Taking a More Sympathetic Look at Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

Every day carries yet further news about Iran’s nuclear programme and the international effort to prevent Iran crossing the nuclear threshold. If news reports are to be believed – and we know they rarely should be – we are slowly but surely drifting into a military conflict with Iran.

Much of the accompanying political analysis appears to fall into one of three inter-related categories. First, when might Iran cross this threshold? Second, what would be the regional impact of such a development? Third, what would be the consequences of taking pre-emptive military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions? These are all important questions, but they are essentially second order questions.

It’s regrettable that little consideration has so far been given to the a priori question of why Iran wants a nuclear weapons programme. Where this issue is addressed it is usually done so in a cack-handed way that paints Iran as a demonic theocratic state intent on wiping Israel from the face of the earth as it pursues its relentless quest for regional and global domination.

Exploring Iran’s motives is important ethically and politically. If ethics is an exercise in sympathy, then trying to see the world through Iranians eyes might help in understanding how rational an actor Iran is. Are there certain non-punitive measures that can be taken to address whatever is driving Iran’s behaviour? Any conclusion we reach as to Iran’s rationality will obviously impact on whether and in what way it might be possible to live with a nuclear Iran.

At another level analysing what drives Iran’s nuclear ambitions might help to better answer the much overlooked question of why the West fear’s Iran’s nuclear ambitions. If, lets assume for a moment, Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by a need to develop a credible deterrence posture against a range of threats, then questions will naturally arise as to whether our own fears are rational or based on historical prejudice and political misunderstanding.

All of this leads me to question whether by better understanding what drives Iran’s nuclear programme we might be better placed to scrutinise the efficacy of our own response? This is a question I’m likely
to return to over the next few weeks, so if you have any thoughts do let me know.

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