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Nuclear Proliferation in Iran: A Change in Policy?

Nuclear proliferation in Iran is currently a hot topic among the international community, and it has even been discussed before on this blog.  Most United Nations states appear to believe that Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and actions have been taken to prevent such acquisition.  However, it can be argued that these preventive actions have done little if anything in prohibiting Iran, meaning that, assuming the UN member states truly believe that a nuclear Iran is something that needs to be stopped, a serious change in policy is needed, and quickly.  I would like to use this blog post to propose three potential policies in managing Iranian nuclear proliferation and briefly explore the consequences of each.


Natanz, a uranium enrichment facility in Iran

The most moderate policy (and the one that the international community seems intent on exercising) is a middle ground approach dictated by diplomacy.  In 2006, after three years of suspicion and continuous refusal of Iran to open its nuclear facilities for inspections by the IAEA (mandated in Article III of the NPT, of which Iran is a signatory), the UN Security Council imposed the first sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program.  This first round of sanctions blocked import and export of nuclear material to and from Iran.  Since 2006, the UN has imposed several more sanctions on Iran, and many attempts have been made at negotiation.  This is the middle ground approach; the goal is to peacefully broker a solution with Iran that will please everyone.

However, even as sanctions have increased to the point where Iran’s economy is seriously suffering, Iran is still refusing to accede to the demands made by the UN and is actually still actively increasing its nuclear program.  Empty military threats and endless sanctions are not working, nor have they in the past (Anyone taken a look at North Korea lately?), and if this continues then the United States government looks weak and will begin to lose its legitimacy in the Middle East.  Iran will not stop its nuclear development, and when Iran has nuclear weapons, it will not be on friendly terms with the U.S.


If the goal is to completely eradicate any possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, a hardline approach seems most appropriate.  This approach would require military action against Iran, including complete destruction of all known Iranian nuclear facilities.  For this approach to be successful, action should be taken quickly before Iran acquires nuclear weapons technology.  The longer action is delayed, the greater the risk and difficulty of destroying Iran’s facilities and programs.

Although this approach comes with potential risks of Iranian retaliation (Technically, no one really knows exactly how far away from nuclear weapons Iran actually is.) and polarized opinions from the international community, Iraq provides an example of just how successful this approach could be since it has had no further development in its nuclear program since the U.S. invasion in 2003 and seems unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.

An argument can also be made for a third approach, one that is on the other end of the spectrum from the hardline approach discussed above, in which the international community allows Iran to continue its nuclear development programs, eventually leading to the acquisition of nuclear weapons.  In this approach, Iranian nuclear facilities would be legitimized and recognized by the international community, and it creates the possibility for cooperation and negotiation with Iran in the future.

This approach, perhaps most importantly, could stabilize the balance of the power in the Middle East.  Currently, Israel is believed to have a monopoly over nuclear power, even though technically no one knows whether or not Israel actually has nuclear weapons.  If Iranian nuclear programs were allowed to continue, Iran and Israel’s programs would cancel each other out, bringing stability.  Critics of this approach fear proliferation of nuclear weapons in other nations of the Middle East and possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorist groups; however, supporters of this approach argue that Iran is rational, like all states, and would not transfer weapons.

Nuclear proliferation in Iran is definitely a very important topic and one that needs to be addressed.  The question comes in exactly how it should be addressed and what actions should be taken.  Should the current approach be continued? If so, will the response of Iran ever change? If policy needs to be changed, and I would argue that it does, in what direction should it be changed? Should a hardline approach be taken, or is a more conciliatory approach most appropriate?  What would be the pros and cons of such changes?





  1. Kaitlyn Johnson says:

    I am currently taking a seminar class in which groups are assigned a country and play a pathgame for dominance in Asia over the span of 30 years. Coincidentally enough, I’m in the North Korean group. After researching the country for weeks it seems clear that even though the North Koreans are attempting to develop nuclear weapons and longer range missiles, it is doubtful that they would ever use them against the United States unless they were first attacked. Basically, the North Korean government wants the respect of the world and to hold a higher standing in world decisions and affairs. I think the same is true for Iran. Even though the countries are highly anti-USA, it would take a lot for them to launch a missile at the states because of our higher tech detection systems and stronger and more destructive weapons that would most definitely be used in retaliation. Besides, who really wants a full-on nuclear war? Nobody.

    As for the question if we should continue a diplomatic approach or if we should go full force and guns blazing into Iran to stop the development, I think it is clear what the answer is. The American people would never support another war especially in the current climate, so even if we were threatened tomorrow because of Afghanistan I do not believe that we would engage in military action. The best hope is for diplomacy and for Iran to ‘grow-up’ and become more responsible for its actions and its peoples.

  2. ojanus3 says:

    I liked your approach to this blig with how you suggested policies ou believed would be efficient! I believe that a hardball approach to this situation could do more harm than good. It would ruin any kind of relationship we have built with Iran- how can we destroy their nuclear progress if we have some of our own? The points you make about allowing Iran to just continue with their development and legitimize them as a nuclear state is interesting and I would like to hear the debate about it tomorrow in class.

  3. mjuren3 says:

    I agree that the current approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program is obviously not working. I also think that Kaitlyn has a point and that especially at a time when we are finally pulling out of the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan that it would take a very aggressive military threat/action on Iran’s part to provoke a violent response to their nuclear program. In the meantime, I think it’s going to be the same old, same old with more sanctions that don’t work, Stuxnet type sabotage of their nuclear facilities, and tired speeches giving Iran a “talking to” about stopping their pursuit of nuclear weapons. As a sidenote, I really liked the cartoon you included. It’s very funny and so true.

  4. tnatoli3 says:

    The political cartoon is great and very appropriate to the subject. It is definitely a tough choice and the comparison to North Korea seems very appropriate. I remember in someone’s earlier blog they mentioned how the economic sanctions were just hurting the public and not stopping any of the nuclear development. This leaves the last two options you suggested and both are very difficult to choose from. I am inclined towards option 2 because of the danger of nuclear weapons and the fewer countries with them the better. I know that is hypocritical since we have so many and we would be bringing violence to the area before anything happens, but it may be better to be proactive then have to retaliate if a nuclear bomb is launched.

  5. akranc3 says:

    Good post. More development on the Iran nuclear situation is always nice. But there is one big flaw in your second argument however. To begin with, it was never confirmed that Iraq had any sort of nuclear program capable of producing weapons in the post Gulf War period. With the overthrow of the Iraqi government, there would be no workers in the nuclear facilities to continue the development and production of these weapons. The Iraqi nuclear facilities would definitely not be part of a private industry because it’s Iraq, a repressive autocratic country. So with no government, there is no “paycheck” for the scientists who are working. And who would go to work for free? Definitely not a nuclear physicist, or whoever else they had making these things.

  6. kolson23 says:

    It is hard to determine a good approach for dealing with the issue of nuclear weapons in both Iran and North Korea. I agree that we need to change the approach we are currently taking. I would like to see us move towards a third approach, less chance of military conflict, and less impact on the people. However, an approach like that would require us to completely that trust those countries would not cause some sort of nuclear war, or an unnecessary attack of some country. I just do not think we are ready to give them that much leeway. One hopes that they only want to equalize themselves, to show that they are modernizing and have capabilities of other nations, but one can not be too sure.

  7. I’m in favor of the 3rd policy you mentioned. It seems that Iran is pretty persistent in acquiring nuclear power and technology. I honestly think that trying to stop them will not help. Letting Iran to acquire such technology will in fact level the playing field and hopefully allow them to feel equal among neighboring countries.
    I enjoyed reading this article, even though there has been multiple blogs on Iran’s nuclear development, I like your approach to this topic.

  8. jdowling6 says:

    I like the idea of the 3rd policy as well. Policy 1 and 2 aren’t going to work, we see that and agree on dire consequences of 2. I think that Iran is already nearing the stage of weapons development, but will take decades to reach the prowess of N. Korea and the US. So to me it seems modifying the middle ground approach and ever so gradually removing the sanctions held against Iran will be the best approach. Removing sanctions altogether at once seems absurd because it does nothing in helping the US to cling on to it’s legitimacy in the Middle East. In this way, the US can retain it’s legitimacy and incorporate policy 3 in the long run while keeping policy 1 in tact while tensions are still rising. What do you guys think of a weaning off strategy?

  9. shaimsn says:

    Tough question.. Definitely a change in policy is required if the objective is really to stop Iran’s nuclear development.
    I don’t think the “growing up” option is viable. It sounds very ideal, and would definitely solve the problem. The issue is, Iran is not magically gonna “grow up”. Its leadership has reiterated the specific objectives it has to oppose the US, and to continue to develop nuclear power in a suspicious way. And I say suspicious because they don’t allow representatives from worldwide nuclear organizations to take a look at their work.
    Also, I read in one of the comments that Iran is not gonna launch an attack to the US because it would be difficult to accomplish it successfully. Very true. But Israel is just around the corner… And its pretty small, so with an “old-fashion” nuclear bomb (today’s bombs in development are about 40 times more powerful than HIroshimas), they could easily “wipe-it off the map” (assuming no self-defense from Israel -> very untrue).
    Maybe, a real embargo?
    It’s sad because most of the policies taken affect the Iranian population, not the governments. And the government doesn’t seem to actually care that much for their population. Reminds me of Nasser’s Egypt. Reminds me of Venezuela as well…

  10. marymsherman says:

    This article further makes me wonder what really is the effectiveness of the UN? I’d like to see some evidence that economic sanctions make for negotiation or change, but I just don’t see it. I also agree with most people commenting that a hard line approach does more harm than good. Warfare has changed and invading a country is not as straightforward anymore. The US has been allegedly using forms of cyber warfare (previously touched on in this blog) against Iran, but invasion doesn’t sound ideal.

  11. Its terrible that when we impose sanctions on these countries in hopes of stopping something, only the people suffer. Also, Im not sure how strong Iraq is a success story of the second option. Finally, two countries with nuclear bombs dont really cancel each other out. They just promise mutual destruction and more people dying,

  12. chai164 says:

    I like the clear outline of the three options and their consequences. As mentioned above, policy one isn’t working and policy two is a bad idea. Policy three is definitely the best approach.

    I think it’s time countries were treated like they’re run by adults. I feel like this approach of constantly going into other countries to fix their problems is making the US seem like a paranoid, controlling parent that just doesn’t trust anyone else to take care of themselves. It’s time we let these countries learn, grow, and develop on their own. If there is clear and enough evidence to take action, the United Nations can handle it, since that’s the reason the organization exists. There’s no reason to go to war to prevent war. An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

  13. nathenj65 says:

    I really like how you suggested a couple of different policies that come from this conflict. It allowed me to see other possibilities then that of what is being used right now. I don’t think that the first two possiblities would work very well. Neither have really worked to well in the past and in invading there is always a huge risk of ruining relations with other countries that aren’t even directly involved in that conflict. For the third policy the problem is that in following this the countries in the surrounding area run a huge risk because yes they wouldn’t really have the capability to hit the U.S. wars between their border countries these nuclear weapons could be used in which retaliation would happen and the world finds itself in the same mess as the at the beginning where in the case of a nuclear attack on any countries. After the dust settles it is anyone’s guess if anything at all will still be standing.

  14. shitianliu says:

    I support the third approach, because I think prohibiting Iran to have nuclear weapon is not realistic. Ironically, those who do not want Iran to have nuclear weapon the most are states actually has developed nuclear weapons. I cannot stop thinking that those nuclear states are afraid of more nuclear weapons coming in into the international society, which will decrease their power. Anyway, I hope there is a way to solve this issue and set the world situation in peace.

  15. I support the third approach, because I think prohibiting Iran to have nuclear weapon is not realistic. Ironically, those who do not want Iran to have nuclear weapon the most are states actually has developed nuclear weapons. I cannot stop thinking that those nuclear states are afraid of more nuclear weapons coming in into the international society, which will decrease their power. Anyway, I hope there is a way to solve this issue and set the world situation in peace.

  16. drippykins says:

    I’m confident that as long as Israel possesses nuclear weapons there will not be any success in keeping Iran from developing them. That’s just the way it is. Honestly nothing short of war will keep Iran from doing what Iran wants to do. We’ve seen time and time again that no amount of sanctions and diplomacy sway their goals and motivations. I like what James Caldwell said in that these imposed sanctions only hurt the people of the country. It doesn’t hurt the leaders, because they continue to stay in power and they don’t always suffer the consequences of their actions.

  17. jkipp3 says:

    I think under no circumstances should the US alone intervene directly. Our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan consumed so many dollars and cost so many lives. These episodes have also made us appear as bull-headed and stubborn. The drone situation that we established in Afghanistan is so out of control right now that Afghan children use the word “drone” as a verb to inflict pain, as in “If I fail this test, my parents are totally gonna drone me!” I think this is terrible, because that generation will grow up knowing it was the US that set that up, not a collection of nations.

  18. sstephenson3 says:

    As I have stated before on this blog, the Iranian acquisition of nuclear arms is an inevitability. The real problem is trying to foresee and prepare for how the international community will react and change to Iran’s rise in international position. Honestly, I do not believe that the Iranians, or any rational nation in this day and age, are dumb enough to actually use whatever nuclear capabilities they acquire. The reasoning behind this is if any nation were to set off a nuke for any reason, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the rest of the world, with a few exceptions, will endeavor to immediately remove the government responsible from power by any means necessary, including retaliatory nuclear/military responses. While I do see the need to keep an eye on belligerent Middle East powers gaining access to weapons of mass destruction, I truly don’t believe that the worry should be whether or not they use the weapons themselves and more about how they political game board changes once they have them.

  19. mitch7991 says:

    The jihadist movement in Iran is pretty serious right now. This has serious implications for all other faiths, especially Christianity. And Christianity is the predominant religion of the West. Should the nuclear mission in Iran succeed, the consequences wouldn’t be pretty if someone from the jihadist movement obtained political power in the government. If Iran wants a nuclear program maybe they should wait until things stabilize because with terrorism all around you, it just doesn’t seem like good idea. Hence, I think the UN needs to find someway to step in and enforce the agreement that Iran became a part of. I hate to say that that means war, but even so Iran doesn’t seem that powerful especially considering their tore up economy and the powers their rebelling against.

  20. kledbetter6 says:

    I see an interesting historical parallel between this debate and the debate about appeasing Hitler before WWII. The arguments are fairly similar – go to war because the other country will cause destruction and is not a rational actor vs. let the other country have what it wants to avoid ruining relations and causing a huge conflict – but of course the situations are very different, so I don’t think the previous situation can be used as a basis for decisions on the current situation. However, it will be interesting to see how these decisions play out and what the historical interpretations of these decisions are, whether the “appeasers” are cast in the same negative light in which they were cast after WWII.

  21. mnicholas6 says:

    I appreciate that you not only discussed the issued, but more importantly offered a few solutions. I’ve found that when discussing political issues, a lot of people like to point out problems without offering any solutions. The third point seems the most realistic.

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