The question if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and German could successfully curb Iran’s direct or covert nuclear bomb development activities still persists. In the past decade, perceptions of a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to the Middle East countries and beyond attracted international and regional players to intervene with stringent economic and wide-ranging sanctions to force Iran to curb its nuclear development activities (Montgomery, 2005). However, the philosophy of a secure Iran is deeply rooted in Iranian nationalism on the basis of economic equality for different groups, growth and expansion of Islam, and regional leadership.
Tertrais (2015) argues that Iran’s intentions to develop a nuclear bomb were partially related to the quest for a strong and powerful military force propped up with lethal military hardware with a nuclear bomb. However, the potential pathway to the bomb was cut short due to the timely ratification of the JCPOA agreement (Katzman & Kerr, 2015). Underpinning the drivers of the JCPOA agreement includes blocking the production of highly enriched uranium at Natanz and follow facilities besides stopping the covert production of weapon-grade uranium. Given Iran’s past history and the clauses agreed upon in the treaty, the question if the JCPOA agreement could either be effective or ineffective in curbing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb arises.
Bleek and Lorber (2014) argue that Iran’s ability to exercise its influence throughout the Middle East driven by the policies of a Shia dominated theocratic leadership who perceive a nuclear bomb as mandatory poses many regional and international challenges. Besides, the all-time sour Iran-Israel relationships and direct and proxy power games with the other Middle East facilitate the quest for a powerful Iran. Braun and Chyba (2004) provide a dichotomy of the challenges and threats that could emerge if Iran were left to arm itself with the nuclear bomb.
The adjunct of both local and international players with diverse interests including Russia, the European Union, and the U.S.A. besides the inclusion of the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) and other players from the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia show the extreme positions taken. That is beside the recent acquisition of the Russian-made potent S-300 air defense systems. In all these, Iran has jealously pursued the path of becoming a regional power as exemplified in its regional policies that have attracted local and international criticism (Way & Weeks, 2014). Iran, on its side vehemently opposes the position taken by her foes by arguing that it has no interest in the development and acquisition of a nuclear bomb that can be used as a tool to solidify its position as a major power player in the Middle East region.
The aim of this study was to crystallize the study and answer the question of if the JCPOA agreement could either prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb or not. The investigation will be defined on a framework of objectives with the general objective being to determine the threat posed by nuclear powered Iran on its neighbors (Way & Weeks, 2014). That could inform the policy changes adopted by Middle East countries and international players in dealing with Iran. In that context, it leads to the question on if the regional and international community could accept Iran as a nuclear power if the regional countries have the military capabilities to defend themselves, and the emerging relationship with international players (Lindsay & Takeyh, 2010).
The guiding objectives include
- Overview of the Iranian nuclear development program
- To examine Iranian thinking about the use of nuclear weapons
- Identify the threat of a nuclear powered Iran on its neighbors and international players.
- Assess Iran’s role in trying to make the Middle East unstable
- Assess the role of a nuclear-armed Iran in the balance of power in the Middle East
- Identify the possible responses of the Arab countries to the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.
- To determine whether the International community could accept Iran as a nuclear power.
- Evaluate the possible solutions and policy implications with a nuclear-armed Iran
- Investigate how Iran has tried to make the Middle East unstable
Significance of the study
The study aims to provide evidence-based facts on the effectiveness of the JCPOA agreement in curbing the development, acquisition, and inclusion of a nuclear bomb into Iran’s military hardware. It could form the foundation of policy directions on defining and redefining approaches to curbing the further proliferation of nuclear bomb technology without necessarily going to war.
Overview of the Iranian nuclear program
Many countries in the world have been at odds with Iran over its nuclear program because of the covert nature of its activities. The argument is refaced by Kerr (2014) notes that Iran has invested heavily in the construction of different nuclear reactors with the unique abilities to produce weapon grade uranium. According to Raas and Long (2007), different countries within the Middle East inclusive of Israel and Saudi Arabia besides the United States (U.S.A.) fear the consequences of allowing Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. Raas and Long (2007) view Iran’s policy as one that emphasizes on achievements rather than motives which is reflected in the history of the nuclear program that points to the production of nuclear grade uranium that could be used to make a nuclear bomb.
Beginning of nuclear program
According to Raas and Long (2007), the Iranian nuclear program started in 1950 with the first American supplied reactor installed in Iran before the operation went critical in 1967. An assessment by Raas and Long (2007) of the underlying motivation showed it to be scientifically driven without having a military dimension to it. However, Kerr (2014) notes that the subsequent years indicated Iran’s overwhelming interest in attempting to cultivate its ability to master and develop the nuclear bomb. Here, a policy shift that happened significantly changed from scientific to the military dimension. The true change in policy was evident when Iran violated the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signed in 1968 that was later ratified into the 1970 and later the Middle East nuclear free zone in 1974 by engaging in covert nuclear activities raising suspicion (Chubin, 2010).
United States intelligence reports verified Iran’s covert activities despite that was gross violation of existing treaties that were ratified by Iran. The covert nature of Iran’s activities that suggested the path to a nuclear bomb was evident in the construction of the heavy water reactor at Arak and a uranium gas enrichment facility at Natanz. According to Chubin (2010), the records that show the discoveries made in 2002 on Iran’s nuclear path prompted an intervention by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that temporarily halted the activities. However, heightened suspicion of nuclear weapon development related activities were evident when Iran reduced the level of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In conclusion, it had become apparent that Iran had refused to cooperate with the IAEA at the level of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that prohibited Iran’s nuclear activities.
The Cooperation Issue
Abright and Stricker (2010) evaluated a number of sources and concluded that Iran failed to cooperate with the IAEA at the level of the NPT protocol and the discovery of the construction of additional nuclear reactors. The results of the study revealed that Iran had covert activities that placed the state on the path to the production of the nuclear weapon. Stern (2007) argues that Iran’s activities were confirmed by the intelligence reports from Brittan, France, and U.S.A. that unearthed a small, covert, and deeply buried uranium enrichment plant in Iran. The discovery was believed to take Iran to a “breakout” point in the production of bomb grade uranium that could be used quickly to make a nuclear bomb.
New revelations came up in September 2009 showing that Iran had strong interests in the production of weapon grade uranium that could be used to make the bomb. After placing the discovered facility under the IAEA safeguards, additional discoveries in November 2011 confirmed Iran to be engaged in activities with “possible military dimensions” in the production of nuclear bomb delivery systems (Abright & Stricker, 2010). Subsequent years of nuclear activities lead to the conclusion that Iran was interested in developing the nuclear weapon while vehemently denying the same. The nuclear issue and non-compliance with previous non-proliferation agreements and other related violations landed Iran with a series of economic and technological sanctions that led to greater tensions between Iran and the United States.
International Tensions and JCPOA
Despite the tension that was mounting between Iran and western countries following a raft of additional sanctions slapped on Iran, accelerated nuclear activities were evident between 2010 and 2012. According to Albright and Stricker (2010), it increased activities at Natanz and Fordo with the installation of advanced centrifuges capable of rapidly producing enriched uranium were observed. Evidence of increased activities happened when Iran started to convert 3.5 percent uranium to 20 percent at the Natanz pilot plant (Moore, 2015). The failure of international efforts in 2009 to prevent Iran in its nuclear related activities allowed Iran to increase its pace that later estimated Iran to be 12 months away from the acquisition of the nuclear bomb. That was in addition to the suspicion that Iran had acquired enough knowledge to build a nuclear bomb that could be small enough to fit into the chamber of a re-entry section of the Shahab-3 missile.
Synopsis of the program and sanctions
In summary, it is imperative to note that Iran had started its nuclear activities in 1957 with a peaceful intent in cooperation with the United States, under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Subsequent years show evidence of intentions of large scale construction of nuclear reactors that attracted interest from the United States, Germany, and France (Abright & Stricker, 2010). In addition, Iran had shown interest to develop laser enrichment technology for Uranium as part of the research and development activities. However, in 1979, the revolution temporarily led to the suspension of the cooperation with western countries on the construction of nuclear reactors such as the one at Ahvaz (Stern, 2007). However, in 1987, to bypass the formal procedure previously agreed on, a Pakistan-Iran network was engaged in of covert nuclear development activities that were driven by A.Q. Khan (Abright & Stricker, 2010). Through the A.Q. Khan network, Iran acquired key centrifuge components including a starter kit for the gas centrifuge, samples of the centrifuge components, technical drawings of the centrifuges, and a manual for the enrichment of uranium to the weapon grade level.
It is important to emphasize that despite the arguments for and against Iran intending to acquire a nuclear bomb or the capability to produce one, the country had set up an infrastructure that pointed to the fulfillment of the motive that allowed for uranium enrichment to be done successfully. At the enrichment and procurement stages, research shows that Iran had reached the full nuclear fuel cycle between 1988 and 2002 (Stern, 2007). This was exemplified by the development of conversion capabilities, signing of the agreement between China and Iran in 1991, halting of the sale of the enrichment plant by Russia under the influence of the United States, and the installation of the centrifuges at the Kalaye Electric Company.
That was the cause of Iran’s gross violation of the enrichment agreements, a situation that lasted between 1990s and early 2000s. To counter the situation, investigations, diplomacy, and sanction were introduced between 2003 and 2009 sparking anew affront on Iran’s nuclear program. This followed four rounds of crippling economic sanctions by the United Nations Security Council (Abright & Stricker, 2010). The basis of the sanctions was the results of the findings by the IAEA that discovered 1,000 centrifuges at Natanz and Arak heavy water reactors (Pollack, 2014). Installation of the centrifuges happened despite the agreements signed between Iran and the U-3 consisting of Britain, France, and Germany. Additional revelations of nuclear secret enrichment plant in Iran specifically the underground one at Qom that was revealed in September 2009 adding to the fear that Iran intended to build a nuclear weapon as rapidly as possible.
Iranian thinking on the use of nuclear weapons
Moore (2015) argues that two states of denial exist for the implications of Iran’s acquisition and use of the nuclear weapon. While external views by western countries including the United States and European Union view the acquisition of the bomb as a tool for destabilizing and extending its influence throughout the Middle East in view of the presumed support for regional terrorism, Iran’s thoughts on the bomb have not come out clearly. The argument by Moore (2015) was built on the study by Raas and Long (2007) that entails an analysis of critical factors used to develop the theme that clarifies the Nation’s thinking on the subject. According to Zarif (2014), the development of a nuclear bomb is a deeply embedded the national pride of the country as reflected in the culture of the people and the leadership of the Islamic republic of Iran. The position is historical. Pollack (2014) argues that for many centuries, Iran has been an active center of scientific, cultural, political, and religious activities despite the persistent interference from western countries throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
A discourse in favor of the acquisition of the nuclear bomb does not detail the Iranian thinking on the use of the nuclear bomb. Kerr (2014) argues that despite Iran’s persistent and firm refusal to acknowledge the path to the weapon, her intentions can be analyzed on a wide range of reasons to confirm its position. According to Evron (2014), Iran declaration in 1968 reaffirmed the need to shape the country into one that wields power throughout the Middle East. One strategy was to develop differentiated military capabilities including short and long range missiles and other military hardware. In response to the history of the country, Iran’s position in the Middle East and many activities that have shaped the geopolitics of the region, it is worth concluding that the thinking on the use of the nuclear bomb is for deterrence purposes (Zarif, 2014).
In principle, pundits and scholars argue that a nuclear bomb can only be used for deterrence purposes. Zarif (2014) argues that countries such as Pakistan and India that have acquired a nuclear bomb use it for deterrence purposes. However, historically, it is evident that those countries that have acquired nuclear weapons and facing territorial threats have used them for deterrence purposes. A list of such countries includes China, North koura, and India among others (Moore, 2015). Iran is a country that is surrounded by weak and unstable neighbours despite the dynamism shown in the military build-up by other countries such as Saudi Arabia. However, Chubin (2010) notes that the latter statement entails the question on if the country wants to acquire the nuclear bomb for use in war or for deterrence purposes. This is reflected in Iraq’s humiliating in 19191 justifying Iran’s desire to acquire the bomb for deterrence purposes rather than as a weapon of aggression.
A critique of the war between Iraq and the U.S.A. shows that Iraq’s army was defeated in a matter of a few days as opposed to the war waged by Iran that struggled to defeat the Iraq army for eight years without success. Iran developed the perception that if the U.S.A. had the intention to go to war against Iran, such a war could not last for many days because wars fought by the U.S.A. lasts for short a time. Examples include the bombing of Serbian in 1995 and 1999. Chubin (2010) emphasizes that due to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the 2003 war in Afghanistan, and the overthrow of Gadhafi, the perception that the nuclear bomb could be beneficial in deterring other countries for attacking Iran is justified.
In both cases, the US used a powerful military force to secure a regime change. A similar call for regime change in Iran had been the call of the U.S.A. That is evident in the change that could be possible with the United Sates military intervention in many situations that the nations has intervened militarily (Kerr, 2014). It is evident that despite the cooperation of Iran with the US on the Afghanistan issue, the Bush administration was hostile and that fuelled suspicion between Iran and the U.S.A. with Iran viewing the U.S.A. as wanting to fulfil its regime change objectives any time. That is despite the general agreement and views by the U.S.A. that Iran has no intentions of developing a nuclear weapon, but wants to master the technology to fulfill its objectives.
Undermine American Domination
Chubin (2010) argues that Iran has been struggling to undermine what it perceives as an American-dominated order in the Middle East without depicting a state of territorial expansion, invasions, and occupation of other states. To reinforce its territorial integrity and security objectives, Iran views the nuclear arms as the likely component to reinforce its position. A typical argument reflecting Iran’s military policy shows that “if we become able to organize 350 infantry brigades, purchase 2,500 tanks, 3,000 cannons, and 300 war planes, and be able to manufacture laser and nuclear weapons which are nowadays among the necessities of modern warfare, then, God willing, we can think of offensive war activities” (Kerr, 2014).
In this case, this is the reflection of the decision making on the use of the nuclear bomb that is shaped by the ideological thinking of the Iranian leadership. This is where the U.S.A. is viewed as a great enemy of Iran labelled the great Satan. In addition, the nuclear bomb is seen as a tool that could give Iran the upper hand in the achievement of its geopolitical and economic influence and military goals (Albright & Stricker, 2010). However, it is imperative to note that Iran cannot use the bomb against Israel, reinforcing the position that the country intends to use the bomb for deterrence purposes.
An interview with a senior fellow from the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, William H. Tobey and Bokhari from the Stratfor-Middle Eastern and South Asian affairs on the Iranian thinking on the use of the nuclear bomb shows that the bomb could leverage Iran’s position in the Middle East. That could be in terms of economy with specialized focus on the satisfying its energy needs (Albright & Stricker, 2010). In addition, the country views the bomb as a deterrence of foreign intervention or interference in its affairs that span the domestic, political, and geopolitical influences. Besides, the country views the bomb as a tool for compliance to boost its regional influence. The results show that far from the thinking and suspicion that Iran wants to use the nuclear bomb to annihilate Israel, it is worth deducing that the bomb could be for deterrence purposes only.
Preserving the leadership
Albright and Stricker (2010) conducted an internal dichotomy of the Iranian leadership by suggestion what motivates Iran to get into the path of developing a bomb to be the desire for survival. Here, the leadership in Iran is driven by the desire to sustain their position and ensure that they extend their influence further abroad (Albright & Stricker, 2010). The basis is to protect the Iranian revolution because it is seen as the liberation of Muslims. Iranian leadership sees America as country that dominates the globe stage with strong economic and geopolitical influences that need to be countered in the Muslim world. Within the Iranian constitution is embedded the policy emphasizes the need to “eliminate imperialism and foreign influence” (Pollack, 2014) within the geographic region of the Middle East and beyond.
Here, the ideological position of the Iranian leadership that cannot be relinquished. That adds a further dimension to the argument that gravitates towards the conclusion that Iran could use the nuclear weapon to bomb other countries. However, a critical analysis shows that Iran could not use the bomb against other nations if not provoked. The conclusion can be adduced from the fact that Iran has not been keen in developing the nuclear bomb until after the war with Iraq ended, which was a source of several lessons to the leadership. The results have led to the conclusion that Iranian thinking on the use of the nuclear bomb is to prop the leadership besides guaranteeing political and economic protection besides earning the Islamic country prestige, credibility, legitimacy of the leadership, and self-sufficiency.
The threat of a nuclear powered Iran on its neighbors and international players
The perception that a nuclear powered Iran could be an existential threat to other countries in the Middle East, immediate neighbors, and the world at large logically suggests that the country could present existential threat to Israel, the U.S.A., and other countries in the Middle East and other immediate regional rivals (Ahmadian & Farahani, 2014). Statistical evidence shows that over 78% of people in the Middle East view Iran as unwelcome idea and a bad thing to possess a nuclear bomb.
The arguments for and against a nuclear powered Iran has emboldened the view that the country in its strategic deterrent position enhances the ability to pursue its long term objective of removing the U.S.A. from the Persian Gulf (Zarif, 2014). The number one enemy, which is the United States, is viewed as one that counters Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East, which is Iranian foreign policy driven that is defined by the geographic expansion into Asia and the Persian Gulf (Zarif, 2014). This is also evident in the regional alliances established among different countries. The increased cooperation is evident between Israel and the Sunni Arab states at the level of intelligence sharing leading to better relationship among different countries such as those of the Gulf Cooperation Council and those in the Israeli-Bahraini relations.
Effects of the Iran Iraq war
The Iran-Iraq war that stemmed from the border disputes, rivalry among the leaders, issues with the Kurdish minorities, and the effects of the perception and treatment of the Shiite majority in southern Iraq (Zarif, 2014). That is evident in the enmity that was exhibited between the Persians and the Arabs, which has persisted to the present day, emerging in the regional alliances and power play among the Middle East countries (Monteiro & Debs, 2014). The driving factors have been the sectarian and ethnic factors. However, this has come in a period when the presidency has come up with some form of optimism under President Hassan Rouhani that became effective in 2013. Despite the agreement to curb the nuclear activities, it is critical to evaluate the effects a nuclear powered Iran could have o its neighbors.
Arab Spring and Competition
Due to the regional fears and tension stemming from the effects of the sectarian and ethnic tensions that have political dimensions at the national and geographic levels, the threat of Iran as a nuclear powered nation are real. This is evident in the simmering relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the effects of the Arab spring, and the resulting anxiety among other countries within the region such as the capital Abu Dhabi (Monteiro & Debs, 2014). The fear of Iran as a nuclear armed country could spark competition among other regional players and lead to other countries intending to develop their own deterrence.
That is in accordance with the nuclear domino theory. According to Miller (2014), the theory explains that if Iran possesses a nuclear bomb, then Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, and Syria among other countries could follow suite. Evidence abound of other countries including Egypt’s non-reported experiments, Syria case of failing to disclose its nuclear related activities until Israel’s bombing of the Al Kibar reactors in September 2007. The results could be damaging to the institutions that sustain the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty besides being detrimental to the NPT itself (Malici & Walker, 2014). Another argument by Tariq Khaitous rightly summarizes the position that the consequences of Iran having a nuclear bomb could be dire because Iran could endeavor to humiliate other Arab regimes in the pursuit of establishing itself as a major regional power. That could also make other Arab countries to violate the NPT treaties.
Malici and Walker (2014) have noted that even if Iran launches conventional attacks against its neighbors, it could be less at risk because it is welding the nuclear bomb. However, despite wielding the nuclear bomb, the threat of using the bomb could diminish because neighboring countries still have powerful armies and the intervention of other countries such as the United States could potentially cripple Iran’s military to the extent that the bilateral damage could not last for long.
Derived from the statements made by the Iranian leadership, policy analysts view Iran’s use of the nuclear bomb for coercion against the non-nuclear neighbors, which is likely to attract significant risks. Bleek and Lorber (2014) note the possibility of Iran using its position to demand other neighbors to comply with its resolutions such as limiting the amount of oil being produced by Iran’s neighbors, the cost of crude oil, limit the landing rights across different ports in the region, compel countries in the region to stop purchasing military hardware from the US, and destroy pre-positioned equipment.
However, Malici and Walker (2014) do not concur with the position Bleek and Lorber (2014) take by arguing that such threats cannot work because there is no evidence showing that nuclear power can enable a country to successfully achieve its strategic objectives that are offensive in nature. The rationale is that other countries including the United States could intervene with military superiority that could overwhelm Iran. Despite the status of Iran in the region, it is argued that the nation does not have adequate resources including political competency and organizational capabilities to develop the retaliatory forces for appropriate deterrence. Besides, with an inappropriately secured command and control, a small sized army that relies on old technology, a fearful Iran could be in a “hair-trigger” alert postures, and other potentially dangerous actions. However, such issues could be in the hands of the Iranian country and leadership to address.
Other factors that could make Iran potentially harmful include the ability to move and hide its small forces away from foreign intelligence and attacks in the event of war. It is possible that Iran can combine stealth, secrecy, dispersal, secure communication, and other multiple key arrangements to launch nuclear weapons. Besides, the desire for a first launch capability could add to the risk of Iran potentially causing harm to other regional countries especially if the risk of hair-raising episodes happens along the way (Bleek & Lorber, 2014). However, Ahmadian and Farahani (2014) argue that it is not possible for Iran to solidify a strong position where it could launch pre-emptive strikes against the United States.
The main abilities in the hands of Iran are retaliatory in nature against the United States and its interests in the Middle East. Besides, the potential to stir considerable unrest and covert activities in the Middle East is propagated by evidential circumstances that involve the ideologically driven Revolutionary Guard Corps (Bleek & Lorber, 2014). The threats could be summarized into an increase in covert activities designed to destabilise regional countries that are seen as enemies of the Islamic republic of Iran, force other Arab countries into compliance with the Iranian demands, providing non state actors the nuclear weapon, and attack Israel with the aim of fulfilling its objective of total annihilation without considering the potential retaliation from Israel and the intervention of the US with its superior military power.
Assessment of Iran’s role in making the Middle East unstable
According to Ahmadian and Farahani (2014), Iran has consistently been accused by neighboring countries of serious engagement in activities that destabilise the region. While Iran has vehemently denied the destabilizing behavior, policy analysts note that Iran has covertly worked hard through proxy networks stretching from Afghanistan to Latin America in her destabilising activities. Barzegar (2010) argues that Iran’s role in destabilizing activities is historical in nature having started with the rivalry between the Sunni-Shia, the fierce rivalry between several allies of the United States shortly before the 1979 Islamic Revolution where the national strongly supported Lebanon, the struggle to remove Saddam from power and install a religious leader in Iraq, and the varying degree of support that the country has been offering Hamas in the Israeli occupied Arab territories, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and regime in Sudan. The results have been accusations by members of the international community of a Country that has been training and providing sanctuary to terrorists, providing military hardware, and funding terrorists.
Iran’s destabilising activities have been propped up by the use of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC – Pasdaran-e Inqilab) after the fall of the shah. T is estimated that the group has over 350, 0000 trained members (Vafaeipour, Zolfani, Varzandeh, Derakhti, & Eshkalag, 2014). The weight of the effects of the Revolutionary Guard Corps came into the light in 1986 when a worldwide conference consisting of groups accused of terrorism including the Iraqi Da’wah Party, Hezbollah, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Japanese Red Army, and Armenian Secret Army. However, the approach used in providing support for groups causing unrest and instability in the Middle East is not clear.
Embedded in Iran’s revolutionary ideological aspects and foreign policy is the perception that the country is under the threat of the being attacked by the United States and her allies in the region against their national interests (Ayoob, Springborg, Lesch, Önis, & Hunter, 2006). However, after the overthrow of the secular leadership in 1979, Iran has worked hard to counter external influence especially from the United States and other regional powers by trying to export the ideology that the Middle East should be dominated by the Islamic religion. Besides, Iran argues that the people in the Middle East are oppressed under the economic structures that seem to be in favor of Israel and the United States. This is exemplified in the definition including the Palestinians and the politically and economically disadvantaged Shiite Muslims and other minorities in different countries within the Middle East.
According to Ayoob et al. (2006), Iran does not have a single line foreign policy, but one that is driven by external and internal factors related to the political ideologies of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene has the final say on any policy level decisions. However, it is evident that the supreme leadership has deep seated hatred and suspicion of the certain factions (Vafaeipour et al., 2014). On the basis of the all-powerful Khamenei who enjoys a near monopoly power in Iran empathizes on Islamism, it is evident that support for certain factions that are defined as either extreme, radicalized, or moderate has some political ramifications.
The results show that Iran supports some factions that are in the opposition while others remain allied to the state. Following its foreign policy, some of the governments that are supported by Iran include the prime Minister Haydar Al Abbadi of Iraq and Bashar Al Asad of Syria. However, Iran has been noted to support groups such as the Ansar Allah of the Houthi movement in Yemen and those in Bahrain. However, Iran does not support destabilizing movements such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda, but supports those groups that fight Israel including Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad.
Evidence points to Iranian sponsored terrorisms include the 66 U.S. diplomats that were seized in Iran and remained in custody until January 21, 1981. In this case, Vafaeipour et al., (2014) note that the most likely culprits were the hardline Iranian regime elements. Other examples include the 1983 bombing of a truck that killed 63 people in Beirut including 17 Americans, with the responsibility of indirect involvement pointing at Iranian supported groups that later formed the Lebanese Hezbollah. On October 23, 1983, a truck bomb went off killing 241 American marines in Beirut with the Lebanese Hezbollah claiming responsibility (Vafaeipour et al., (2014). Other Hezbollah related terrorist actions include the February 13, 2012 bombing in New Delhi where an Israel diplomat’s wife was injured, the July 19, 2012 bombing that killed 12 Israel tourists in Bulgaria.
In conclusion, it is evident that Iran has given financial support to armed factions, political candidates in Iraq and Afghanistan and other direct payments to neighboring states to influence the outcome of elections and politically influence the states. That is propped up in the training and development program that was initiated in Iran to bring young Muslims scholars to study in Iran with specialized focus on Latin America and other regional countries.
Other regional influences
There are many accusations that point to Iran as contributing to a strong influence on regional instability. Vafaeipour et al. (2014) argue that Iran is surrounded by states with extensive commitment and collaboration with the United States policies within the “Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates)” (Monteiro & Debs, 2014). Among the points of cooperation with the United State are hosting the US military, procurement and use of the military hardware from the US, and establishment of strong economic cooperation with the United States. Despite the cooperation with the US, the GCC counties do not show open antagonism with Iran. However, such cooperation enhances suspicion in Iran on the overall goal of the countries including Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has been the forefront target that Iran has constantly viewed to be an enemy in the context of the Sunni Islam and the cooperation with the United States in denying Shiite Muslim governments their influence in the region. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia vehemently opposes Iranian actions of cultivating hegemony in the region, which underpinned Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Bahrain in 2011 and in Yemen in 2015. This places Iran at a position of being a strong contributing factor to the regional instability with some conflicts being seen as proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which underpins the crucial Sunni-Shiite conflicts in the Middle East. However, Iraq in this case is an exemption because both Iran and Saudi Arabia support the present government.
Malici and Walker (2014) argue that Iran has constantly shown to be a destabilising character with her neighbors based on past Iran-inspired actions. Examples include the violent pilgrimage in Mecca in the 1980s and 1990s and the subsequent bad relationships between 1987 and 1991. Besides, Iran has been accused of financing the Shiite protesters with specialised focus on the Shiite-populated Eastern Province. In the books of Saudi Arabia, Iran is responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing and the protection offered for Ahmad Mughassil who was later arrested in Beirut in August 2015 (Moore, 2015).
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is another area of concern that Iran has been accused of extending its destabilising influence, which seems to define the Iranian nature. The UAE’s political philosophy is hard-line in regard to Iran’s activities. That is despite the close business relationship the UAE has with Iran including the large number of expatriates working in the UAE inclusive of the large trading companies, the territorial disputes between Iran and the UAE over the Greater and Lesser Tunb islands and the Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa. The Tunbs were placed under Iran in 1971 while Abu Musa islands were placed under the Islamic republic in 1992. The occupation of the Abu Musa violated the UAE-Iran agreement despite the strong opposition for the UAE to refer the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the man bone of contention is the fear that because of the large volume of trade between the UAE and Iran, the possibility of exporting American technology to Iran is suspect despite the promise not to from the side of the UAE, Iran is known to work covertly and highly distrust worthy.
Bahrain is viewed as a strong hard-line member of the GCC against issues related with the Iranian philosophy and politics of expansion and regional influence. A significant number of people in Bahrain with Persian origin constitute 60% Shiite despite the leadership being dominated by the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family. The overall result constitutes a view propagated by Iran of suspicion against the leadership. Ahmadian and Farahani (2014) discussed extensively on the Iranian support for a violent coup to topple Bahrain’s legal government in 1981 and again in 1996 of the Al Khalifa family from power. A discourse by Ahmadian and Farahani (2014) show accusations that Iran has worked hard to destabilise the regime using Bahraini Shiite dominated dissidents. That is in addition to the accusation that Iran consistently supported international terrorism as embodied in the 2013 State of department report. The report accuses Iran of providing financial support and military aid to the Shiite militants in Bahrain. However, subsequent reports released June 19, 2015, show minimal support for the terrorists.
Israel is Iran’s staunch enemy which is viewed as an illegitimate creation of the West that has repeatedly been called a cancerous tumor by the supreme leader Khamenei. Iran has openly manifested its support for groups seen as terrorists, which include Hamas and Hezbollah. Khamenei has openly predicted the demise of Israel as a state in 25 years from September 2015 when he made the speech to that effect. The support shown by Israel for the militant groups fighting Israel and the hard line position shows evidence that f Iran acquires the nuclear weapon, then it could use it against Israel. One approach the Iranian government relies on is to cause discontent among Israel’s population on the security front. The argument is that Iran is seen as an “existential threat” to the state of Israel. Evidence provided by the State Department report on international terrorism consistently shows Iran to be a strong supporter of terrorists by supplying the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas with weapons and training.
Lebanese Hezbollah has been core in the allied activities with Iran. The group is seen as the outgrowth of the 1979 Iranian revolution and has very strong links with Iran. Armed actions and support for different terrorist activities in support of Iran have been the trade marks for Hezbollah. Hezbollah has concentrated its activities in Lebanon where it has a strong influence in decision making. The political outcomes in Lebanon have been in the hands of the support provided by Iran for Hezbollah. It is estimated that Iran provides approximately $100 -$200 million per year of financial support to Hezbollah. It is imperative to mote that Hezbollah successfully forced Israel to remove her forces from southern Lebanon after launching attacks on Israel. It is estimated that Hezbollah has acquired over 100, 000 rockets supplied form Iran. Examples include the C-802 sea-skimming missile that was fired on Israeli warship in the July–August 2006 war with Israel. Documentary evidence shows that C-802 was bought from China in the 1990s.
The role of a nuclear armed Iran in the balance of power in the Middle East
Iran has a powerful role to play in the Middle East. Typically, the basis of the balance of power is based on the three components, which include equilibrium, contentment, and deterrence. In the context of the balance of power, the Islamic republic is viewed to be the source of insecurity in the region and deterrence must be developed to stop Iran for its destabilizing activities (Ikenberr, 2014). However, the containment of Iran has not yielded regional stability but has been the underbelly for the development of significant challenges to the balance-of-power strategy.
However, there are lessons to learn from those countries that have acquired the nuclear weapon and the balance of power resulting from them. An example includes Pakistan and India. According to Ikenberr (2014), the two countries signed an agreement that prevented either of them for targeting each other’s nuclear installations in 1991 that eventually yielded positive results. It was established in the nuclear discourse that the development of the nuclear bomb was a direct result of the instability produced by challenges facing both countries (Chubin, 2010). The result has been equilibrium of power and a peaceful resolution of disputes even in the event of serious provocations that could have led to war if the nuclear deterrence was not in place.
The case can be used to explain the Israeli-Iran situation. That does not exclude other states that do not brandish the nuclear weapon in the Middle East (Moore, 2015). If Iran developed a functional nuclear weapon, Israel and Iran could sign an agreement that could view the nuclear capability as a deterrent and not a weapon of destruction to be used against the enemy. However, those who contend against an Israeli-Iran agreement argue that the balance of power could be a zero-sum (win-lose) game (Moore, 2015). In this context, the “balance of power” is viewed as the guarantee to regional security and can only be made alive if Iran acquires the nuclear bomb as deterrence against the United States. Here, Iran is viewed as a country with significant military capabilities besides the traditional superior capabilities of the United States.
No full scale war has been waged by nuclear armed nations. However, nuclear armed nations have used the bomb for deterrence purposes and crossing the threshold of the acquisition of the bomb could lead Iran to apply deterrence against other nations (Chubin, 2010). It is argued that such a status could settle the dispute on the acquisition of the bomb and settle power in the Middle East. The supporting argument is that Iran is not an irrational state and could not use the bomb for destructive purposes (Miller, 2014). The researcher uses terms such as “perfectly sane Ayatollahs” based on the argument that many countries that have acquired the bomb have become more rational and sane than before. Despite Israel possessing the nuclear weapons capabilities, it is evident that the position did not trigger an arms race to acquire the weapon by other Middle East countries.
The conclusion has been that Iran could not use the nuclear bomb to attack other nations because the leadership is rational and attacking other countries could imply retaliation and suicide for the leadership (Miller, 2014). However, Iran could use the deterrence to pursue its goals of regional dominance, offer open support for radical Muslims, and facilitate the propagation of the ideological aspect of Iranian foreign policy.
Research studies have vehemently shown that even if Iran developed a nuclear weapon, it could be for peaceful purposes only. The rationale is that not one intelligent leadership except the mentally deranged terrorists such as ISIS having an atomic bomb could use against it other countries such as the U.S.A. with over 500 powerful nuclear bombs (Pollack, 2014). The sentiment has been echoed by different leaders inclusive of Ahmadinejad who argues that using the bomb could be instant and guaranteed national suicide.
There is the fear that Iran could use the bomb against the US and Israel, which is just talk and not reality despite that being used as a pretext by the U.S.A. as the basis to wage war with Iran (Kerr, 2014). President Obama in Tuesday 2 October 2012 15.27 BST when he visited North Augusta, South Carolina affirmed that “they have two goals: one, regime survival. The best way for the regime surviving, in their mind, is having a nuclear weapon, because when you have a nuclear weapon, nobody attacks you” (Kerr, 2014). The other reason that has been echoed by the American leadership is influence. It is feared that if Iran acquires a nuclear bomb, it cannot be attacked at will by the U.S.A. and that places the Iranian leadership in a position to positively influence the people at will.
It could be argued that the Iranian leadership view the development of a nuclear bomb as having constraining effects on the U.S.A. because even the weakest country, if it has nuclear tipped missiles regardless of the balance of power could effectively deter the U.S.A. from attacking them. Here, the best deterrence to the actions of the U.S.A. is a functioning nuclear war head. Kerr (2014) argues that if Iran acquires a functioning nuclear deterrence, it is beyond the realms of reality to surrender such weapons to the terrorists. A comment by a US State Department official, Philip Zelikow in 2002 clarifies that the Islamic Republic of Iran acquisition of the nuclear deterrence could threaten the U.S.A. interests and not for waging war. Here, the objective is to ensure that the U.S.A. is not able to attack Iran at will, just as it did in Iraq.
Other strategic thinkers argue that the United States could be effectively ejected from the Persian Gulf by a nuclear powered Iran (Kerr, 2014). That is in addition to using the nuclear deterrence capabilities to weaken the American pro regimes in the Middle East. The argument is that it contains some sense of the driving force of the ideologies of the Islamic Republic of Iran that has shown significant hostilities towards other regimes in the region. An example is the Iranian-Saudi rivalry that accelerated during the 2003 to 2009 and which was reflected in the Arab spring (Evron, 2014).
Despite the hostilities being rooted in the Persian-Arab rivalry coupled with the revisionist nature of the Iranian leadership, it is worth noting that Iran cannot use the weapon for war because it is contained by various factors such as minimal influence among the gulf populations and the inability to undermine the Council of Gulf States (Ahmadian & Farahani, 2014). In addition, a nuclear armed Iran cannot extend the same influence to groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Muslim groups. Besides, it is not in the thinking of the Iranian leadership to brandish a nuclear weapon to attack Israel given the overwhelming military superiority of Israel compared at different levels with that of Iran.
Possible responses of Arab countries to nuclear armed Iranian threats
The nuclear domino theory provides a discourse of what could happen in case one country goes nuclear (Zarif, 2014). This is evident in the announcements made by a string of countries in the Middle East where Egypt affirmed the desire to acquiring significant nuclear technology which were echoed by Morocco and different Arab governments among them being Saudi Arabia. However, the assumptions on the basis of the domino theory do not strictly point to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The response analysis by Zarif (2014) is narrowly limited by many years required for nuclear arms development besides the hurdles such countries could face. As it may sound an immediate response, Iran could have wielded the required atomic bomb that gives it a new military status in the Middle East.
The response could be evaluated against the motives that drive Iran to acquire the nuclear weapon and the animosity towards the neighboring states U.S.A. and Israel. The motives of acquiring can be summarized into being defensive in nature, leadership protection, isolation because of the Iran/Iraq war, as a possible deterrence to the dominance of U.S.A. in the Middle East region and the accompanying hostile posture, and as a possible military hardware to decimate Israel, which is logically most unlikely. Miller (2014) argues that animosity is in the context of supporting military groups viewed as terrorists and the struggle to destabilise other countries such as the United Arab Emirates. Miller (2014) argues in the context of Iran’s activities by drawing on the hostile and covert involvement of Iran in many activities deemed to be destabilising Middle East region, countries within the region could be ready to improve self-defence to counter the spreading influence of an emboldened nuclear armed Iran.
In response, the analytic surface of the responses of different countries could include a review of defense policies such as that between Israel and U.S.A. However, if the U.S.A. opts to use pre-emptive strategy to counter the threat from Iran by intervening militarily by moving military hardware into the region, the Arab nations’ responses could be reactive. Use of a preventive approach could elicit suspicion among the Arab States which view the U.S.A. and her military presence with suspicion. However, countries such as Saudi Arabia could not like to be embroiled in a conflict that might evolve between Ian and the U.S.A. with Israel inclusive. This is exemplified in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing which was resisted by the Saudis. This is in addition to any response from the Arab states and citizens that could arise in case the state of Israel goes to war with Iran.
One aspect of an immediate reaction could be an increase in military spending as evidence points to the UAE’s spending on scud missiles from North Korea and combat aircraft from France and the United States. According to Stern (2007), the possibility of procuring nuclear delivery systems such as the F-16 aircraft could be an immediate option for many countries that could look to China, Pakistan, India, and U.S.A. to provide the nuclear bomb for delivery at the enemy. Here, skeptical arguments show that U.S.A. might not use the option because of the capability to deliver the nuclear weapons. Other countries could strive to procure different military hardware delivery systems such as the ballistic missiles such as the M-9 that is accurate from China (Kerr 2014). The entire scenario could be a race to acquire the most destructive tactical conventional weapons while mapping out how to acquire the nuclear weapon either domestically or to purchase it for deterrence purposes. However, the introduction of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA) breathed new life, at least temporarily to the dismal future the Middle East could be embroiled in.
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
The parameters that limit the extent and scope of the Iran nuclear activities by confining Iran’s activities to research and development and uranium enrichment activities was signed in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) plus Germany (Kerr 2014). Before the implementation of the JCPOA, Iran had defined economic sanctions and UN pressure to advance its nuclear activities that placed the nation at the threshold of a nuclear weapon capability.
The main features of the JCPOA
Political analysts have evaluated the features that define the JCPOA with both optimism and skepticism by comparing the agreement with the Iran/Iraq UN Security Council Resolutions 598, in 1987. However, the success of the agreement will depend on Iran’s willingness to implement the clauses (Kerr 2014). Typically, the agreement curbs the nuclear enrichment program to 15 years limit at 3.67% purity that can be sued in nuclear reactors. The agreement demands that Iran agree with cooperation and extensive monitoring by designate authorities. The Uranium enrichment capacity is allowed by curbing the gas centrifuges at 6,104 and only 5, 000 for uranium enrichment activities (Kerr 2014). A limited use of first-generation centrifuges is a requirement in the JCPOA. This means that the nuclear activities that Iran is allowed to carry out are for peaceful purposes only.
A report on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) shows that a comprehensive list of sanctions related with Iran’s nuclear activities to be lifted are contained in the agreement (Kerr 2014). The Fordow underground enrichment plant should be used for non-military purposes only and its centrifuges could be reduced by a third its full operational capacity. In addition to that the use or storage of fissile materials in the facility is prohibited for 15 years.
A requirement detailed in the agreement shows that the enriched uranium stockpile in the custody of Iran should be reduced by 96% from 7,500 kg to 300 kg only. The requirements limit the future development and other enrichment related activities by limiting the use of advanced centrifuges which can resume on a limited scale after 10 years (Malici & Walker, 2014). One requirement was that the heavy water reactor core at Arak will be filled with concrete and the core removed to ensure no activates occur there. The key elements in the agreement prohibits Iran from processing or reprocessing any nuclear related materials besides being stopped from building a heavy water reactor for 15 years.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is mandated to make impromptu visits with unrestricted access to the facilities or those suspected of covert activities. In addition, following the nature of Iran’s previous activities of secretly developing nuclear facilities, the IAEA has unrestricted access to undeclared sites at any time. Iran is also required to comply with the IAEA in investigations into the past activities consisting of people involved in warhead design and development. Compliance with the requirements contained in the JCPOA could guarantee the lifting of sanctions by the U.S.A. and the European Union including the 1696 (2006), 1803 (2008), and 2224 (2015) among other UN Security Council resolutions. Economic sanctions including the oil embargo and other financial restrictions could be removed.
How and why the JCPOA came about
The JCPOA was designed to compel Iran to eliminate its suspect capacity to produce a nuclear bomb with related activities in limited levels for the next 15 years. Implementation of the agreement is in the jurisdiction of the IAEA to verify. However, the genesis of the JCPOA has a long history (Malici & Walker 2014). The beginning of the JCPOA can be traced back to the time of the Iranian revolution when Iran temporarily stopped its nuclear reactor activities that had been active between 1970 and 1979. The temporal reactivation of the nuclear program in 1980 with technical assistance from Pakistan in 1992 and other countries including Russia that signed a bilateral agreement in 1992 and 1995, and China in 1990.
Intelligence reports revealed in August 2002 that Iran had secretly developed undeclared nuclear reactors at Arak for heavy-water processing besides reporting the existence of the Natanz enrichment facility facilitated suspicion that Iran had embarked on the prohibited program. In 2003, it was an open secret that the leadership in Iran had acknowledged such activities existed designated as small-scale enrichment experiments (Malici & Walker, 2014). However, Iran was deemed to have violated the NPT signed to hinder the proliferation of nuclear technology after a visit by IAEA officials was declined to collect samples to verify the nuclear activities.
Suspecting that the country could be referred to the UN Security Council, Iran started to negotiate with the France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the EU 3) aimed at temporarily suspending the nuclear activities by singing another protocol. The scope of enticement activities and conversion were to be halted. The United Sates was not included in the negotiations because of the refusal to be involved (Malici & Walker, 2014). Before the enactment of the agreement, the Paris Agreement in November 2004 was signed that provided clauses which prohibited Iran from getting involved in the installation, testing, development, and manufacture of centrifuges. The agreement had glaring disparities that Iran started to exploit them by starting prohibited nuclear related activities.
However, in 2004 it was evident from CIA reports of Iran’s intent to modify the nose of the cone of its Shahab-3 missile with the capability of carrying and delivering a nuclear bomb to the intended destination target. The other activities that were noted include installation of advanced P-2 centrifuges and other activities that later broke the diplomatic relationships with the IAEA in 2005.
On June 28, 2005, Iran had reached a threshold of non-compliance with the EU agreements and the IAEA protocols. Further enrichment activities resumed in 2006 at the Natanz before another offer by the EU-3 together with the United States, China and Russia (P5+1) asking to provide an alternative source of advanced civilian nuclear technology by Iran ratifying the prohibition to continue with its suspect nuclear development activities (Malici & Walker, 2014). Subsequent years led to subsequent talks at diverse dates targeting to curb Iran’s nuclear activities with counterarguments such as the proposal to send low enriched uranium to France and Russia for fuel plate fabrication and consenting to IAEA inspections, a proposal that failed.
The failed negotiations led to additional sanctions by the UN Security Council targeting Uranium related enrichments. Several suggestions to address the nuclear issue with subsequent dates were either ignored or failed to achieve the objectives. Examples include the October 2010 where the negotiating countries known as the P5+1 offered Iran to resume discussions but failed. The other negations that ended up not being unfruitful include the invitation by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov for Iran to comply with the modified Code 3.1in July 13, 2011 that culminated in the November 8, 2011 possible military threat on the nuclear installations by the Security Council (Malici & Walker, 2014). Annexed to the Security Council report include evidence of Iran’s nuclear related activities such as the procurement of nuclear explosive devices, information and documentation on how to develop a nuclear bomb, intense involvement in the A.Q khan network, nuclear bomb testing components, and the failure of Iran to comply with several issues.
A resumption of nuclear talks resumed in March 2012 as through an announcement by Catherine Ashton the EU foreign policy chief. On April 14, 2012, Iran and the P5+1, the talks resumed and subsequent dates led to further talks that led to the October 15-16, 2013 talks (Malici & Walker, 2014). On November 24th 2013, the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was agreed on which was signed on July 15, 2015.
What were policy alternatives?
It has been argued in some political circles and by political analysts that rejecting the nuclear deal under the JCPOA agreement could have sparked a devastating war with Iran that could engulf the Middle East and U.S.A. not the conflict. However, policy analysts differ on several key points by proposing key alternatives to the JCPOA agreement. Opponents fault the JCPOA by arguing that lifting sanctions on Iran could provide a pathway for the acquisition of economic powers that could enable Iran to purchase the required infrastructure to develop the bomb (Miller, 2014). This is in agreement with the disappointment that has been voiced by Iranians on the nuclear deal in a survey conducted between June 17 and 27, 2016 involving 1,007 Iranians using telephone interviews. The responses were in part due poor understanding on the meaning of the JCPOA by Iranians and the slow integration of Iran to the international economic framework.
Israel and Saudi Arabia were vocal in opposing the deal by proposing propping the argument that Iran has become more active in regional aggression. The country has been testing more advanced military hardware including the two ballistic missiles tested on March 2016, calling for American intervention (Malici & Walker, 2014). One of the proposed policies is to completely dismantle every trace of Iranian nuclear reactors because existing infrastructure can be used to develop nuclear bombs n secret. The rationale is that developing a nuclear bomb requires several years of practice to master the technology and that could bar Iran from acquiring a bomb in the immediate future.
Another policy alternative is to allow Iran to continue developing the nuclear bomb for deterrence purposes. Despite this position attracting a significant number of opponents, those who agree with the position argue that Iran cannot use the bomb as it could be suicide to the country and the region at large (Malici & Walker, 2014). However, policy analysts agree that using economic sanctions targeting the facilities and other materials related to the production of the bomb could curb the nuclear related activities to a significant extent.
Another proposal includes allowing Iran to continue with the nuclear activities that are curbed at a level that does not allow for the development of a nuclear weapon. The policy could allow for ratification of agreements that could allow for uninterrupted monitoring to allow for effective supervision of the activities to curb them to remain at the desired levels.
Different policy alternatives have been suggested with realistic implications on the nuclear activities of the Islamic republic of Iran. The elements include imposing stricter and punishing sanctions that could lead to a better deal to eliminate possibilities of Iran engaging in banned activities. Iran is allowed to continue constructing nuclear reactors for civilian use only and keep any nuclear weapon related production outside Iran completely. It is recommended by some hard-liners that punishing Iran with military action could have been the best option. However, getting involved in war with Iran could come with consequences such as the inability to get out as the case with Iraq which is now 25 years.
A mixed research method comprising qualitative and the quantitative paradigms was used to develop the research design to answer the main research question on if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) could put to a hold or completely curb Iran’s nuclear activities. The qualitative paradigm was independent of the phenomena by providing a good ground for the study. A quantitative paradigm will provide data for statistical analysis through the use of questionnaires (Waltz, 2012). The study was grounded on the constructivist paradigm, which revolves around constructing adequate knowledge from a review of existing literature on the subject being investigated. A qualitative research provided empirical facts leading to suggestions that if implemented, the JCPOA could reduce the challenges that Iran poses to the Middle East countries and the perceived threat to the United States of America (U.S.A.). Solutions to the problem could be divided to two parts. Here, the first part focuses on the Iranian government. The second part focuses on how their neighbors prepare themselves to counter a possible threat.
Evaluation of the Jcpoa
How effective/successful is the agreement?
An evaluation of the success or effectiveness of the JCPOA follows an assessment of the milestone achievements of the implementation framework of the clauses in the agreement within the defined time line. Despite the agreement having no definitive starting time and extent or a timing framework within which to implement the sections in the agreement, Vishwanathan (2016) evaluated the implementation milestones and noted that the announced on October 18, 2015 of the results of the JPOA, was first implemented on January 16, 2016.
Tertrais (2015) notes this to be consistent with the JCPOA goal of keeping Iran a nuclear weapon free state. In addition, it was designed to pave way for the removal or lifting of the punishing and financial sanctions connected with uranium enrichment and nuclear bomb related activities. However, success indicators include the high speed which Iran moved to dismantle the nuclear program. Tertrais (2015) and Katzman and Kerr (2015) denote the rationale to be that Iran was noted to go ahead of schedule by exporting low-enriched uranium to Russia equivalent to 5,000 pounds, making it difficult for the country to revive the enrichment process, threshold required to develop the nuclear bomb.
The study established that the centrifuges that remained beyond dismantling and decommissioning period were placed under the custody and monitoring of IAEA in compliance with the JCPOA agreement of the S/2016/57 clause (Katzman & Kerr, 2015). Consequently, the aim of monitoring activities within the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant with high technology tools placed in strategic positions to detect possible violations and interference of suspected Iranian intrusions were realised. Real time relaying of information The Online Enrichment Monitor relays in real time information on the uranium enrichment levels to assure the world of 3.67% curbing of uranium enrichment. The technical specifications include measuring the level of uranium-235 enrichment to afford 24/7 monitoring capabilities.
It is worth noting that the time line agreed on the implementation time line in compliance with resolution 2231 of the United Nations Security Council Resolution has been achieved on the E3/EU+3 group and Iran related framework (Katzman & Kerr, 2015). All parties to the JCPOA agreement including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), P5+1, and the United States constitute part of the monitoring components. A strong emphasis on that “the achievement clearly demonstrates that with political will, perseverance, and through multilateral diplomacy, we can solve the most difficult issues and find effectively implemented practical solutions. This is an encouraging and strong message that the international community must keep in mind in our efforts to make the world a safer place” (Katzman & Kerr, 2015) by Mogherini and the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s discourse.
It is arguable that within the first day of the implementation period, the “Iran Sanctions Committee and its Panel of Experts were terminated” (Edelman, 2016) that is in addition, to the “effective implementation of the provisions in annex B of resolution 2231” (Edelman, 2016). This is an important milestone in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (Evron, 2014). The defining elements used to determine the success of the achievements as evidenced in the statements include implementation of nuclear materials’ transfer activities, limitation on the sharing, importation, and/or transfer of nuclear missile related technologies, and conventional arms transfer.
The achievements were similar to the 16 January (S/2016/44) presidential note (Evron, 2014). Regular assessments in accordance with the six months’ inspection requirements conducted between March and June 2016 of S/2016/250; S/2016/535 revealed a certain level of violations that include “Iran’s ballistic missile launches conducted in March 2016; the US seizure of a sailing vessel on 28 March near the Gulf of Oman transporting what the US believed were Iranian arms bound for Yemen” (Moarefy, 2016,p.5) and “potential violations of the travel ban and asset freeze, which continue to apply to 21 individuals and 63 entities” (Moarefy, 2016). However, missile launches do not qualify to be direct violations of the JCPOA agreement.
An assessment of the LEU uranium stockpile reveals the current level to be 300 kg which is a significant decrease from 1000kg that complies with the JCPOA agreement clauses on the need for enrichment to remain at this level for 15 years. Besides, Iran has not indicated any probability of developing a new nuclear reactor and this states is expected last for the next 15 years. Evidence has shown that Iran immediately when the JCPOA was signed moved in to dismantle the core of the Arak reactor (Moarefy, 2016). After it removal it was removed and redesigned to reflect compliance with the JCPOA agreement clauses. Excess fissile materials have been shipped to Russia, the destination of choice for Iran. In addition, it is a requirement that Iran will export excess heavy water it does not need. Some of the areas that Iran has allowed access to include centrifuges, Fordow and Natanz, manufacturing of the centrifuge rotors and bellows, sites suspected of nuclear related activities, and uranium storage sites.
Achievements have been made despite radical opposition to the agreement from both the Obama administration and Iranian hardliners (Moarefy, 2016). However, this places the United States of America and partners in a position of ensuring that Iran neither renegades on the clashes of the agreements nor introduces new interpretations of the agreements to justify violating some clauses and carrying out prohibited actions in the JCPOA.
Before the signing of the JCPOA agreement, the threshold to the development of the bomb was estimated to be two months away (Edelman, 2016). However, after the agreement, the breakout time to the full acquisition of a bomb if Iran wanted to was reduced by a 12 months period in the presence of rigorous sanctions.
Iran has also ratified those clauses which provide for intrusive inspections of any enrichment activities that are allowed under the JCPOA agreement to establish the entire uranium lifecycle for a period not exceeding 25 years for some facilities (Edelman, 2016). This could provide information about any secret activities n any of the facilities including the Natanz or Fordow reactors. One of the key measures that has been adopted to curb any clandestine activities includes an assessment of the uranium supply chain cycle from the mining, processing, to the disposal of uranium wastes to determine the level of enrichment and if violations of any kind are detected, take appropriate action such as reintroduction of financial, economic and military nuclear related sanctions (Bleek & Lorber, 2014). This is embodied in resolution 2231 which defines the procurement channels for Iran to follow to ensure legal compliance with the JCPOA clauses. Besides, the procurement of uranium in any form that is allowed in the agreement from states interested to sell to Iran binds them to seek for licenses from the UN Security Council before directly or indirectly transferring uranium to Iran.
Strengths and weaknesses of the JCPOA?
The argument on the premise that JCPOA was a failure/success fails to factor various that arise as a result. It has been argued that the JCPOA has been effective to some extent and ineffective in some. Avag (2014) notes that compliance with the JCPOA clauses shows the level of effectiveness of the agreement that have driven Tehran to remove most of the centrifuges in Natanz with Iran having the goal of attaining the removal of 5,600 machines (Bleek & Lorber, 2014). This is argued by Edelman (2016) that compliance with the JCPOA requirements to reduce the number of centrifuges at Fordow by converting the facility into a research and development center had been achieved with 1,400 centrifuges remaining operational. In addition, the study has established that Iran cannot run covert activities leading to the production of prohibited fissile materials.
An argument based on confidence building and goodwill has been identified to be one of the strengths of the agreement (Bleek & Lorber, 2014). Within the agreement are stipulated several clauses that bear weight in the relationship between Iran and the P5+1that compel Iran to act in accordance with the clauses to bring the expectations of developing a nuclear bomb to zero or reduce it to a distance period in the future. This will effectively block the path to the acquisition of the bomb and the arising threat.
The rationale is the resulting breakout time that has significantly increased from two months to 12 months making the acquisition of the bomb more difficulty for Iran to accomplish and this is projected to last for 10 years effective from the date the agreement was implemented. In addition, the limits on the enrichment level on uranium and the acquisition of advanced centrifuge technology centrifuge has been achieved. Stockpiles of limited low-enriched uranium (LEU) could be kept at this level for ten years, which has taken Iran back from the acquisition of the bomb. On the other hand, a redesign of the Arak reactor annuls the ability of Iran to produce heavy water which was a contentious issue that contributed to the economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran. On the other hand, importation of nuclear related materials and technologies have been subjected to the UN Security council monitoring that limits Iran from acquiring such technologies and materials at will either directly or indirectly. This provides the foundation for the significant level of verification and transparency on all the parties involved in the agreement.
One of the weaknesses associated with the JCPOA include the clause that allows Iran to stock LEU near to the 20% level, which suspiciously could allow Iran to reach the threshold required for a nuclear bomb (Moore 2015). The rationale is that Iran, despite being required to ship all uranium oxide enriched to between 5% and 20%, a commitment that might not be fulfillled by Iran. It has been noted that Iran can accumulate the additional 3.5% LEU within a shorter period that could reduce the breakout times by several months. There is need for Iran to be deterred from achieving the potential goal of converting 1,200 kilograms of Uranium.
It is possible for Iran to break the threshold required to produce nuclear bomb grade material with the inclusion of large a centrifuge program after the 15 years. It is also possible for advanced centrifuges to be used in small quantities to reach the desired breakthrough if done in secret. Besides, lack of prompt access to suspect sites are requirements not clearly embedded in the JCPOA provisions (Bleek & Lorber, 2014). The reasons are such that sudden visits are not seen to be critical in the inspection process. However, the anywhere, anytime access within reason should be negotiated instead of a delay of 24 days (Moore, 2015). The 24 days period of access does not clarify the approach and type of sanction to be imposed in case the provision is violated. Iran is known for its habit of barring inspectors when required to inspect a facility. Moarefy (2016) argues that the delay for 24 days to access any facility has attracted considerable debate despite the agreement between the negotiating parties to agree on a 24 day period as opposed to the 3 months period proposed by Iran.
Against the 24 hrs delay in allowing the inspectors to visit any facility, it is argued that it provides Iran enough time to hide nuclear activities while removing any traces that could provide information on environmental sampling. The reason is that Iran’s extensive practices of evading inspectors has been enhanced by years of practise in evading inspection by the U.S.A. and IAEA. Examples include the Kalaye Electric case where Iran unsuccessfully attempted to sanitize the environment in 2003. Lavizan-Shian facility is another evidence of Iran’s activities that was levelled and converted into a playfield to defeat the detection methods of the IAEA and U.S.A. The statement that “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons” (Katzman & Kerr, 2015) is not only a fallacy but a does not indicate a strong argument in favor of attaining the goals of the JCPOA agreement. Rather, it shows weak enforcement capability to comply with the agreement.
An assessment of the procurement channels associated with the procurement or transfer of Uranium of related technologies either directly or indirectly has serious weaknesses. The rationale is that the current differences and proliferation of technologies and the wide extent of global commerce add to the intricacy of the problem in monitoring such large amounts of materials (Katzman & Kerr, 2015). This is evident in the way Iran has for many years struggled to hide under the pretence of providing end user services and other front end companies to hide its nuclear related activities.
On the same footing, it is clear that “a state seeking to engage in transfers and activities” excludes Iran from the transaction and transfers the role to the state intending to transact the material or technology with Iran. Such an approach puts Iran at a position of engaging other methods to transfer the technology or the desire material through private firms. Such private procurement methods could equip Iran with the desire materials or technologies, which could directly violate the clauses which are summarized into prohibiting Iran from engaging in “nuclear activities which are inconsistent with the JCPOA” (Katzman & Kerr, 2015). On the footing of the “catch-all” controls, it is evident that a gap arises in the legitimate usage of several technologies that can be used for other purposes.
Within the JCPOA framework, it is evident that the successful implementation of the agreement depends heavily on the abilities of the monitoring parties to acquire intelligence on Iranian covert nuclear related activities. If the level of intelligence is poor, the possibility of Iran resorting to the production of fissile materials and other covert activities could be at a high risk of starting. However, the ability to uncover covert activities in real time could strengthen the JCPOA and make monitoring effective.
Effects on JCPOA due to the dual nature of leadership
It has been established that the dual nature of the Iranian government exemplified in the terms of the supreme leadership embedded in the Iranian legal structures is viewed as a democratic and divine establishment. According to Moarefy (2016), the source of power that makes the leadership legitimate includes the principles of the Shia ideological discourse under the Islamic faith. In addition, foreign policies are defined by the Supreme leader overriding the popularly elected president who does not wield complete state powers. Here, the JCPOA is popularly referred to by the supreme leader as a drafted text. Based on the overview of the powers of the supreme leader in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the result is a state of conflict within the government. Such a perception leaves gaps for the implementation of the agreement.
Iran as a reliable partner in implementing the clauses defined in the JCPOA agreement is questionable. The basis of the suspicion is embodied in the covert activities that define Iran’s struggle to evade monitoring by the IAEA in revealing its nuclear related activities. This was further facilitated by the failure of the western intelligence to discover early enough nuclear related activities provides the foundation for doubting the effectiveness in implementing the program. The position is in line with Iran’s unpredictable nature that is exemplified in the declaration of the October 2003 nuclear “fatwa”. Besides, it is agreeable that the Khamenei leadership viewed the purpose of the negotiations that led to the JCPOA agreement to be the prelude to the removal of sanctions on Iran and not to halt the nuclear related activities.
What are unresolved issues or concerns?
The argument on the presence of unresolved issues is connected to the formal review under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (P.L. 114-17) that was undertaken by the United States congress on July 19 and September 17, 2015 respectively. An assessment of the information used to draft the JCPOA agreement with Iran shows serious gaps of incompleteness. Incomplete information is in context of past nuclear activities and the extent of such activities that provides Iran with the upper hand of practising covert or enhancing such activities without complete transparency (Katzman & Kerr, 2015; Moarefy, 2016). In addition, Moarefy (2016) argues that the deal has a serious gap on the human rights issues that Iran has repeatedly been accused of violating.
Some serious issues that had been flagged in reference to the implementation of the NPT Safeguards such as the possible military dimensions (PMD) in the event that Iran is discovered to violate the JCPOA agreement. The rationale detailed in the PMD agreement was to provide a way to intervene with military force in case of violations of the clauses contained in the JCPOA agreement. Of the three elements defined in the PMD statements aimed at providing an effective engagement platform for cooperation with the entities in the agreement, only one element was fulfillled and the rest two have not been achieved (Moarefy, 2016). This places the IAEA in an awkward position of the fulfilllment of the need to collect comprehensive information on the past activities related to the development of a nuclear bomb and the level of reliability of information related to the question on past declarations.
The issue of anytime, anywhere access is not guaranteed because the access mechanism and the time allocated for the impromptu activities is not clearly detailed in the JCPOA document. However, it is noted that some clauses in the agreement on dispute resolution mechanisms have been agreed on and are detailed in the document. Despite the agreement that access can be provided on a 24 hours request by the relevant authorities, it has been argued that the approach is based on manage access. It is worth noting that “managed access” visits are undertaken “in order to prevent the dissemination of proliferation sensitive information, to meet safety or physical protection requirements, or to protect proprietary or commercially sensitive information” (Moarefy, 2016). In the agreement, the number of inspectors was not increased but remained the same before and after the ratification, making the process deficient of specialised personnel.
Successful implementation of the clauses of the JCPOA agreement negotiated by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and Iran for many years is seen as the dawn of a new era for Iran, the Middle East, and the international community. The deal is seen as a harbinger of regional stability. Immediate implementation of the deal has already shown significant changes in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which could be beneficial for Iran, the U.S.A., and the global community if Iran abides by the clauses in the agreements.
It is recommended that Iran should rise above internal and external issues that could hinder full implementation of the JCPOA agreement. The threat to the implementation of the deal emerges from the internal political dynamics of the Islamic Republic of Iran because of the discontent that has happened among the citizens. This is because of the dual nature of the government, the dilemma that Iran has been plunged into in revising its nuclear policy to conform to the changes that have been ratified in the JCPOA agreement and the implications of the development of the nuclear bomb could have on its operations. The likelihood of powerful individuals in Iran who were benefiting from the sanctions could make them express discontent that could underpin the dynamics of the agreement. Despite the weaknesses that have emerged in the implementation details, it is worth noting that the agreement can be beneficial to Iran as a nation.
There is need for the leadership in Iran to educate the public on the positive implications of the JCPOA agreement. A significant percentage of Iranians belief that the entire regime of sanctions could be removed without understanding those sanctions targeting nuclear related activities to be the only ones to be removed. Most Iranians belief that the lifting of sanctions could lead to huge economic gains, but any such gains started to be experienced after the February 2016 Majlis elections. It is also imperative to note that with the JPCOA agreement in place, opposition from hard-liners seems to mount.
Changes in nuclear policy
The study recommends Iran to make policy changes on nuclear activities and the acquisition of nuclear bomb related technologies such as missile delivery systems and detonation devices. However, deducing from the behavior of the leadership in Iran, it is possible to argue that Ayatollah Khamenei perceives the ratification and implementation of the detailed clauses in the JCPOA agreement to be a tool to divert the interests of the U.S.A. on the Iran and its policies of supporting terrorists in the region. The rationale is that Iran has consistently viewed the U.S.A. as an existential threat based on the ideology that emerged during the 1978 revolution.
The possibility of reform emerges in the scene because of the removal of the devastating sanctions that has bedevilled Iran for years bringing it to an economic halt. Here, the political landscape must change because Rouhani and his faction have played it in international politics to bring Iran the relief the people have been craving for. However, the fear that the supreme leaders could endeavour to suppress Rouhani is possible because Iran is not a democracy and any changes can happen through more repressive domestic policies that have a harsher context.
It is in context of the reactive nature of the Iranian regime reflected in the continued involvement of Iran in regional conflicts that a revision of the policies can influence positive outcomes instead of fanning the fires of the conflicts that are seen as hot wars of attrition. One approach is for Iran to refuse using its opportunistic policy that is embedded in the dogma of taking the war to the doorsteps of the enemy instead of waging it at home.
Middle East/Arab states
On the Middle East front, implications due to the chances of reducing costly and high-risk conflicts with better economic cooperation in the region provides the way forward for regional security between Iran and the Middle East neighbors including Saudi Arabia and Israel. The position defeats the logic of keeping sanctions on Iran alive and continued disagreement with the United States in various aspects of the JCPOA agreement. While the lifting of sanctions following the agreement ratified by the world powers with Iran leaves some countries especially Israel chagrined, the position breaths positive life for the entire Middle East region because of the removal of the threat of nuclear armed Iran which was a few months away from the acquisition of the bomb. Besides, it is advisable for Israel that had been vocal in openly opposing the agreement made with Iran and the Obama administration to give JCPOA a chance and if interested, propose some changes to the contents of the agreement in private.
On the other hand, it is imperative for the United States and other members in the JCPOA agreement to work together to ensure effective implementation of the deal and come up with clear measures to take in case Iran violates the terms of the agreement. One outstanding feature of Iran is the ability to defeat sanctions and engage in covert activities without being discovered for a long time. The United States along with the other members to JPOA agreement should design modalities for assessing the level of cooperation with the terms of the agreement and punitive measures to take in case the terms are violated.
Syria is another ally with Iran that has been in civil war for some years leading to the death of thousands of people. Iran sees Syria as a strategic partner in allowing the routing of arms to Hezbollah in its continued war with Israel. While Iran and some political factions could want to orchestrate a positive image with the outside world especially the west, Iran remains tied to the Syrian regime that the west including Saudi Arabia could want to be removed from power. In that case, the desire by Iran to dominate the Middle East region has been quelled and activities likely to cause a state of conflict between Iran and other Middle East countries seem to have at least abated and this is evident when Iran withdrew its ship meant to transport weapons to groups fighting in Yemen.
The level of engagement of Iran with other players in the international community on some of the regional issues that have been of great contention could increase because of the JCPOA agreement. An increase in the level of engagement between U.S.A. and Iran could precipitate new animosity between Iran and the traditional allies that have repeatedly accused Iran of sponsoring terrorist t group such as Hamas. The statement reflects the thinking of American allies and the values that are upheld regarding the nuclear threat. However, it is worth noting that Iran’s expansion policies are not driven by the values of America, but a sense of pride as a powerful regional player ready to extend her influence across the borders as far as possible. However, the problem is that the nuclear deal was limited to the P5 +1 States without involving other countries in the Middle East, which is seen with a lot of skepticism by other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia. Despite that, not all states have viewed the agreement with distrust. Oman is one of the states that have seen the agreement as a positive step towards a better cooperation and freeing the region of the threat of a nuclear bomb and associated fear.
The fear of a nuclear armed Iran proliferating nuclear weapons or related technology to other nations and terrorist groups, which is a concern as defined in the global non-proliferation architecture, has diminished for now. That is because of the positive steps Iran has taken to comply with various clauses penned in the JCPOA agreement. This is in line with the tightening of nuclear technology related exports including the transfer of dual-use equipment ranging from uranium enrichment to nuclear bomb capable delivery and detonation systems.
The study on if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by the P5+ 1 as negotiated and ratified could curb Iran’s nuclear activities of Uranium enrichment to the level that could diminish its ability to produce the dreaded nuclear bomb has been verified. While some issues have arisen about the ability to completely stem Iran from either open or covert nuclear related activities, to a significant extent, JCPOA has yielded fruit and set the pace for a nuclear free Iran and the Middle Eats except Israel that has never declared herself as a nuclear armed state. It is evident that Iran had started a legitimate nuclear program designed for research and development in the scientific realms without the military dimension added to it in 1970 before changing the objectives after the revolution in 1978 to covert military nature.
Here, Iran played a significant role in attracting international players with concerns that if the Islamic republic acquired the nuclear bomb, then it could be an existential threat to nations such as Israel, besides spreading its influence throughout the Middle East and its repugnant ideologies to other nations. In addition, Iran has been accused of repeatedly funding regional instability compounded with the covert pursuit of nuclear related activities that attracted a series of economic and technological sanctions. In Iran’s nature, the element of trustworthiness does not exist in their agreements.
That compelled sanctions and the threat of military action on Iran by the United States and Israel that underpinned policy changes that preceded the signing of the JCPOA agreement. Adopting the clauses of the JCPOA agreement directly contravened the Iranian thinking that acquiring the bomb could elevate its status in the region and globally besides using the bomb as deterrence against American attacks and possible tool to undermine American dominance in the region. Besides, a powerful Iran propped up with the nuclear bomb could help preserve the leadership in Iran by creating a positive image among the population despite not being elected directly by the people.
The dynamic of Iran’s internal politics views the nuclear bomb positively while the president seems to understand that such crippling sanctions need to be lifted to allow Iranians and the country in general to prosper economically. The position leads to the conclusion of internal strive among the leadership constituting the president and Khamenei. However, the possibility of Iran reverting or accelerating destabilizing activities within the Middle East region could increase if the economic sanctions are removed on individual Revolutionary Guard members. In conclusion, while the deal has fiercely been opposed by Israel and Saudi Arabia, the evidence that Iran has acted with speed to comply with the clauses in the JCPOA agreement shows the effectiveness of the agreement in preventing Iran from the acquisition of the nuclear bomb.
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