Iran is a “threshold”country, one step from obtaining its own nuclear arsenal. The reasons it would want its own nuclear arms are numerous. For Iran, this would mean a guarantee of safety and containment of hostile countries. A nuclear arsenal would give Iran a much stronger position on the world stage. Iran believes it has a right to nuclear weapons as a great power, a status it can lay claim to as a nation with an undeniably great history and culture. It sees no reason why countries such as Pakistan, India, China and Israel have nuclear weapons and it cannot. Furthermore, acquiring nuclear weapons would mean a breakthrough in Iran’s science field, which is developing with intense force on its own.
It should be noted that Iran may look forward to obtaining nuclear weapons to impose its will and threaten neighboring countries. In recent years, Iran has had significant success in the development of its missiles that in addition to nuclear military technology would constitute a major threat to regional powers.
However, this scenario is unlikely given Tehran’s national interests, separate from its ideology, and insistence that even its military developments are a matter of defense, not offense.
But if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would cause the collapse of the non-proliferation process, triggering other countries to work on their own nuclear arsenals and possibly bringing the world to the brink of nuclear conflict. Furthermore, Iran possessing nuclear weaponry would bring sheer chaos to the regional balance of power, with consequences such as the intensification of sectarianism and further militarization of the region. This may fill the pockets of Western weaponry bigwigs with dollars, but there is no doubt it would stain the region with blood.
The factors that restrain Iran from getting nuclear weapons are determined by the benefits it gains from its non-nuclear status. The 2015 nuclear agreement — albeit partially — lifted sanctions on Iran, which it had been suffering from for decades.
The deal permits Tehran to revive its trade contracts with partners worldwide, to boost its economy. The deal guarantees constant development of Iranian atoms for peace programs that are satisfying the growing needs for energy of the sustainably developing country. Under pressure from the youth, who are increasingly looking to the West, the Iranian regime has to expand its ties and become more open to the world.
Given these factors, the nuclear deal perfectly serves its interests for the time being. However, if the players involved reconsider the deal, or request extra concessions from Tehran, this would have two major consequences. First, the regime would use this to toughen its domestic policies and further depict the West as an aggressor who cannot fulfill the agreements and who has a hostile stance against Iran. Second, the international community would lose its relative control over the Iranian nuclear program.
National interests both in Iran and in the rest of the world are better served if the Islamic republic becomes part of the international community rather than a pariah state.
Iran would survive new sanctions, but the world would hardly stay in peace if Iran went nuclear.
However, as the dramatic situation unfolds in North Korea with ongoing weapons testing, there are rising voices in the US calling for the cancelation of or at least a reconsideration of the nuclear deal with Iran. Undoubtedly, the Israeli lobby in Washington is busy calling for action against Iran, who they reckon is threatening Israel and affecting the regional balance. There are other reasons for the heightened Iran-talk. The 2015 nuclear deal came under the Obama administration and at the time, Washington’s hawks were opposed to it.
It is not surprising that their stance has not changed in the last few years. The Trump administration comprises many hawkish Republicans who are more than willing to bring down a deal that they link to Obama’s legacy.
What is happening in North Korea persuading them of the dangers of soft approaches toward pariah states. Unfortunately, US history is chequered with instances where the country has reached the wrong conclusions and subsequently taken the wrong steps.
If the deal is revised or canceled, those who cancel it will be the main losers. Iran and its allies, primarily Russia, will rise victorious. Moreover, Russia is more interested in Iran being a “world pariah” than an equal member of the international community. It is quite clear in Moscow that close alliances built with Tehran are not as solid as they seem and they will remain so until Iran is under international pressure. The West has much more to offer Tehran in terms of trade, investments and technologies, than Russia can and does propose.
Iran will always play its game in the region, regardless of the policies of the international community and deals reached or canceled. But these games are more manageable when Iran is a member of the international community, not the outsider.
The more the pressure is placed on Iran, the fiercer its response will be. The West continues to repeat the same mistakes with Russia, North Korea and Iran. It would benefit immensely from adopting softer approaches to all the three countries.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme