Saturday, November 10, 2012

Iran should not get the nuclear bomb.

Iran should not get the nuclear bomb.

 An inquiry into the compatibility of Structural Realism
Approaches and Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East

Mehran Sirani                                        03.09.2012


Undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the most controversial states in the contemporary world, when it comes to the issue such as the behaviour of state.  Since 1979, the harsh behaviour of Iran in domestic issues against its own people has been criticized and condemned by many human rights and international organizations in different occasions. In the international arena, Iran has been continuously ignoring and violating the legitimacy and sovereignty of other states in many occasions. As a result, the country has been involved in many tension and turmoil in different situations and locations in the world. So far, different evidences have shown that Iran’s behaviour does not have any harmony and compatibility with the behaviour of some other states, particularly in the strategic region of the Middle East (Sirani, 2012).    
Iran’s nuclear activity is a clear example of such controversial attitudes, which, recently has caused many tension in the world. Iran constantly insists that its nuclear programme has peaceful nature and the country wants to use nuclear energy to meet its own domestic needs on key issues such as providing electricity, medical purposes, and scientific researches. Contrary to Iran’s claim, the US and the EU are not convinced about peaceful purpose of Iran’s nuclear activity; therefore, they have imposed sever economic sanctions on Iran. Although, these economic restrictions have put enormous pressure on the country, different evidences indicate that, so far, Iran does not want to halt its nuclear activities (Sirani, 2012).
Iran’s nuclear activity has generated controversial discussions in academic circles too. Many International Relations scholars have examined this particular issue from different perspectives and each one of them has offered a different opinion about it. Amongst these opinions, Kenneth Waltz’s statement is one of the most controversial and interesting one, which claims that a nuclear-armed Iran would cause peace and stability in the Middle East (PBS, 2012).       
An important question arises from this short introduction. Would nuclear-armed Iran provide peace and stability in the Middle East? Although, analyzing this issue in depth requires more data and time, but this paper will attempt to find an appropriate answer to this particular question.     

3: Main Discussion:
Before we begin the main discussion, it would be useful to examine the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activity. The next section shall discuss this issue.      

3.1. Does Iran’s nuclear activity have peaceful nature?
As mentioned in the introduction section, Iran repeatedly claims that its nuclear activity has peaceful nature. However, there are some evidences, which to some extent undermine this claim. Firstly, Iran is amongst the richest countries due to its massive oil and gas reserves. The country is the fourth largest oil producer in the world ranking by extracting 4.252 million barrels of crude oil daily. In addition to oil reserves, Iran holds the second largest gas reserves in the world after Russia. According to the official report released by The World Factbook (CIA) website, just in 2010, Iran has exported approximately 7.87 thousand million cubic meters of natural gas to different countries in the world. This information indicates the fact that Iran has enough natural resources to meet its own domestic energy demands (CIA, 2012).  

Secondly, the country has one of the best geographical advantages in the world for producing the clean and renewable solar-wind energy. Iran has two major deserts of Dasht-e Kavir (390 km wide) and Dasht-e Lut (320 km), which both of them occupy majority of central, east, and southeastern areas of the country. These areas are arid, semiarid, relatively rainless with harsh climate, and almost uninhabitable. If Iran really needs energy sources, the country can generate relatively large amounts of solar-wind energy in these areas without any serious risks to human, animal health, environmental issues and tension with the international community (Britannica, 2012).
Thirdly, some other issues including: the lack of transparency and full commitment to collaboration with IAEA, the huge financial costs of research, construction, material, maintenance of nuclear plants, plus high probability of human and ecological risks inherent with any nuclear project, would pose a challenge to the mind of every thoughtful person about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activity. All explained above, to some extent undermines the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activity; therefore, we can deduce that the probability of Iran’s willingness to acquire nuclear weapon is high. This issue raises a serious question: should Iran get the nuclear bomb? The next section shall analyze this question (Sirani, 2012). 

3.2. Should Iran get the nuclear bomb?
Contrary to the present and former Iranian policy makers, Kenneth Waltz is not in the state of denial and bravely answers “yes” to this particular question. Undoubtedly, K. Waltz is one of the most prominent scholars of structural realism, whose significant contribution to International Relations is something that no one can deny. In an interview with PBS, Waltz argues that for many years, Israel has held the position of the only dominant and superior country in the Middle East. This issue has caused unevenness power situation and consequently instability in the region. Moreover, he states that in the past 70 years, there has not been any offence from any nuclear state against crucial interest of another nuclear capable country. Waltz underpins his statement with an example from cold war era and further claims; since the United States and former Soviet Union possessed nuclear weapons, the balance of power, and consequently stability were established in the world. Moreover, he argues, when a state obtains enough numbers of nuclear weapons, it can use them for deterrence. In other words, as he states, nuclear weapons provide peace. Based on these types of arguments, Waltz concludes that a nuclear-armed Iran would create the balance of power between two countries i.e. Iran and Israel in the Middle East. As a result, this issue will provide peace and stability in the region (PBS, 2012).    

Some questions arise from Waltz’s controversial arguments noted above. How does Kenneth Waltz perceive the international politics? How does K. Waltz evaluate the behavior of states when he openly and loudly announces that Iran should get the nuclear bomb? The reasonable answers to these questions can help us to judge the issue of nuclear-armed Iran in an appropriate manner. However, Waltz’s statement about nuclear-armed Iran stems from his structural realism theory, which is commonly named defensive realism. Generally, structural realists (including defensive realists) agree that international politics is originally a struggle for power but they do not support the idea of classical realist that this is an effect of human nature. Instead, they argue that security rivalry and inter-state conflict occur, due to the absence of a superior authority above states and relative distribution of power in the international system. Waltz describes the structure of the international system, based on three main principles including:
“Organizing principles (anarchy, which corresponds to the decentralized realm of international politics, and hierarchy, which is the basis of domestic order), differentiation of units and distribution of capabilities” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, P.98). 
Amongst these principles, Waltz argues that the distribution of power is the important element for understanding the different events that occur in the international politics. Furthermore, he states:
“Power is a means to the end of security. … Because power is a possibly useful means, sensible Statesmen try to have an appropriate amount of it. He adds, in crucial situations, however, the ultimate concern of states is not for power but for security (Waltz 1989:40). In other words, rather than being power maximizers, states, according to Waltz, are security maximizers” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, P.98, 99).  
This statement clearly explains how Kenneth Waltz perceives the international politics and based on which assumption, he defends the nuclear-armed Iran statement. In order to justify or refute Waltz’s statement about this issue, it would be appropriate to evaluate the behavior of Iran in the international arena. If the result of this evaluation confirms that Iran is a security maximizer state (as Waltz’s theory generally explains), then we can justify Waltz’s statement that nuclear-armed Iran would create the balance of power and stability in the Middle East. On the contrary, if we find that Iran is a power maximizer state, then, we can claim that a nuclear-armed Iran not only would not provide stability in the Middle East, instead, it would intensify the scope of tension and conflict in the whole region. In this case, we can argue that Waltz’s statement about this sensitive and important issue is severely questionable or even more refutable. This important issue shall be discussed in the next section.     

3.2.1. Is Iran a power maximizer or a security maximizer state?
In order to answer this question, it would be useful to have a brief knowledge about Iran’s behavior abroad, particularly in the Middle East. The emergence of the Islamic Regime in Iran in 1979 inspired the whole Shia people around the world particularly in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Since the early days of the Islamic revolution, Iran has begun to identify, organize, fund, and promote different Shia groups around the globe, in order to mobilize and use them in different occasions towards its own main goals. Relying on such potential army of supporters, Iran has mapped out its foreign policy based on three main principles of 1- building alliance with its friends, 2- exporting the Islamic revolution to different countries and 3-causing hostility against its enemies. The fulfillment of these principles along with interference in internal and external affairs of other countries, so far, has caused many tension and instability around the world, particularly in the strategic region of the Middle East (Sirani, 2011, 2012).  
First and nearest victim of such meddling was Iraq. Since 1979, Iran has started to support the Shia group in Iraq in different ways, in order to persuade them to rebel against Sadam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq. Consequently, in 1980, this hostile behavior along with some other reasons triggered the war between the two countries for almost eight years. In addition to Iraq, Israel was one of the main targets for the Islamic Regime from the beginning. Therefore, since early days of the Islamic revolution, Iran has begun to build a strong relationship with Syria as a strategic partner in the Middle East. This relationship has brought some opportunities for Iran. Firstly, Iran could expand its influence and authority beyond its territory near the borders of Israel. Secondly, Iran has achieved a better possibility to assist Shia minorities in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine in their struggles against Sadam Hussein and Israel. In 1982, Iran’s overall supports helped the Shia militia group in Lebanon and consequently the Hezbollah organization was officially established (Kepel, 2002; Buchta, 2000; Sirani, 2012).                    

It is worth nothing that during this particular time, while Iran was sponsoring the Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria in their hostility against the US and Israel, these two states (Israel and the US) were selling weapons to Iran against Sadam Hussein. Moreover, Saudi Arabia was another important target for Iran, since 1979. From the beginning of the Islamic revolution, Iran has begun to provoke the Shia groups in Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Yemen against Saudi Arabia. To summarize, since 1979, Iran has provided financial, logistical, military, and training supports to different Shia groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Nigeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. We should bear in mind that some of these Shia groups have based their headquarters in exile in Iran. Some clear examples of Iran’s unlawful activities are: hostage taking of foreign nationals (e.g. in Tehran and Lebanon), bombing (e.g. Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires), terror & death threats (e.g. Iranian dissidents abroad, Salman Rushdie) and sponsoring different Islamic fundamental groups (e.g. Hezbollah and Hamas) (Kepel, 2002; Buchta, 2000; Sirani, 2012).                     

This short summary of Iran’s activities abroad undermines the accuracy of Waltz’s statement mentioned in the previous section from different angles. Waltz argues that in a crucial situation, the ultimate concern of any state is its security. As mentioned above, the Islamic Regime, from early days of the revolution (i.e. a crucial situation), has begun to support the different Shia militia groups abroad. This example indicates that this part of Waltz’s theory (with respect to Waltz) is not compatible with the behavior of Iran and is severely questionable (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008).
Furthermore, Waltz argues that all states, rather than being power maximizers, are security maximizers. This part of Waltz’s statement is also highly questionable. Based on all explained above, then how would we evaluate Iran’s aggressive behavior beyond its borders? Would Iran be recognized as just a security maximizer state, since the country, from the beginning, has constantly interfered with any external and internal affairs of different Muslim countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East? More generally, would it be reasonable to generalize this part of Waltz’s statement to all states including Iran with such aggressive behavior abroad? These questions to some extent undermine this part of Waltz’s statement and prove that Iran is not just a security maximizer state. Another realist scholar such as Randall Schweller also criticizes this part of Waltz’s statement and claims that historically this assumption is not correct. Schweller argues that:
“The assumption that all states have an interests in security results in neo-realism exhibiting a profoundly status quo basis” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, p. 99).
Schweller uses the ideas of other scholars such as Morgenthau and Kissinger and further defines the difference between status quo state and revisionist state by using Germany as a historical example. He categorizes Germany as a revisionist state in the 1930s and a status quo state after the Second World War and further argues that these two positions i.e. status quo and revisionism have had tremendous impact on the behavior of Germany in the international system during these periods of time. From this, Schweller concludes:
“Not only do states differ in terms of their interests, but they also differ in terms of their ability to extract and direct resources from the societies that they rule” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, p. 99).      

Schweller’s argument to certain extent refutes waltz’s statement and at the same time, it underpins our argument about the behavior of Iran abroad. In fact, the history of Iran’s behavior in the Middle East illustrates that, Iran gradually, continuously and sometimes even aggressively has expanded its hegemony and dominance beyond its borders in different parts of the region. These hegemonic behaviors indicate that, unlike Waltz’s statement, Iran is more prone to power maximization and sometimes even more; Iran has been willing to gamble and sacrifice its own security in order to achieve more hegemony and power. The recent nuclear standoff would be a clear example of such attitude. Iran’s doubtful nuclear activity, so far, has caused severe economic sanctions for the country and even more, it might lead Iran into a devastating war. However, with all these difficulties and potentially dangerous consequences, Iran still does not want to suspend its nuclear activity, even at the expense of its own security and the life of its own people (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008; Sirani, 2012).

All explained above, brings us to two important points. Firstly, it indicates that Iran is a power maximizer state and more generally, in the crucial situation, (e.g. the early days of the Islamic Revolution and current nuclear stand off); the ultimate concern of Iran has not been and is not security as waltz’s theory generally argues. Secondly, it proves that defensive realism theory is unable to find reasonable and reliable explanation about the behavior of Iran abroad. Therefore, we can conclude that the idea of nuclear-armed Iran stated by Kenneth Waltz is seriously questionable. However, in order to reject this idea with more accuracy, we need more theoretical explanation and evidence about Iran and Its behavior. The next section shall analyze these issues.

3.3. Analyzing the nature of Iran’s behavior:
In order to examine the behavior of Iran more in depth, it would be appropriate to review another approach within structural realism, which is relevant to this topic. This approach, explored by John Mearsheimer is termed as offensive realism. This view shares some basic assumption with Waltz’s defensive realism; but differs when it comes to the issue of how much power any state would desire. Mearsheimer argues that the lack of a central powerful authority, which can control the behavior of states, has caused anarchy in the international system. In this anarchical system, all states are potential threats to each other; therefore, they face uncertainty and distrust about the intentions and purposes of other states. This situation, inevitably, forces states to increase their power and sometimes their offensive military abilities, in order to protect their security and sovereignty (Baylis, 2008; Dunne & Schmidt, 2008).   
Moreover, Mearsheimer claims:
“There are no satisfied of status quo state; rather, all states are continuously searching for opportunities to gain power at the expense of other states…The states recognize that the best path to peace is to accumulate more power than anyone else…He concludes that the world is condemned to perpetual great power competition” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, P. 99).

Contrary to Waltz’s theory, Mearsheimer’s statement is more comprehensive and gives us a better explanation, when it comes to analyzing the behavior of Iran. From Mearsheimer’s statement, we can deduce that some issues such as anarchy, sense of uncertainty and the lack of a central authority in the international system force Iran to maximize its power. As a result, Iran’s power maximization behavior causes hostility and tension in different parts of the Middle East. However, this issue raises some other questions about the behavior of Iran in the region. Why Iran’s hostility is mainly focused on Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East? Why Iran, so far, has not demonstrated any serious aggressive behavior against Turkey for example?
These are the questions, which Mearsheimer’s statement cannot answer them. However, these questions leads us to the point that in addition to Mearsheimer’s statement and more generally, the international distribution of power factor, some other elements should be considered, when it comes to analyzing the behavior of states. Some issues like this have raised many questions amongst realist scholars too, particularly, since the end of the cold war. These issues have motivated a group of realists to find a better and more comprehensive explanation about the behavior of states. This group of scholars, which Gideon Rose identified them as Neoclassical Realists, while acknowledges the basic assumptions of structural realists about the behavior of states, argues that there are some other factors at the individual and domestic level, which can influence the behavior of states in the international arena. These factors are “the perception of state leaders, state-society relationships, and the motivation of states” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, p. 99).
These factors can lead us to a better understanding of Iran’s activities abroad. In order to examine the compatibility of these factors with Iran’s behavior, it would be useful to have some knowledge about the mindset of Ayatollah Khomeini the founder of the Islamic Revolution. This knowledge can offer us better perspectives about some issues including: how the opinion of Khomeini has influenced the domestic issues in Iran, how he has perceived the international society and/ or politics, and finally, how Khomeini’s ideas has shaped and determined the destination of Iran’s activities abroad. Regarding these issues, David Armstrong argues:
“Khomeini challenged not just American power but the prevailing conception of international society. He believed the problems of the Middle East and other Muslim countries to have been caused by their disregard of Islamic religious principles and called for the overthrow of the illegitimate political powers that now rule the entire Islamic World and their replacement by religious government. More generally, he argued that not only were earthly governments illegitimate, but the states itself and the concept of nationality were equally invalid. …Khomeini insisted that the only important social identity for Muslims was their membership of the community of believers, or umma” (Armstrong, 2008, p. 49).

If we review the behavior of Iran in the international arena, particularly in the Middle East, we come up to the point that up until now, Iran exactly and progressively has pursued Khomeini’s statement during the past 34 years. Based on this theological doctrine, Iran has been continuously ignoring the legitimacy and sovereignty of other states and more generally, the international laws in different occasions. These types of behaviors indicate the fact that the religious factor plays an important role in Iran’s behavior not only in domestic arena but also in the international system. This issue confirms the reliability of neoclassical realism as Stephan Walt argues:”the causal logic of neoclassical realism places domestic politics as an intervening variable between the distribution of power and foreign policy behavior” (Dunne & Schmidt, 2008, P. 99).
From all above, we can deduce that, Iran’s non-stop hostile attitude against some states such as Israel and Saudi Arabia stems from its ideological characteristic (Shia Islam) and not only from the lack of balance of power in the region, as Waltz argues. This kind of hostility is unstoppable, irreversible, and irresistible characteristic, which is embedded in the political structure of Iran. This inherent character, irresistibly forces Iran to behave aggressively in the international arena (particularly against Saudi Arabia and Israel) and this process is more likely to continue in the future too. This characteristic has tremendous tendency towards expansion too, as the history of Iran’s behavior in the past 34 years has shown. During all these years, Iran has been trying to expand its influence and authority beyond its borders at the expense of other states. It seems unrealistic maybe, but different evidences indicate that Iran is pursuing a bigger plan in the Middle East, i.e. to become a religious regional hegemon. In order to achieve this goal, Iran should defeat Israel and Saudi Arabia; therefore, since the beginning, Iran’s hostility has been mainly focused on Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. If Iran would manage to defeat these states, Iran would be able to have enormous authority over the strategic parts of the world. Consequently, the side effect of Iran’s effort in this direction causes continuous tension and instability in the region (Figure 1) (Sirani, 2012).       

Figure 1: Iran’s activities in the Middle East (Sirani, 2012).
Red Arrows: Iran’s offensive activities in the Middle East.

Green Arrows: Saudi Arabia’s activities against Iran.

Black Lines:  Iran’s final plan for the Middle East.

So far, to some extent, Iran has managed to implement some parts of its plan in the Middle East, particularly, since the US has officially withdrawn its troops from Iraq. The withdrawal of American forces from Iraq has created an excellent opportunity for Iran. Finally, for the first time and after 34 years effort, Iran has found a free transit road from its territory towards the borders of Israel. However, up until now, Saudi Arabia has managed to control Iran’s offensive behaviours in Bahrain and Yemen, but the main battle in Syria is continuing. Therefore, it would be hard to believe that Iran would halt its nuclear activities and withdraw its support for Syria. Because, these two particular issues are related to each other and both of them are the important parts of Iran’s plan for the Middle East. Based on all explained above, we can conclude that a nuclear-armed Iran not only would not provide instability in the Middle East, instead, it would offer Iran more power and opportunity to move faster towards its final destination i.e. the establishment of a religious regional hegemon, with more aggressive and offensive behaviors (Sirani, 2011, 2012).  
In conclusion, I have to imply that the notion of peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activity is severely questionable and to some extent even refutable. The large amount of different natural resources and geographical advantages in the country, indicate that Iran is likely to obtain nuclear weapon. Moreover, different evidences, illustrate that contrary to Waltz’s theory, Iran is not a security maximizer state like any other states. Instead, the history of Iran’s activities abroad shows that Iran is an aggressive power maximizer state. The root cause of Iran’s aggressive behaviour originates from its ideological characteristic. This is an unstoppable and irreversible characteristic, which causes hostility and consequently instability in the international arena. This religious characteristic, irresistibly forces Iran to expand its authority and influence, at the expense of other states and even more, its own security and people. As discussed in this paper, I found out that both defensive realism and to some degree offensive realism approach, was not able to explain the root cause of Iran’s aggressive behaviour. Contrary to these approaches, neoclassical realism could explain the behaviour of Iran with more accuracy. In fact, the case of Iran proved that in addition to the distribution of power and security maximization, some other factors such as ideological characteristic of state leaders or political system and motivation of states are the important issues, which should be considered when it comes to analyzing the behaviour of states. Based on all explained in this paper, I refute the idea of nuclear-armed Iran strongly, because Iran does not have the similar interest and ideology like any other current nuclear-armed states. Nuclear weapon might function as a deterrence and defensive factor for the current nuclear-armed countries, but it would not be logical and reasonable to generalize this assumption to a country like the Islamic Republic of Iran with such aggressive history. One last issue to mention is that almost all realist scholars including Kenneth Waltz argue that the lack of an overarching authority above states causes anarchy and instability in the world. This argument raises a serious question especially for those realists who defend the nuclear-armed Iran statement: If Iran would mange to become a member of the nuclear-armed countries, which powerful international authority would be able to control its hegemonic religious behaviour?      

Mehran Sirani                                                                  03.09.2012


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