Alireza Nader writes: It’s as clear as day that the Islamic Republic pursues goals in the Middle East that put it on a collision course with the United States. Iran is opposed to Israel as a Jewish state, for instance, and competes for regional influence with the conservative Gulf Arab monarchies. But that doesn’t mean it is irrational: On the contrary, its top leadership, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is deliberative and calculating. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s antics and often wild rhetoric shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Islamic Republic is interested in its own survival above all else. When contemplating the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, we should all be grateful that notions of martyrdom and apocalyptic beliefs don’t have a significant pull on Iranian decision-making.
Iran’s possible pursuit of nuclear weapons capability is motivated by deterrence, not some messianic effort to bring about the end times. The Islamic Republic has a relatively weak conventional military that is no match for U.S. and most Western forces — most of its regular naval and ground forces operate equipment from the 1960s and 1970s. It has tried to make up for this through a doctrine of asymmetry: It has supported terrorist and insurgent groups across the Middle East and created a “guerrilla” navy, which — at best — might be able to swarm U.S. ships and interrupt shipping in the Persian Gulf. This is all meant to prevent U.S.-driven regime change.
Nukes could provide the ultimate deterrent for an insecure regime. And Iran has a lot to be insecure about: It is a Shia and Persian-majority theocracy surrounded by hostile Sunni Arabs, which has recently watched the United States overrun unfriendly regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq with relative ease. The regime perceives both conflicts as having damaged U.S. credibility and power — but knows this is no guarantee it can protect itself in a future conflict against the vastly superior American military without a nuclear bomb.
As dangerous as it is, Iran’s possible pursuit of nuclear weapons makes logical sense. And it isn’t an effort that is unique to the Islamic Republic: Any Iranian political system, whether imperial, theocratic, or democratic, would at least consider a nuclear weapons capability. Although a nuclear-armed Iran would be a dangerous development, a closer look demonstrates that it could well be a containable challenge for the United States and its allies. [Continue reading…]