Nuclear Iran or Nuclear armed Iran has been a much source of debate off late. There have been different reactions from different lobbies to the Tehran’s much-feared nuclear program. Deliberations and talks on the topic have been going on between P5+1 countries and Iran to reach an amicable solution. While P5+1 countries led by US claim that Tehran already possesses nuclear weapons, Tehran has constantly declined the accusations and said that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and to ensure the power security in the nation. The secretive nature of Tehran’s nuclear program makes it all the more discomforting for countries across the world vying for Nuclear Non-Proliferation.
The burning question at hand is, could or does Nuclear Iran pose a threat to the world? There are no clear answers. While some argue that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a risky business, some find this claim blown out of proportions. There are many aspects related to the questions and all need to be probed well to reach at a conclusion or to find an answer to the question.
The rise of Iran since the early 2000s has been an accepted wisdom. There are two perspectives related to the rise of Iran: The Hard Power perspective and The Soft Power perspective. While the hard power perspective suggests that Iran benefited hugely from the America’s regime change policy, since it removed two of Iran’s archrival and tied down American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan (Agshan and Jakobsen, 560). This allowed Iran to concentrate on its nuclear program without any significant and major distractions while US was busy with its operations in the two countries. The soft power perspective is about the religious and ideological supremacy of Iran and its rise with respect to these two factors. The soft power perspective is often explained by the growing influence of Shia Muslims in the Middle East. These two camps contend that Iran as a nation has become much more powerful both militarily and ideologically. This unexpected rise of Iran as a military power is often described as a threat to the world, primarily US and Israel. Iran’s nuclear program is believed to be a brainchild of these developments to have a better stand in not only the Persian Gulf but also the entire Middle East. The rise has strongly clashed with the growing muscle flexing by Iran. Iran-US relationships have seriously degraded since 2003 and have continued on the down spiral. It is believed that the unusual and unexpected high gas and oil prices in the last one-decade facilitated Iran’s nuclear resolve and aspirations, since finance ceased to be a problem. All these factors, as some believe, led Iran to expedite its nuclear program and hence they call Iran’s nuclear threat real, imperative and imminent. They believe that nuclear Iran would pose some serious threats to not only the regional security but also the security of the entire world. The development, of Iran’s nuclear weapon, could push many other Arab countries into the nuclear arms race and hence seriously jeopardizing Nuclear Non-proliferation attempts. There could be many more unwanted and serious implications to the world peace. The major implications and consequences that are speculated if Iran gets the nuclear arms are as listed below:
Nuclear Arms Race In Middle East: It is believed that Tehran’s nuclear program and its successful enrichment of a nuclear bomb could lead to a nuclear arms race between other Middle Eastern Countries. The on and off relations between Tehran and other middle eastern countries is believed to exaggerate tensions once Tehran gets a nuclear bomb and would definitely lead to a regional nuclear arms race. Since the mid-2000s several Middle Eastern countries have expressed interest in establishing peaceful nuclear power programs and some of these countries include Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and six members of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (Bahgat 2011, 28). This interest in ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs is widely apprehended to be on the lines of Tehran’s nuclear program itself. Some believe and understand it as a potential sign of a nuclear arms race in the region. There are many security and military analysts who have strongly warned against this arms race and termed it a threat to global security and the initiatives towards nuclear non-proliferation. As Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s former ambassador to the United States echoes his concern: “If Iran’s lack of transparency continues unchecked it will likely fuel an arms race in the Middle East” (Bahgat 2011, 28). This concern seems rather genuine since this race would lead to a greater risk of nuclear war between the Middle Eastern countries, which could have grave consequences.
Promotion of Terrorism against US and Israel: Experts have often talked about the encouragement of terrorism towards US and Israel by Tehran once it gets the nuclear arms. Tehran has for long considered US and Israel as its foes and hence there are profound fears that it would try to destabilize US and Israel through promotion of Islamic terrorism. Experts also fear that Iran’s nuclear arms could be taken over by terrorist organizations in the future due to the internal instability of the country and poor governance. This would pose serious threats to attempts to ensure peace and keep a check on Terrorism. The security of nuclear arms developed by Tehran has led many countries and experts to voice their opinions against Tehran and the demand of suitable actions against it. The example of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Kahn is quite important and significant in this respect. With the help of others and a solid network, he sold his bomb designs and centrifuge technology to many non-nuclear states and non-state actors. It is widely believed that Kahn helped Iran initiate its nuclear program in 1987, selling them his designs and many other technologies (Sagan and Waltz 2007). There is no surety that what happened in Pakistan cannot happen in Iran. Moreover the problem of loss of control to someone inside the nuclear state is nothing that is not possible or has never happened and with Iran full or radical elements and links to some of the most prominent terrorist organizations, the fear is not unfounded for.
A possibility of Nuclear Attack on Israel: Iran’s long-standing enmity with Israel is something that is widely known. There are apprehensions that Iran is developing nuclear arms with the sole aim of attacking Israel. A death wish for Israel is something that the radical elements in Tehran and the supreme leaders crave and desire for. Iran’s President and its supreme leader “Ayatollah” have publicly contended that a possible nuclear attack by Iran on Israel could obliterate and remove it from the world map. Many experts found weight in this statement. It is indeed true that a country as small as Israel might be ‘finished off’ with one or two nuclear bomb attacks. Moreover, the religious fanatics of Iran might not think twice before attacking Israel. This would not only lead to mass scale destruction of lives and property, but also could initiate an all out nuclear war. An attack by Iran would force Israel and US to attack it using both conventional and nuclear arms thus causing mass loses and casualties. The war could even force other countries to join either of the sides, based on their ideologies, and could result in a possible world war, a spine chilling idea. A nuclear third world war could possibly lead to extinction of human race, as widely acknowledged.
Serious Setbacks to Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Nuclear Non-Proliferation is often hailed as a success since it has checked the spread and development of nuclear weapons and arms over almost half a century now. But, very soon Nuclear Non-Proliferation could become meaningless. The development of nuclear bombs by Tehran could and rather would (as experts believe) encourage other countries to breach the guidelines set by important treaties like NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and CTBT, and to develop their own nuclear programs and nuclear arms. This could make the dream of a nuclear weapons free world a distant one and result in a much more tumultuous and disturbed world. It could also let some anti-social elements and terrorists develop nuclear bombs or get a ahold from them from a weak nuclear powered nation and hence result in prevalence of nuclear terrorism.
Diplomatic Defeat for United States: The United States has often been hailed as the world’s most powerful nation and the preserver of human rights across the globe. If Tehran successfully develops its nuclear weapons, it would lead to major embarrassment to US. It would be seen as America’s foreign policy’s failure and would bring up questions about America’s credibility and influence. Its resolve and power would be questioned and it could lead to widespread distrust for US government among its friends and foes, both. This would lead to America’s friends distancing them from the Washington and would boost the confidence of its foes to carry on with their agenda against US much more aggressively. This is one of the top reasons why US considers a solution to this problem of paramount importance and is willing to resolve it with whatever means it requires.
Though the consequences of Tehran obtaining nuclear bombs could be disastrous but there is one more lobby of experts, which believes that these fears are rather uncalled for hugely exaggerated, to say the least. This lobby targets all the assumptions made by the other lobby (which feels that the nuclear powered Tehran is indeed a grave danger) and shows how the situation is not as bad as it is being shown to be.
There are no significant reasons to prove that a nuclear Iran would lead to an arms race between the Middle Eastern countries. Though it could lead to destabilization of the region up to some extent, but there are no reasons to predict a nuclear arms race. It is believed that a nuclear Iran would hardly lead Arab countries in to pursuing nuclear weapon options since it would pose no serious threat. The heavy political and financial price for pursuing a nuclear weapons program would also deter Arab countries from engaging in a nuclear arms race with Tehran (Bahgat, 28).
Some even argue that Iran should be made to develop nuclear bombs as that would lead to peace, against the contrary belief that it would lead to disturbances. According to Waltz, “Nuclear balance would mean stability, since power begs to be balanced (2012).” The author contends that the nuclear edge by Israel and US, whom Iran considers it main enemies, has to be balanced by Iran’s own nuclear weapons. This would lead to a power balance between the nations, which in a long run could ensure peace for all.
The lobby, favoring Iran’s nuclear program, even believes that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium to generate energy for peaceful purposes under strict guidelines of the International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) (Ben-Meir 2009). Tehran, which claims that its nuclear program is only meant for peaceful purposes, should not be stopped from pursuing its nuclear program specially when the contrary hasn’t been proved. Experts believe that sanctions imposed by US and excessive pressure by other European countries could force Tehran into developing nuclear weapons too as it feels increasingly vulnerable and insecure from the western powers. Thus, as experts feel, US and Israel are forcing Tehran into developing military nuclear power.
It is also known, more than likely, that Iran has not yet mastered the technique for turning Uranium into uranium gas, which is necessary to reproduce highly enriched uranium. Moreover Iran doesn’t even have enough centrifuges required for nuclear weapons. There is no evidence either that Iran of missile vehicle to carry nuclear warheads and hence its first nuclear weapon doesn’t seem to be ready before 2015 (Stephen 2007). That being said, there is still lot for time for negotiations to reach a diplomatic solution and hence the profound fear of consequences is highly inappropriate and misplaced.
Last but not the least, experts clearly doubt that Iran can continue with its highly ambitious and costly nuclear program for long. Iran’s economy is in shambles and any real solution to the economic woes of the country looks out of the sight. Iran’s total GDP is less than USA’s defense budget and hence its continuance with its nuclear program, which is claiming a major share of its GDP, looks like impractical and unfeasible. Moreover, the sanctions applied by US and western nations on the oil imports from Iran has squeezed its finances and hence proved a setback to their nuclear program.
There seems to be no clear answer to the possible threat of Nuclear Iran. While some call it real, some term it highly presupposed and assumed. Only future will tell if Iran is able to develop a nuclear weapon and what challenges it then offers to the United States, Israel and the entire world.
Tehran’s nuclear program has a long drawn history and stretches over almost four decades. Iran started with its nuclear program in 1970s when it became the signatory of the Nuclear- Non Proliferation treaty. Its ambitious and extensive nuclear plans were aimed at achieving power security for the country. It was under the guidance of United States and Europe that Iran began its nuclear journey. It was in 1979, that Iran’s peaceful nuclear program was halted and disrupted due to Islamic revolution. It led to wide scale losses to Iran’s existing nuclear infrastructure and negated the advance it had made thus far.
It was in mid-1980s, under the presidency of Akbar Hashemi Rasfsanjani’s regime that Iran revived and restarted its nuclear program. This revival was though meant for a different purpose, to develop nuclear weapons for the military purposes. It is believed that Iran-Iraq war prompted the leaders to think of developing nuclear arms for enhancing country’s defense. Iran primarily received guidance and assistance from China, Russia and Pakistan. In the 1990s, Iran focused on developing an enhanced and technologically advance nuclear infrastructure, with an eye on production of nuclear weapons. Uranium mining and conversion with heavy water production for the reactors were some of the significant achievements by Iran. It was only in late 1980s and early 1990s that Iran secretly started purchasing centrifuges, nuclear bomb designs and other technologies from the AQ Kahn network, a move, which boosted its nuclear arms ambitions but also led to speculations and doubts over Iran’s nuclear programs and its motives.
It was in 2001 that Iran came up with its first major enrichment facility in Natanz. A huge facility, which could accommodate thousands of centrifuges, came as a shock to the western powers especially US and Israel and it also cleared the air sound Tehran’s nuclear program and indeed cleared its motives. But it was only in 2002, when some more secret nuclear activities in Iran were revealed, that the diplomatic landscape suddenly changed and the world woke up to look for a solution to the issue. International Atomic energy Agency (IAEA) started with its efforts to address the issue including inspection of some of Iran’s nuclear sites.
But the relief proved to be short-lived as the agreement collapsed after the election of new Iranian president in 2005 and since then the relationships between Iran and US have detioriated rather fast. America also threatened Iran with military actions if it did not budge and to the horror of both America and Israel, Iran did not. Rather it warned US of serious consequences against any mischief. It was in 2009 that Iran disclosed the existence of its new, much more technologically advance and better protected facility at Fordow and the enrichment at the site, as speculated, started it 2011. The prime purpose of the new facility is believed to be the production of nuclear weapons by Tehran. The tensions between US, Israel and Iran have escalated tremendously in last four-five years and even led to war like situations several times in 2012 with both the sides claiming to bombard its opposition with nuclear bombs.
Iran’s nuclear program has been very secretive and has been kept under the wraps right from its inception. Though it hasn’t yet developed a nuclear weapon, it is widely believed that Tehran is on the right path and that it will boast of a nuclear weapon in near future. Though there are very few who believe that Tehran already has nuclear weapons, the talks of Tehran’s nuclear bombs readiness have amplified over the years. According to US intelligence agencies there are actually no evidences to prove that Tehran has actually decided to produce a nuclear weapon since 2007. But it is clear that Iran is not willing to let its guards down, it is fast accumulating all the technologies and parts needed to produce a nuclear weapon. They are considering it as an option, if need be arise. Even after limited inspections of nuclear sites in Iran by IAEA as latest as 2012 questions remain about the extent of Tehran’s nuclear program and its ambitions. Though it isn’t believed to be in possession of nuclear arms till now, the scenario could change considerable in the future and hence there is a need to stay alert and vigilant.
Agshsan-Ali Rahigh and Jakobsen, Peter Viggo. 2010. “The rise of Iran: How Durable, How
Dangerous?” Middle East Journal Vol. 64, No. 4: p560-563
Bahgat, Gawdat. 2011. “A Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East: Myth or Reality?”
Mediterranean Quarterly 22:1: p27-40
Ben-Meir, Alon. 2009. “Nuclear Iran is not an option: a new negotiating strategy to prevent Iran
Sagan Scott, Waltz Kenneth and Betts, Richard K. 2007. “A Nuclear Iran: Promoting Stability or
Courting Disaster?” Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
Stephen, Zunes. 2007. “The Iranian Nuclear Threat.”
Tikkun Vol. 22, Issue 1: p29-32
Waltz, Kenneth N. 2012. “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb”
Foreign Affairs Vol. 91, Issue 4: p2-5