Pushing Iran towards a nuclear bomb

POODYLOU ☮ R P ☮ 2012 ☮ 2012/01/09 02:00:06

Western leaders' current tactics to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons will likely backfire, writes author.

tactics deter iran developing nuclear weapons backfire writes author nbsp
So far, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other leaders have expressed no interest in developing nuclear weapons [EPA]

The United States and its Western allies have utilised nearly every tool at their disposal to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, from sanctions and sabotage to cyber attacks and assassinations. In their zeal, however, Western leaders risk hastening the very thing that they seek to prevent: an Iranian bomb.

It has become increasingly obvious that Iran and the West are now at a state of war, albeit a covert one. Mysteriousexplosions have rocked the Iranian countryside, while suspected Western intelligence agents have targeted nuclear scientists for assassination.

For Iran's part, recent months have seen a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the storming of the British Embassy, the downing of a US stealth drone, and threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. American observers have heard a lot about these events; what they haven't heard about is the high likelihood that Iran will retaliate for what it views as acts of war.

Experts widely believe that if Iran were hit by an Israeli airstrike it would retaliate by, among other things, expelling international inspectors and committing to obtaining nuclear weapons. While an Israeli attack remains a distant possibility, it is more likely that Western intelligence agencies will expand covert actions like the Stuxnet virus and targeted assassinations.

The question, then, is how will Iran respond to these escalations? Based on its past experience, the Iranian regime might seize upon what it views as Western aggression to use as a pretext for building nuclear weapons.

In the 1980s, the revolutionary leaders of the new Islamic Republic of Iran swore off weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as un-Islamic. During the course of the war, however, Saddam Hussein's Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian troops, spurring Ayatollah Khomeini to reverse his position and restart the country's chemical weapons programme. In the process, Khomeini established the philosophical foundation for a key principle within the Islamic Republic known as "maslahat-e nizam" or "expediency of the system", by which the needs of the Islamic Republic as a political institution might trump even Islamic law.

This suggests that Iran's commitments not to develop WMD in the early 1980s carried an implicit understanding that the religious prohibition on such weapons does not necessarily apply in a state of war.

So far, Tehran's leaders have declared that they have no interest in nuclear weapons, citing the same religious opposition as before. The US intelligence community has repeatedly assessed that if Iran wanted to develop atomic bombs, it has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to do so. Then why hasn't Iran put its technical know-how to use building up a nuclear arsenal? Experts widely agree that Tehran has yet to form a consensus in favour of actually building the bomb, and in the absence of such a consensus prefers merely to keep the option open for the future.

Whether or not Iran builds a nuclear weapon, then, will be based on Tehran's cost-benefit calculation. Fundamentally, the future of Iran's nuclear programme will be decided within the context of Iran's larger foreign policy strategy, which Iran's leaders have characterised as a policy of responding to pressure with pressure. Therefore, the easiest way for Iran to arrive at a consensus in favour of building nuclear weapons would be in response to a provocation from the West.

For the US, the current dynamic with Iran contains a real danger of sleepwalking toward disaster. The goal of Western policy toward Iran is to delay Iran's actual acquisition of a bomb through sabotage, assassinations, cyber attacks and other covert activities. But this is tragically misaligned with the reality of Iranian decision-making.

Trying to dissuade an actor from doing something they don't actually intend to do can easily backfire. The danger in this case is that current Western strategy will trigger a nationalistic "rally round the flag" effect in Iran. Indeed, it already has.

The result of all this may be to actually provoke a more aggressive Iranian response than would otherwise have been the case. The focus of Western policy has been on imposing pressure in order to give Iran's leaders a reason not to weaponise.

Equally important, however, and far too often overlooked, is the need to take care not to give Iran a reason to weaponise - which is exactly what current policy runs the risk of doing.

Patrick Disney is currently a graduate student at Yale University focusing on Iran and nuclear nonproliferation. He previously served as the Assistant Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council.

Follow him on Twitter:@TalkingWarheads

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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  • MOJ 2012/01/09 07:01:09
    Don't you find it contradictory that the only nation with hundreds of more nukes than any other nation is going around killing, assassinating and invading other, much weaker nations to prevent them from obtaining the same nukes?

    And Americans wonder why Iranians don't like them...well i hope "assassinations, explosions, airstrikes, Israelis, cyber attacks" is reason enough.

    First you anger them, then you threaten them, then you attack them, and then you play the victim when they retaliate.
  • Kane Fernau 2012/01/09 02:55:47
    Kane Fernau
    Since when are we for Iran?
  • POODYLO... Kane Fe... 2012/01/09 10:28:22
    POODYLOU ☮ R P ☮ 2012 ☮
    I am not "for Iran" I am for practicing what we preach!
  • Kane Fe... POODYLO... 2012/01/09 16:24:10
    Kane Fernau
    WE have sent aid to Iran more than once. Obama offered to negotiate with Iran. This is in defense of Ron Paul not Iran? http://www.disasterdiplomacy....
  • POODYLO... Kane Fe... 2012/01/09 17:06:23
    POODYLOU ☮ R P ☮ 2012 ☮
    I read somewhere that Obama has spent only 45 minutes in 3 years attempting diplomatic relations with Iran.

    I have no problem with helping anyone as long as I have the money. The same should hold true for our government. We should not threaten our own economy by borrowing to help others.
  • Kane Fe... POODYLO... 2012/01/09 20:15:23 (edited)
    Kane Fernau
    I think Obama opened the door but the Iranians don't want peace they want a Caliphate. How many Americans have to sacrifice their lives defending Muslims before they quit hating us? What does Iran want? The same as Osama bin Laden.
  • POODYLO... Kane Fe... 2012/01/09 22:17:35
    POODYLOU ☮ R P ☮ 2012 ☮
    I do not believe the door was ever even cracked by Obama. Iran wants us to quit being two faced and to mind our own business. We have meddled and have tried to control them forever.

  • Kane Fe... POODYLO... 2012/01/09 22:50:13 (edited)
    Kane Fernau
    It was part of his Election platform. They had a revolution in Iran and Obama backed the Mullahs! How many wars have we fought and then tried to control them forever?
  • POODYLO... Kane Fe... 2012/01/09 23:00:07
    POODYLOU ☮ R P ☮ 2012 ☮
    so why do we not just walk away and let God sort out their mess?
  • Kane Fe... POODYLO... 2012/01/09 23:19:46
    Kane Fernau
    I wish it was that simple. Iran is already making it's move in Iraq. Muqtata al Sadr is a leading Cleric and has a lot of influence in Iraq, he's pro Iran.
  • Ken 2012/01/09 02:51:28
    Since we don't have the guts, hopefully the Israelis will take the Iranians out.
  • POODYLO... Ken 2012/01/09 10:29:23
    POODYLOU ☮ R P ☮ 2012 ☮
    You call it "guts" I call it WWIII.
  • Ken POODYLO... 2012/01/09 14:38:59
    There is going to be a WWIII anyway, better sooner while we are stronger than they are and we will suffer less casualties.
  • POODYLO... Ken 2012/01/09 14:54:07
    POODYLOU ☮ R P ☮ 2012 ☮
    there is no winner in a third world war!
  • Ken POODYLO... 2012/01/10 01:36:32
    There is no winner in any war.
  • VoteOut 2012/01/09 02:16:34
    Its show down and the untold story of the MKO at the seat of it all http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik...
  • JoeBtfsplk 2012/01/09 02:06:00
    "Well it's one, two, three, what are we fightin' for ..."
  • Beccy 2012/01/09 02:05:30
    Great post, thanks for sharing. It seems like we see a boogie man behind every street corner

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