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62 - Engaging Iran and Building Peace in the Persian Gulf Region (2008)

62 - Engaging Iran and Building Peace in the Persian Gulf Region (2008)

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Published by: bowssen on Apr 17, 2010
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Iran's insistence that there was and is no military background to the nuclear
program is so unconvincing because so much evidence points in a different
direction. Documents about an actual weapons design program, as were
presented by IAEA inspectors in March 2008, relate to activities before and
up to 2003. Since then, Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA, if not
always to the agency's full satisfaction. The way the Iranian nuclear program
is designed, however, still strongly suggests an intention to eventually
acquire at least the option for a military use, a latent or "breakout" nuclear
weapons capability. While there is a logic, even for an oil-rich state like Iran,
to set up a nuclear energy program, the actual details of the program do not
indicate a purely civilian purpose. Iran will probably not be self-sufficient in
uranium, and it would therefore seem more logical to seek international
guarantees for

93 In their offer of 2005, the EU-3 declared their preparedness to guarantee
that Iran would not be attacked by British or French nuclear arms,
which is not actually what the Iranian elite fears. The June 2006 offer,
as mentioned, spoke of a regional security forum but did not even envisage
the possibility of security guarantees.

94 Personal communication, Tehran, May 2006.


Engaging Iran and Building Peace in the Persian Gulf Region

long-term fuel delivery or enter into multilateral joint ventures than to insist on an
independent enrichment capacity.
The planned heavy-water reactor in Arak would not so much be an efficient
installation for power production but could open a plutonium path to nuclear arms.
And the history of safeguards violations, various military links to different elements
of the program (again probably up to 2003), the inability of Iranian authorities to
come clean on that history by giving convincing answers to all IAEA questions in that
context, and the continued repeated denials of IAEA inspection visits to certain
sites—these all raise further suspicions.95
Assessments about the motives for Iran to pursue at least a latent military nuclear
capability vary little. Observers differ mainly about the order of priorities in Iranian
thinking. Clearly, security is the prime objective: a nuclear capability would be seen
as a means of deterrence. Previously, the main threat, certainly the one that triggered
the relaunch of the nuclear program in the 1980s, was Iraq. Today some form of de-
terrence is sought against any possible intention of the United States to attack Iran or
enforce regime change.96

Israel, in contrast, seems to remain rather peripheral in Iran's

nuclear calculations.97

Pakistan is a matter of concern,98

but it would probably in itself
not be sufficient to make Iran invest enormous human and material resources into a
program that the international community wants it to abandon.
Above and beyond this defensive dimension, the quest for regional leadership
can be seen as an objective. A nuclear capability would increase Tehran's regional and
international status and might enable it to block U.S. plans for a reordering of the
region that are seen as a threat to the regime or its regional position.99

Most probably,

other actors would be forced to deal with Iran with more respect to its interests.100

95 See Mark Fitzpatrick, "Is Iran's Nuclear Program Intended Solely for Civilian
Purposes?" Security & Terrorism Research Bulletin, no. 7 (December 2007): 18-
21; Fitzpatrick, "Can Iran's Nuclear Capability Be Kept Latent?" 33-58.

96 See, among others, Kam, A Nuclear Iran; and Takeyh, Hidden Iran, 221.

97 Dueck and Takeyh, "Iran's Nuclear Challenge," 193.

98 Ibid.

99 Chubin, Iran's Nuclear Ambitions, 113-133.

100 Kam, A Nuclear Iran; Tim Guldiman, "The Iranian Nuclear Impasse," Survival
49, no. 3 (2007): 176.

Of Trust and Security: The Challenge of Iran


Eventually, a nuclear capability might also be useful as a bargaining chip in
some form of grand bargain with Washington.101
These are all rather rational, realist motives. There is also wide
agreement among analysts that Iran's nuclear policy is not determined by
ideology. Iran's nuclear weapon, if Tehran were to have one, would not be an
"Islamic bomb," but an instrument to safeguard the Islamic Republic's
national interest.102

Many regional and international observers have little doubt that the
Iranian leadership has definitely decided to go for "the bomb." As noted,
however, Iran's political elite are not united, not even on the nuclear issue.
There are differences within the leadership and the politically relevant elite
not only about how to proceed tactically but also how far the nuclear
program should, ideally, be driven. Discussions in Iran are not always
transparent, but they give clues about intraelite debates and controversies.
We can assume that important parts of the establishment see the question
mainly as one of equal rights in a world that tries to deny Iran what others
have been allowed. Others remain normatively opposed to nuclear weapons.
In contrast with those who see the deterrent value of nuclear arms, some elite
members, and not the least important ones, have open doubts that the actual
possession of such a weapon would really increase their security. In a crisis
situation—over the Strait of Hor-muz, for example—the presence or
presumed presence of nuclear arms in Iran could indeed draw a decapitation
strike by the United States or Israel rather than deter it.103

Individual Iranian
interlocutors also stress that Iran has other, probably more efficient, means of
deterrence, including asymmetrical instruments of warfare. To quote one
Iranian policy adviser: "Our second-strike capability is not nuclear." This
does not, however, mean that they would want to give up the fuel cycle just
to surrender to or build confidence with the EU or the 3 plus 3.
Mark Fitzpatrick rightly states that nobody "on the outside knows if Iran
has made a decision to produce nuclear weapons."104

This might not be due to
a lack of knowledge about Iranian decision making but rather might reflect an
Iranian reality. One cannot ignore that Iran has

101 Chubin, Iran's Nuclear Ambitions, 137.
102 Dueck and Takeyh, "Iran's Nuclear Challenge," 195.
103 See, among others, Lothat Ruhl, "Was will Teheran mit der Bombe?"

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, February 16, 2008.

104 Fitzpatrick, "Can Iran's Nuclear Capability Be Kept Latent?" 33.


Engaging Iran and Building Peace in the Persian Gulf Region

pursued its fuel cycle program against enormous resistance from the
international community. Under Ahmadinejad, Tehran has also been
prepared to suffer international sanctions rather than seek a face-saving
compromise. By insisting at every possible occasion that the "right to
exercise the fuel cycle" is undeniable and will never be given up, the
leadership in Tehran may have maneuvered itself into a trap: any
compromise could now be seen as compromising on a key aspect of national

But it is also notable that Iran has not, even under Ahmadinejad,
launched a crash program to build a nuclear device in the shortest possible

If the assessment of the 2007 NIE about the Iranian leadership's 2003
decision to discontinue the weaponization program is correct, we may well
assume that this is also the current state of affairs. There are enough domestic
and foreign policy reasons for the Iranian leadership to not pursue more than
a latent nuclear capability. Iranians would not like to be seen as breaking the
NPT openly, and they might not want to have to sort out domestically which
agency in the country would eventually be in control not only of different
parts of a nuclear program but also of an actual nuclear weapon.
Representatives of the realist camp in Iran, in particular, communicate
quite clearly that they want their country to have capabilities similar to those
of Japan or Germany, both of which, if they ever decided to, could produce
nuclear arms in almost no time. What even Iranian realists do not always
easily accept is that the international community, given the different levels of
trust that Japan and Iran enjoy internationally (as well as Japan's strict
adherence to its obligations under the NPT and the Additional Protocol, and
the fact that Japan has no ballistic missile program, and it started to engage in
fuel cycle activities only when it already had nuclear reactors), would not
want to see Iran in this position.107
It is highly probable, therefore, that a definite strategic decision about
the ultimate goal of the nuclear program has not been taken yet. Iran's
different leadership factions not only might have different views about the
program but also will take regional and international developments into
consideration, opportunistically rather than as a

105 Chubin, Iran's Nuclear Ambitions.
106 Dueck and Takeyh, "Iran's Nuclear Challenge."

107 Personal communications with the author, Tehran, February 2008 and earlier.

Of Trust and Security: The Challenge of Iran


matter of principle or ideology,108

and they will weigh the costs and benefits
of different paths, particularly with regard to the survival and security of the

Public opinion with regard to the nuclear program is difficult to gauge.
Representatives of the political leadership like to state that all Iran is united
in its defense of the country's right to operate a nuclear fuel cycle. The few
polls that have been conducted by foreign institutes suggest that Iranians,
while certainly proud of national technical achievements, are not too eager to
pursue a program that would carry a heavy price, particularly in terms of
international isolation or confrontation.109

Anecdotal evidence gives a
somewhat mixed picture in that some of the "ordinary" people do not
necessarily distinguish between a civilian and a military capacity. One will
also hear liberal-minded intellectuals who are no friends of Ahmadinejad
define a military nuclear capability as a "legitimate goal."110

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