The Iranian Nuclear Program: Issues, solutions and views of Pakistan.


American foreign policy is based upon the infamous Monroe Doctrine and in fact more importantly on the ideas of President Woodrow Wilson. Before, going into that let’s first establish the fact that the international system is anarchic, brutal and based upon national interest. Thus, the realist worldview takes primacy over liberalism, which calls for cooperation, diplomacy and disarmament. Woodrow Wilson always aspired America to put more weight in the international system , but the rationale was for humanitarian purposes  and the endorsement of democracy. However, it is imperative to fathom the fact that America has always looked after her geo-strategic interests under the garb of liberalism. For instance the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine were not enunciated due to any love lost for Greece, Turkey and other European countries, but because the Americans had to counter Communism. The reason why American foreign policy is being discussed here is that it has a direct bearing on the Iranian Nuclear conundrum. The program which began under the aegis of the “Atoms for Peace” program made great strides before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Things turned for the worst not only between USA and Iran, but the latter’s nuclear program was also hampered. Iran has maintained her stance of developing a peaceful nuclear program; Iran considers herself well within the ambit of the Nuclear Non –Proliferation Treaty of 1968. This paper will shed-light on the Iranian Nuclear Program; the suspicions attached to it; the approach of the United States and Israel. Lastly, Pakistan’s view, albeit a bit insignificant would be the mainstay of the paper. The paper will be divided into 3 sections. The first will deal with nuclear weapons and deterrence, so as to provide a conceptual framework for discussing Iran’s penchant for the bomb, if any. The second part will succinctly trace the genesis and development of the program to-date. The last part will look at the views of other countries, to include Pakistan. Apart from that some portion will look into negotiations, sanctions and possible surprise attacks.

Nuclear Deterrence:

Karl Von Clausewitz said that war is an extension of diplomacy by other means. He was very right, but the Clausewitzian war accounts for the  horrors  of war through the  famous concepts of fog and friction. Before going into the realm of nuclear bomb, it is imperative to talk about wars and battles.  A war is a series of battles fought between states with a clash of vital interests. Battles are fought in different Forward Defended Localities on or near the border. A war can be limited or all-out, conventional/ sub-conventional or a counter-insurgency. All these kinds of wars are fought by conventional means: forces and weapons employed to target the enemy on the battlefield. Threat perceptions compel countries to maintain conventional forces; however, when an adversary becomes numerically too superior, a country feels insecure. The concept of security dilemma comes into the equation. What do nuclear weapons do? Without going into intricate details, we should only focus on the concept of deterrence for the consumption of this paper.
Deterrence is the ability to dissuade an adversary from doing something repugnant to the security interest of the state. This is done through the possession of credible capability of causing unacceptable damage to the adversary. Deterrence is based upon willingness, capability and communicating the very capability to the nemesis, so that it believes that a likely action would be fatal.  The types of deterrence are listed below:
1.       Sufficient Deterrence (MAD with multiple capabilities)
2.       Extended Deterrence (Nuclear umbrella to allies)
3.       Graduate Deterrence (proportionate to threats)
4.       Minimum Credible Deterrence
5.       Existential Deterrence (Deterrence as policy vs condition)
6.       Non Weaponized Deterrence [1]
Deterrence primarily hinges upon second-strike capability, which happens to be the ability to withstand a surprise or a pre-emptive strike, and then be able to retaliate with a nuclear strike. Hence, the safety and security of the arsenal becomes imperative, to say the least. Furthermore, an efficient command and control system is needed to be in place, so as to channelize all nuclear-related activities.
The late Keneth Waltz was always a great proponent of nuclear weapons, for he believed that it induced caution.  There are plenty of stabilizing factors of the nukes, to include acting as a power equalizer. Internal Balancing is or should be preferred over external balancing and bandwagon approach. States go nuclear because of three themes as identified in the book Eating Grass: the making of the Pakistani bomb. The themes are national humiliation, national identity and international isolation.[2]

The genesis of the Iranian Nuclear Program:

Iran is an all-important country of the Middle East; it has a geo strategic importance of its own. Proximity to waterways and rich resources of gas and oil has made it an important country in the foreign policy calculus of the superpowers. This is true because the first ever covert CIA operation  overthrew Mosaddegh in 1953, ostensibly on nationalizing the oil company.[3] Till 1979, the United States championed the Shah of Iran.  Shah was known to be the protector of American interests in the region. All said and done, let’s expound upon the nuclear history of Iran. It was Dwight Eisenhower who gave a historic “Atoms for Peace” speech at the UN General Assembly session. This set in motion the Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program. It was agreed that any country having any kind of nuclear expertise or material would donate it to International Atomic Energy Agency, which would in turn  help any country which wanted a nuclear program for civilian purposes. The United States was actually serious about promoting peaceful uses . Iran began to settle down after the coup of 1953; it became economically stable enough to be trusted with nuclear technology. Thus, in 1957 we  not only saw a nuclear training center shift from Baghdad to Tehran, but a bilateral agreement was signed between USA and Iran. Moreover, the “Atoms for Peace” exhibit was opened in the city. The program thus kick started from then on wards. The bilateral agreement predicated upon a few terms and conditions. The stipulation was that Iran will stick with the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. The Americans provided Iran with enriched uranium and a 5 Megawatt light water reactor. Hence, nuclear power was born in Iran and America was the midwife.[4]
The impetus was given, but Iran with its scant scientific prowess could not capitalize on the platform. The light water reactor was not put to use; it was seen as a showpiece at the Tehran University. The course of the program changed in 1965. A young scientist by the name of Akbar Etemad came back to Iran in the very year. He is deemed as the father of the Iranian nuclear program.  He yearned Iran to become a technologically advanced  country, hence he went on with full heart and soul. Shah of Iran after seeing his credentials mandated him to work at the Tehran University. Within a few years he handed over the 5 MW Reactors to the University. It was ironically working on a critical level. Soon, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) was created so as to streamline all nuclear-related activities. A significant development took place in 1968, which perhaps remains the bone of contention between Iran and the West. Iran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty in 1968. This implied that Iran agreed on not to make a bomb and only has a right for a peaceful nuclear program.  Shah’s penchant for embarking on the nuclear program was there for all to see. In 1974, Shah told Etemad that we needed nuclear power (not weapons) for economic reasons; he believed that nuclear power was the perfect conduit for economic growth. However, there were some ulterior motives, such as royal glory and a drive into modernity. As early as 1960,  Shah told the outgoing Majlis that Iran could no longer afford to live in the middle Ages. One can make out that  Pehlavi wanted a great leap forward through the so-called peaceful nuclear program. The journey continued under the tutelage of Etemad . Two developments are noteworthy before the revolution of 1979, one that the Bushehr nuclear reactor was 85% complete, thanks to the tireless efforts of Etemad . Then Gerald Ford signed an agreement with Iran, which allowed it to buy US-built reprocessing facility to extract plutonium. In fact the deal was for a complete nuclear fuel cycle. The extracted plutonium also can be easily diverted from civilian to military purposes; therefore this was a momentous development. Iran had always remained averse of the bomb; however, it is imperative to understand that the civilian and military side can never be divorced, due to the ease of diversion. Iran has always been vociferous, though.  There were however, inklings that the Shah vied for a bomb to show his grandeur. The NPT was signed, but there were voices against it from the very outset; Etemad also saw it as an infringement of national sovereignty. The revolution changed things drastically, to say the least. Ayatollah Khomeini infamously said that nuclear bombs are UN Islamic. This dissuaded Iran from going overtly nuclear, for Imam Khomeini was and is still revered.  The program was stifled by the ramifications of the revolution, to include the Hostage Crisis.  A brief discussion on the post revolution nuclear odyssey would be pertinent.  The international community began to turn a deaf ear to Iran; France and the US stopped the supply of Highly Enriched Uranium. Despite, efforts of rapprochement, the damage had been done due to the potent Hostage crisis; the predicament led to the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw. The program came under the scanner; the Kraftwerk stopped working on the Bushehr plant, owing to the intensification of war. Thus, Iran had to cobble-up everything all by herself. Imam Khomeini always viewed all international organizations with a great deal of skepticism. The organizations were advancing the cause of Western hegemony.  The way the IAEA reacted over Iraqi attack in 1984 gave lot of credence to this notion. The Iranian Foreign minister questioned the dubious role of the IAEA, for he believed that it was playing in the hands of  world powers.  Adversity brings resolve; a sense and urge of self-sufficiency was evident. One can term it as Nuclear Nationalism. The program continued with zest and zeal; the Iranians considered it as a national duty to tirelessly strive to complete the program. Meanwhile, the Americans did all what they could to thwart a perceived threat from an Islamic Republic.  Before going into the actualities of the crisis, let’s briefly scan-through, the remaining journey. Iran had time and again made a clear stance as regards the bomb. David Patrikarakos in his book “Nuclear Iran” has given a very good account of Iranian views on weapons and theories of deterrence within the lens of Islamic rubric.  Ghahvechi , the Iranian representative to the UN gave a lengthy speech where he expounded upon deterrence and weapons unambiguously. However, things were not that straight-forward. In close circles, there were talks about going for the bomb. Khamenei believed that a nuclear deterrent was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of  its enemies, as a prelude to the rule of Imam Mehdi.[5] This was not the first inkling for the idea of bomb-making; even during the tenure of Reza Pehlavi , there were indications that a bomb option was on the table. This can be corroborated by just one statement of the Shah in wake of India’s so-called peaceful explosion in 1974. The Shah said “ Pakistan and India talking about nuclear strength might force Iran to reconsider its options” the point that one needs to make is that the concerns of the West are not that concocted; there are plenty of reasons for them to be wary of Iran. One should not go into the debate of the NPT, for America has quite obviously flouted the treaty by signing the NFDR with India. The program was shrouded in mystery from 1989 to 2002, not that it is all clear now, but these years were deemed as lull before the storm.  
The Iran-Iraq War had left an indelible imprint on the minds of the Iranian establishment and government officials. Rafsanjani’s ascendancy to power gave the program a fresh lease of life. He was able to seduce Iranian scientists working abroad, to include Reza Khazaneh. The period from  1989 to 2002 was marked with significant augmentations, both overt and covert. The former included Russians working at the Bushehr. There were serious reports of Iran pursuing the first and the second stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. The stages pertained to extracting uranium ore to produce yellow-cakes and then converting them to UF6. Moreover, the fact that Iran had the Par-1 and Par-2 centrifuge components added to suspicion. Now, going by nuclear theory, it is imperative for a nuke to be supplemented by a delivery system. One can really not decipher whether Iran went after missiles for conventional or strategic purposes. However, the presence of sophisticated Ballistic missiles would have only created skepticism.
All in all, Iran had not only suggested to go for the bomb, but had started to crack deals to get equipment; it had centrifuges, sites, yellow cakes and most importantly, delivery system: missiles. The cats were set among the pigeons. Suspicions may well be true, but the issue will probably reach what we call a “ripe moment” in the jargon of conflict resolution. A brief summary of the unfolding crisis is needed.

The conundrum:

Nuclear program like we all know is of two kinds, civilian and military. The former is typified with Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE’s). The civilian program is used for economic purposes such as energy and medicinal. As mentioned earlier, Iran signed the NPT way back in 1968. That meant that Iran vowed not to go for the bomb, and remain under the ambit of the civilian nuclear program. The program was to be under the strict control of the IAEA. The crisis relates and is predicated to an alleged cat and mouse game between Iran and the IAEA. It was in 2002, that an enrichment site was unveiled at Natanz. Furthermore, a heavy –water plant was instituted at Arak. The site at Arak had the potential to churn-out plutonium. Both, these sites were not illegal as per the terms of the NPT. However, there are other stipulations which ought to be followed. The IAEA must be informed 6 months prior to the establishment of a site. As the international comity saw the reports in awe, the crisis was underway. The Iranians were reticent to show IAEA other sites and workshops, but ultimately acquiesced. The delay was enough for the West to raise eyebrows. Soon a resolution was passed which baulked Iran from uranium enrichment. There was a furor in Tehran. There were cleavages within the Iranian  high-ups; some wanted to halt the program, while others wanted the country to go ahead even with a weapon option. Hasan Rowhani came up with his 5-step plan. First, he wanted to keep the crisis under control and deter threats. Second, the need to safeguard nuclear facilities was important. Other plans included, turning threats into opportunities; enhancing capabilities and legal clout. Tehran subsequently signed the Tehran and Paris agreement, which manifested good faith on its part.  The spirit of the treaty called for Iran to sign on additional protocols and cease enrichment. The issue has conflagrated since Ahmedinejad took over. He ordered the resumption of activities at Natanz, which was seen as a blatant breach of the Paris Agreement. Things moved in the direction where they stand today because of the hawkishness of Ahmedinijad. There are two important things which should be brought to the attention of readers. These anecdotes, so to speak will be a harbinger of something grievous. Satellite images outside the sacred city of Qom were shown to Obama. The site was huge, located on the mountainside of a military base and protected by Anti-Aircraft guns. This highly-protected and deeply-dug site certainly rung alarm bells among the American ranks. Secrecy increases suspicion.[6] Then, America offered. During the talks in Geneva, Iran made a somewhat ironic excuse of not stopping uranium production because they needed to keep the Tehran reactor running ostensibly for medicinal purposes. Robert Einhorn, an expert  on proliferation got a food for thought. He said “why not offer to ‘swap’ much of Iran’s HEU , with specialty fuel for the research reactor”? This put Iran in a catch-22 situation; however, they agreed, but the Supreme Leader refused. This shows that everything is not that straight-forward when it comes to Iran’s intention to go for the bomb.[7]

Diplomacy vs Military strikes and the views of Pakistan:

Diplomacy is a vital cog in conducting international relations. It is a process of asserting one’s power and national interests by overtly benign means of persuasion and not coercion. As of now, the Iranian nuclear crisis is in the “ripening process”, it has not yet reached the threshold of a “ripe moment”. Diplomacy has been thus far used to bell the cat. Much to Bush’s credit, that despite initiating the preemption doctrine, he opened the door for direct negotiations after a lapse of 30 years. He launched the famous 1st June offer. In this section, let’s focus on Obama’s tryst with this challenge. What has been the mainstay of Obama’s policy as regards Iran? Before going into that, it is imperative to mention that there are voices against diplomatic engagements, not only by Obama’s erstwhile rival, Mitt Romney, but others too.
Dore Gold with this vast experience in the UN has tried to explain the dangers associated with diplomatic engagements, in his new book, “The Rise of Nuclear Iran”.[8] Obama made his intentions very clear even before his inauguration that he will prioritize the Iranian issue, and would talk to so-called rogue states. Obama made benign overtures right from the very outset. He gave a video message on Nowruz with Persian subtitles; this was ostensibly done with a view to broach upon the fact that the US wanted to resolve all issues.  This talk overture directly to the Iranian leadership came after 30 long years. With the election of the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, pressure began to pile-up on Obama. The latter wanted diplomatic maneuvers to be given a change to work.  The Israelis were left in a huff when Hillary Clinton talked about extended deterrence. The Americans at that stage and even now aim to slow down the process of uranium enrichment; they are mainly concerned with the site at Natanz. The talks at Geneva were of great significance, for they were the first after 30 years. Iran agreed to ship 75% of LEU abroad. However, Obama’s diplomacy was perhaps making Iran bolder; Ahmadinejad , in a press conference unveiled new centrifuge designs, which were capable of enriching at a faster rate. He also signaled that two new enrichment plants will be built by March, 2011. Thus, the US and the Europeans felt that they have been duped. A round of sanctions ensued; Resolution 1929 is just one example of many sanctions that have been imposed on Iran.
Obama’s penchant for diplomacy was matched by Israel’s aplomb for punitive action against a prospective nuclear-armed state. Now, it is not about diplomacy alone; it is about a pre-emptive strike or “Olympic Games” on   Natanz. In a nutshell, Olympic Games alludes to a joint project of USA and Israel. A computer worm “Stuxnet” is destroying the centrifuges at Natanz, in the process it has really slowed the otherwise vigorous enrichment process. Israel’s Mosad is groping for Iranian scientists; in fact they killed Majid Shahriari in broad day-light. Netanyahu visited the United States and  both leaders talked about all options that were available. Netanyahu always favored the strike option; however, Obama has not yet bought that  argument. The quagmire in Afghanistan; internal economy and the ability of Iran to retaliate, makes an attack highly unfeasible.  With his focus on diplomacy, Obama has not entirely ruled out the war option, in fact war games and simulations take place, so as to make contingency plans.  Israel has stretched a Red Line of 90% enrichment, if that is crossed, then it will take due note and reprisals will be witnessed. However, it is imperative to be savvy of the geopolitical compulsions, while thinking over this dangerous course of action. Iran will retaliate to anything offered to her, be it a surprise attack or mere diplomatic aggression. It is better to continue with sanctions and Olympic Games because history tells us that adversity has also given Iran an impetus to fight back.

Pakistan’s stance:

Before ending this paper, let’s us touch upon what Pakistan has to say regarding this crisis. A country beset with problem galore, to include terrorism, political and economic decay can probably have no weight in international politics, for only power is currency. However, Pakistan has power when it comes to nukes. Being the 7th and the fastest growing nuclear power in the world, it has a stature of its own. Pakistan helped Iran in wherever it has reached today. Indeed, the Par-1 and Par-2 centrifuges supplied by the clandestine Khan Network provided Iran with much-needed exposure and expertise. Pakistan has not spoken vociferously regarding the program; one can call it safe play or neutrality. One can understand this ambiguity taking into account the Saudi clout in the country. Former Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz along with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to Iran. Both leaders persuaded Ahmadinejad to change the firm stance on nukes , for his attitude would not benefit Iran and the whole region. Pakistan has given categorical foreign policy statements as regards the Iranian nuclear program. Ex Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met the Iranian Vice President. Gilani declared wholehearted support for the Iranian nuclear program , provided it was used for peaceful purposes . Shah Mehmood Qureshi delivered a lecture at Harvard University as foreign minister. There , he made strongly-worded statements against alleged Iranian endeavors towards the bomb. Qureshi said that Iran had no rationale to go for the weapon, for it had no immediate threat perception, like Pakistan had. Qureshi wanted Iran to accept US overtures and avoid a confrontation in the region. This is what Pakistan has said, and rightly so.  The bomb is not yet out, and nobody has issues with the civilian program. Only time will tell how this saga pans-out.


 Cheema, Zafar Iqbal.  “Pakistan’s Posture of Minimum Credible Deterrence: Current Challenges  and Future Efficacy,” in Nuclear Pakistan: Strategic Dimension, edited by  Zulfiqar Khan, 43-78 . Karachi: Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 2012.
Khan, Feroz. Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb. Stanford Security Studies, 2012.

Kissinger, Henry.  Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994
Patrikarakos, David . Nuclear Iran: the birth of an Atomic State.London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2012.
Gold, Dore. The Rise of Nuclear Iran. Regnery Publisher, 2009.

[1] Zafar Iqbal Cheema, “Pakistan’s Posture of Minimum Credible Deterrence: Current Challenges  and Future Efficacy,” in Nuclear Pakistan: Strategic Dimension, ed. Zulfiqar Khan( Karachi: Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 2012), 43-78.
[2] Feroz Khan, Eating Grass : The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (Standford Security Studies, 2012).
[3] Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994).
[4] David Patrikarakos, Nuclear Iran: the birth of an Atomic State (London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2012) 16.
[5] Ibid, 121.
[6] David E. Sangers, Confront and Conceal Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising use of American Power ( New York , Crown Publishers, 2012).
[7] Ibid, 183-184.
[8] Dore Gold, The Rise of Nuclear Iran ( Regnery Publishers, 2009).


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