsustainable agricultural practices, and high demographic pressures on natural resources. Climate change projections would exacerbate these issues. According to a MIT study, the unique features that characterize the Persian Gulf, such as its low elevations, shallow waters, and clear skies could result in temperatures that exceed 35℃ over extended periods of time by the end of the century. This would be intolerable for long-term human survival.

The episode highlights how the region is navigating these issues. For example, Saudi Arabia is considering using nuclear energy to power desalination plants to meet its growing freshwater demands.

CSR’s Podcast Network will regularly feature exclusive dialogues with leading security and international affairs experts. Stay tuned for cutting-edge discussions on the world’s existential and strategic risks, and the ways in which these challenges are converging. 

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