Iran’s nuclear motivations


Much has been written about Iran’s motivations for acquiring a nuclear bomb. Iran itself claims that its nuclear program is purely for energy purposes. However, this is disputed by the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA believes that Iran has engaged in practices such as researching uranium cores and detonators for nuclear weapons, suggesting that its end goal is to become a nuclear-armed state. So why did Iran decide to develop nuclear weapons?

Many commentators believe that Shia Iran is developing nuclear weapons in order to guarantee the safety of the Islamic Republic. A nuclear weapon is seen as the ultimate desirable tool for a state because of the security assurances it offers.

It has often been said that Iran needs nuclear weapons to survive because of its Sunni majority, the hostility of the region, and its poor diplomatic relations with the West. It is also surrounded by the nuclear powers of Pakistan and Israel: the former has assisted the Taliban (an organization which slaughtered Iranian diplomats and persecuted the Shia minority) in neighboring Afghanistan; the latter is an ideological enemy. Iran’s longstanding quarrels with Iraq have further aided their desire for a nuclear weapon. 500,000 Iranian deaths and the deployment of chemical weapons during the 1980 Iran-Iraq war still sting Iran’s leadership. Others claim that ever since the Bush doctrine labelled Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’ in 2003, the Islamic Republic has been vulnerable to a US invasion. After all, the USA currently surrounds Iran with troops stationed on Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia; a nuclear deterrent could keep Washington at bay.

But don’t be fooled. This defense-oriented explanation lacks credibility. First, the Taliban and Iraq are no longer prominent or influential, and neither presents a military threat to Iran. Israel, too, does not harbor any offensive ambitions towards Iran, a detail that even the Iranians have recognised. Pakistan is preoccupied in Kashmir. As for the American threat, the blame can be attributed to Iran itself. Iran has constantly challenged US efforts in Iraq by funding Shia minorities, and has also attempted to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process. Due to its religious stance, Iran’s leaders legitimise their rule through opposition to the Western distribution of power. Thus, nuclear weapons would provide a platform for more Iranian aggression and hostility. The development of a nuclear weapon would cause, rather than defend from, conflict between Iran and the international community, and would undoubtedly make Iran less secure. Thus Iran’s ambitions cannot purely be defensive.

Make no mistake about it, Iran possesses offensive ambitions. Through the acquisition of a nuclear weapons, Iran would further its regional ambitions through the increases in prestige and power that are associated with nuclear-armed states. In addition, if we examine Iran’s diplomatic interactions and foreign policy towards Israel post-revolution, it is clear that Iran is fundamentally opposed to the Jewish state. Its venomous rhetoric belittles Israel’s right to exist and its ongoing support for anti-Israel proxy groups suggests that nuclear arms would enhance its ability to act aggressively.

Additionally, Iran’s powerful military is already a sufficient deterrent, guaranteeing its safety. As the most powerful armed force in the region (behind Israel), it possesses the means to defend itself against other regional Arab states which have been traditionally hostile to it.

Furthermore, the theoretical concept of the security dilemma proves Iran’s offensive ambitions. Iranian nuclear capacity would create suspicion and deteriorating relations with other states. This is because as a state acts to make itself more secure, other states will interpret its actions as threatening and would act to balance these security gains. This in turn would cause Iran to feel less secure. With Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all already opposed to Iran’s nuclear project, a nuclear-armed Iran is likely to be less secure because the resultant perceptions of mutual insecurity will almost certainly outweigh the security gains.

It is time the world opened its eyes to the reality that the Islamic Republic is developing the bomb to foster its offensive ambitions. The international community must act to prevent the destabilisation of the Middle-East and a nuclear-armed aggressive, imperialist regime.

by Svi Freedman

3rd year International Relations student at University of Birmingham.

Photograph by [john], via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

1 Comment

  • May 14, 2014

    Neil B

    “It is time the world opened its eyes to the reality that the Islamic Republic is developing the bomb to foster its offensive ambitions. The international community must act to prevent the destabilisation of the Middle-East and a nuclear-armed aggressive, imperialist regime”.

    What offensive ambitions? Do you think that Iran would be stupid enough to launch a nuclear strike on Israel and incur the nuclear wrath of Israel itself as well as the USA and its allies? If you look at Iraq and Afghanistan, the reason that the US could invade them was precisely because of the absence of nuclear weapons. With China distancing itself from them increasingly since the economic reforms of the ’90’s, North Korea would have been invaded a long time ago if they didn’t have nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons make will make Iran safer from invasion. Iran doesn’t have any offensive ambitions – they have defensive ambitions. Yes, they have engaged in rhetoric about Israel not having a right to exist, but they would never attack them militarily (especially with nuclear weapons) as the reprisals against them would be dramatic.

    I do agree with you, though, that their development of nuclear weapons will result in ‘counter-balancing’ by neighbouring states, and will, on the whole, destabilise the reason as the “security dilemma” shows us. In terms of a short-term safeguard against an Israeli attack or a US invasion, though, developing nuclear weapons makes perfect sense.

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