Oil for Atoms: The 1970s Energy Crisis and Nuclear Proliferation in the Persian Gulf (Summer 2022)
The 1970s energy crisis, which rocked global markets and caused oil prices to skyrocket, had a number of far-reaching and unexpected consequences, many of which have become the focus of academic study in recent years. However, one topic that has eluded scholarly attention is the connection between the energy crisis and nuclear proliferation in the Gulf region. The French government responded to the energy crisis by looking for bilateral trade opportunities with OPEC countries in order to avert a recession. After the shah of Iran offered to sell oil to France in exchange for nuclear reactors, the French government realized that it could trade oil for nuclear technologies with other countries in the Persian Gulf — arousing the interest of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This generated strong opposition from the U.S. government, which was worried about nuclear proliferation in the region. But while the United States succeeded in preventing Saudi Arabia from acquiring nuclear reactors, it was unsuccessful when it came to Iraq. The 1970s energy crisis thus had an enduring impact on nuclear proliferation in the Gulf.