One of the biggest security concerns of the Western world appears to be Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. The United States has poured billions of dollars into the Persian Gulf over the last decade (and change), hoping to counter the so-called Iranian menace using a sort of Cold War-era containment policy (see Faris). Furthermore, the United States and its allies even went as far as imposing harsh sanctions against Iran, hoping that the regime would change its policies or be forcibly changed by internal actors (see Faris). Ironically, all of these policies have done little to change the fundamental situation in the Persian Gulf. It is my belief that the international community has taken the wrong approach to the Iranian situation. Moreover, it has ignored the fact that the United States and Iran have many misperceptions concerning one another’s intentions and capabilities (see Faris). These misperceptions are pushing the United States and Iran closer and closer to armed conflict, something that can and should be avoided.
Despite the P5+1 agreements, Iran will never give up its quest for a nuclear arsenal. Instead, Iran is likely to continue developing its nuclear program, despite international pressures (Waltz 2-5). The reason Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons in the first place could be linked to a number of factors that many neoconservatives fail to take into account when discussing the Iranian nuclear problem. Nuclear weapons have fundamentally changed the face of deterrence (see Goldstein). In other words, nuclear weapons have provided states with an economically feasible deterrence strategy (11-12). Thus, as Avery Goldstein, author of Deterrence and Security in the 21st Century, claims, “nuclear deterrence will remain at the core of the security policies of the world’s great powers and will remain an attractive option for many other less powerful states worried about adversaries whose capabilities they cannot match” (1). Avery Goldstein might argue, and Faris would most likely agree, that conventional deterrence strategies would do little to help Iran fend off a conventional attack led by the United States. Thus, nuclear deterrence is the only way Iran can deal with what it perceives to be an American threat. We must acknowledge that Iran, with its conflicting history with the U.S., is likely to misperceive the United States’ actions (Faris). This is easy to understand, considering the United States has spent billions of dollars and decades surrounding Iran with military bases and/or assets (refer to Faris). Nevertheless, there is a risk that the United States will assume Iranian nuclear weapons will embolden the current regime. In other words, the United States appears to fear that Iran will act as an irrational actor, much like the USSR perceived Britain to be an irrational nuclear actor, despite evidence to the contrary (see Goldstein 179-80).
Although proliferation of nuclear weapons is quite problematic, I find Goldstein and Waltz’s arguments to be quite enlightening in this situation. Waltz points out that the Middle East lacks what might be seen as a sort of balance-of-power when it comes to nuclear states. Israel has been a nuclear state for some time, and this has, according to Waltz, created an imbalance in the Middle East (2-5). If Iran were to develop a nuclear arsenal similar to that of Israel, there could be some kind of balance; however, this balance might be an uneasy one, but it might force several nations to the table to discuss and work out regional security issues. Moreover, it might allow Iran to have a better bargaining position in the Middle East’s sea of Sunni-led regimes. Furthermore, Iran’s nuclear arsenal allows it to handle the anarchy of the international system, especially when it is dealing with the United States. I believe Goldstein would argue that Iran’s nuclear program affords this small nation a seat at the bargaining table, something that didn’t exist beforehand. In other words, Iran’s nuclear weapons would put it on even ground, forcing the United States and its allies to pursue dialogue over bombs and boots on the ground.
Goldstein, Avery. 2000. Deterrence and Security in the 21st Century: China, Britain, France, and the Enduring Legacy of the Nuclear Revolution. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Faris, David M. 2015. "Good Will Hunting in Iran: The Nuclear Deal, The Committee on the Persian Danger and Stragegic Reality." Ethos: A digital Review of Arts, Humanities, and Public Ethos. http://www.ethosreview.org/intellectual-spaces/good-will-hunting-in-iran/.
Waltz, K. N. 2012. "Why Iran Should Get the Bomb." Foreign Affairs, Vol. 91, No. 4 (pp. 2-5).
If you found value in this article/essay, consider joining the conversation below and/or write a response to this article/essay. I’d love to see what you have to say.