WHY NUCLEAR WEAPONS MAY BE IN IRAN'S NATIONAL INTERESTS
Aug 21, 2003, 06:07
A EurasiaNet Partner Post from PINR
For more than two decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been at odds with the foreign policy of the United States. The most significant clash between the two countries began shortly after the election of Premier Mohammed Mossadeq, who took power in Tehran in 1951. Mossadeq, a nationalist, nationalized the oil industry and formed the National Iranian Oil Company. Due to this action, the United States and Great Britain engineered a coup in August of 1953, overthrowing the democratically elected leader and replacing Mossadeq with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, referred to as the Shah, who ruled for twenty-five years. Shortly after taking power, the Shah allowed an international consortium of American, British, French and Dutch oil companies to operate its oil facilities and reap fifty percent of the profits. Despite the Shah’s close, friendly relationship with Washington and other Western governments, his brutal autocratic methods of violently quelling domestic dissent with his dreaded security apparatus, the SAVAK, sparked a revolution in Iranian society led by conservative religious leaders. By overthrowing the U.S. supported government, therefore threatening U.S. interests in the region, the new Iranian leaders quickly became enemies of successive American administrations.
Moreover, on top of earning the disregard of the world’s only superpower, Iran also has found itself in a geographically volatile region. During the 1980s, Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party, invaded Iran in an attempt to conquer valuable territory such as the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway. The war was devastating to both the Iraqis and the Iranians. Since the end of that conflict in 1988, Iran and Iraq have had terse relations. In addition to Iraq, Iran is also threatened by the region’s most powerful state, Israel, which has a carefully defended nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. In 1981, Israel launched a surprise air attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in an attempt to dash Baghdad’s goal of developing nuclear arms; Israel’s aim was to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. It is clear that Israel would seriously consider similar action in Iran, should Tehran come closer to developing nuclear arms.
To add to its security woes, Iran has been facing a rapidly changing balance of power directly on its borders. In 2001, the United States overthrew the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan. While the Taliban was still in power, Iran had little to fear from its eastern border; it faced an unorganized state constantly in the throes of civil war. Yet with the removal of the Taliban from power, Iran now faces a border area littered with U.S. troops hostile to Tehran. In addition to Afghanistan, Iran also faces threats along its western flank with Iraq. While Tehran certainly did not bemoan the fall of the Ba’ath Party, it is justifiably concerned about its replacement: A U.S. occupational force situated on its western border. Furthermore, if U.S. objectives are realized in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran’s current leadership will face a perilous future of being enveloped by unfriendly states, beholden to U.S. interests.
It is for these security concerns that the Iranian state would want to develop and acquire nuclear weapons. Already Iran has greatly improved its missile delivery capabilities, with the potential of launching missiles into Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel. If Tehran were to become nuclear-armed, it would end Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East and also give Iran the capability of launching nuclear strikes on surrounding states. However, even with such a nuclear arsenal, Iran, like all nuclear-armed states, would most likely use its nuclear capability as a deterrent and not as an offensive weapon. Becoming nuclear-armed would increase Iran’s foreign policy leverage in dealing with U.S. forces on its eastern and western borders, the state of Israel, and whatever new governments may form in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
In addition to being concerned about U.S. troops on its eastern and western borders, Tehran is worried about covert activities by U.S. intelligence agencies in their quest to seek the Bush administration’s much touted "regime change" policy in Iran, which was classified by the White House as being part of an "axis of evil." Such rhetoric began with the election of the Bush administration in 2000, in which a group of administration officials took office that had been abnormally antagonistic to the Iranian government and uncharacteristically friendly with the current hard-line Likud government in Israel. These officials, often categorized as neo-conservatives, openly seek to remove the leadership in Tehran in an attempt to foster a U.S.-friendly government in the oil rich state, along with removing a potential threat to Israel, a firm American ally in the region. Tehran is concerned that U.S. and British support will bolster the power of Iranian rebels operating from Iraq. In fact, in 1997 Iran executed a series of air attacks in Iraqi territory in order to weaken these rebel groups; such an overt policy would be impossible now due to the U.S. and British occupation.
Finally, with the unilateral invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq -- with the latter invasion taking place in direct opposition to the United Nations and the global population -- Tehran remains in the dark about the Bush administration’s next move. Learning from these examples, Iran, like North Korea, another state that is part of the Bush administration’s "axis of evil," knows that should it acquire nuclear weapons, it would be much more difficult for Washington to attack it. Any assault by Iran’s current adversaries -- the United States and Israel -- would have to take into account the possible repercussions that come with attacking a nuclear-armed state capable of causing extensive damage to its opponents either with conventional or nuclear weapons.
While Iran’s adversaries could attempt to launch a massive strike that would destroy its nuclear arsenal or its delivery systems, such a strike would have to have a 100 percent success ratio in order to be certain that a devastating retaliatory blow would not occur. Failure to eliminate a nuclear-armed state’s second strike capability could lead to unacceptable consequences on the side of the attacking state. If an offshore power like the United States were to launch an attack, Iran could not initiate a conventional or nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland, but it could easily strike U.S. troops in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
Therefore, it is clear that developing nuclear weapons is in the national interests of Tehran. While Tehran cannot openly develop nuclear weapons -- due to the international outcry it would warrant -- it can continue its research into peaceful nuclear energy all the while preparing for a possible day when it could quickly develop its first nuclear weapons and become a nuclear-armed state. Such status would shield Iran from a variety of outside threats -- including ones emanating from its traditional rivals, the United States and Israel -- but also from the newly formed governments in Kabul and Baghdad.
It will be important to monitor the reactions of the United States and Israel to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology. How will these two states seek to preserve their balance of power in the region? Does the Bush administration still retain the political leverage within the U.S. domestic population to transform its current rhetoric into a tangible policy of removing Tehran’s leadership? And will the state of Israel risk the potentially disastrous political and military consequences of attempting to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the region? It is these questions that will grow increasingly important in the coming months.
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