Monday, February 20, 2012

The View from Tehran

One question which is frequently asked by commentators is WHY does Iran seem so adamant about its nuclear program and apparent drive to develop nuclear weapons?  In my (humble) opinion, it comes down to two main reasons:

1)  Iran sees itself as a great power in the Middle East, exercising a kind of natural regional hegemony.  Ray Takeyh has a great opinion piece explaining this ambition.  To quote from the piece:
  • "More than any other Middle Eastern nation, Iran has always imagined itself as the natural hegemon of its        neighborhood. As the Persian empire shrank over the centuries and Persian culture faded with the arrival of more alluring Western mores, Iran’s exaggerated view of itself remained largely intact. By dint of history, Iranians believe that their nation deserves regional preeminence."
US Military Bases in the Middle East
2)  The second reason is more pragmatic.  Iran sees nuclear weapons as a way to ensure the Islamic Republic's security and legitimacy, both internationally and with its own population.  As the map above shows, Iran is surrounded by US military bases, and Iran has also seen the United States using its military power to overthrow three regimes in their neighborhood - in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.  So, if one considers the situation from an Iranian perspective, it may not be entirely illegitimate for them to feel threatened.  From Iran's perspective, old-fashioned geo-political deterrence plays a critical role in providing deterrence against the kind of Western intervention that previously overthrew a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953.  Its well worth reading this short piece on the coup orchestrated by US and British intelligence in Iran in 1953. Iran sees nuclear weapons are a guarantee that this would not happen again.

3)  Finally, given the unrest in Iran after the elections in 2009 and continued flagging support for the regime, Iran sees the attainment of nuclear weapons as a way to increase its popular support among the masses.  Indeed, it is well worth noting that Iran's quest to go nuclear started not after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but during the reign of the Shah prior to that.  In this context, Iran's current nuclear program can be seen in the context of a long-standing drive predating the Islamic Revolution.  Do read this piece  - a facinating interview from 2008 with the Shah's former chief atomic energy adviser.

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