Since the beginning of Iran’s nuclear crisis, the West has been convinced that one approach offers the best hope of altering Tehran’s nuclear policy and halting its enrichment activities: comprehensive international sanctions and a credible threat of military strike. During the same period, I have repeatedly warned my friends in the West that such punitive pressures, no matter how severe, will not change the Iranian leadership’s mindset, and that a military option would be catastrophic for Iran, the region and beyond.
Almost a decade has passed and the unrelenting Western pressures applied on Iran have not achieved the objectives they set. Instead, they have resulted in Iran having an expanded and more sophisticated nuclear program. It is time for the West to acknowledge these realities.
The question that remains is whether Iran ultimately aims to get a nuclear weapon. If Iran isn’t after the bomb, then the Western accusations and concerns would be reduced enough to allow a diplomatic solution.
The following reasons aim to strengthen the case for why Iran is not after a nuclear bomb:
1. Religious Obligations: Besides an international commitment to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has religious obligations against nuclear weapons. Based on the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s religious edict or fatwa, the use of nuclear weapons and all other types of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) is forbidden or haram—constituting a sin, while being useless, costly, harmful and a serious threat to humanity. Iran’s authorities were informed about this religious view in 1995, eight years prior to Iran’s enrichment program became known to the West. Leaving no room for discrepancy, all Muslim Shia grand ayatollahs have issued the same religious fatwa.
Iran’s stance against weapons of mass destruction, which is far from new, has been put to the test. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein ordered chemical weapons to be used against Iran in the 1980s, resulting in 100,000 Iranian soldiers and civilians being killed or injured. Iran did not retaliate in kind primarily because Imam Ruhollah Khomeini wasagainst the use of weapons of mass destruction based on religious beliefs.
2. No Long-Term Advantage: Based on Iranian assessments, the possession of nuclear weapons would provide only a short-term regional advantage that would turn into a longer-term vulnerability. It would trigger a regional nuclear arms race, bringing Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia into the fold sooner or later.
3. Technology Choices: The technical configurations Iran has chosen for its nuclear program demonstrate a preference for a robust enrichment capability rather than for a rapid nuclear weapons breakout capability. Iran’s development program is focused on next-generation nuclear technologies, rather than mass production or maximum installation of centrifuges. There are more advantageous configurations Iran could implement if it was determined to acquire weapons in the near term.
Iran has shown no urgency to advance its nuclear dual-use efforts. Even the activities detailed in the November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report are not directed at any specific nuclear weaponization. According to Robert Kelly, an American top nuclear expert and the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector, the report was misleading and aimed to bolster hardliners “by taking information and feeding it as raw meat to people who want to move forward with war.”
4. Isolation: Iran recognizes that by becoming a nuclear weapons state, it will compel Russia and China to join the United States and implement devastating sanctions that would paralyze the Iranian economy.
Iran recognizes that becoming a nuclear weapons state would give the Israelis ample ammunition to rally the United States and the international community on a perceived existential threat to its existence for creating another war in the Middle East.
5. Aspirations: Iran’s ultimate strategy is to be a modern nation, fully capable of competing with the West in terms of advanced technologies. The majority of Iran’s prominent politicians believe that possessing nuclear weapons would be an obstacle in the long-term for Iran’s access to vast technological cooperation with developed countries. They do not want to see Iran come under the kind of extreme international isolation levied against North Korea.