Why Iran Perceives a Need for a Nuclear Deterrent

by William Skink

It was requested of me to cut some slack. Instead, I’ll write another post to address a question brought up in yesterday’s attempt to add a little context to the Daines as Dangerous as the Ayatollahs post at ID. Here are the question:

But are you saying that Iran should have nukes, liz, as a deterrent, and that Libya wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today if it had them? Maybe everyone should have nukes, then.

I’m not going to answer directly. There are consequences to how the US wielded NATO to decapitate the Libyan state, consequences this blog (sans Pete) brought up repeatedly. One of those consequences was the message it sent to Iran regarding the wisdom of abandoning its nuclear program. But don’t take it from me, take it from this Harvard guy who has a “Dr.” in front of his name. Writing for the Belfer Center, Dr. Eugene Kogan describes how coercive diplomacy in Syria could rehab the damage done by NATO’s destruction of Libya. On Syria Kogan has this to say:

As the world watches whether Iran will give up its nuclear work, Tehran is watching what will happen to Bashar al-Assad once all of his chemical weapons are destroyed. While seemingly unrelated, the nuclear negotiations with Iran and the (halting) disarmament of Syria share a strategic connection. At stake is the efficacy of coercive diplomacy—the use of threats to persuade another actor to change its behavior.

Coercion is an important tool of statecraft because it allows a state to achieve its objectives “on the cheap”—without resorting to war. The possibility that the United States might employ military force no doubt contributed to Bashar al-Assad’s decision to give up his chemical arsenal.

Nobel Prize winner Thomas Schelling wrote almost 50 years ago that coercion works if punishment for miscreants is contingent on their behavior. The threat “one more step and I shoot,” Schelling wrote, would only be effective if one added, “And if you stop I won’t.” Reassurance inherent in this statement is critical for coercion to work. The speaker threatens devastating consequences for noncompliance, yet promises to lift the threat if the target does as he is told. “To be coercive, violence has to be anticipated,” Schelling explained, “And it has to be avoidable by accommodation.”

So how does Libya damage coercive diplomacy, and why does it matter for Iran. Kogan continues:

In negotiations over weapons of mass destruction, quid pro quos are particularly important. No rational actor can be expected to give up a deterrent capability if there is a possibility that in doing so he would be increasing the possibility of becoming a target for regime change. Yet, this fundamental idea was seriously damaged by the Libyan example. In 2003 Muammar Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program and for several years basked in international limelight, including by giving lengthy diatribes at the United Nations. Yet, in 2011, a NATO military coalition enabled the domestic rebellion to overthrow (and eventually kill) the Libyan dictator.

This created a damaging perception: if you give up weapons of mass destruction, the United States just might decide to violate its promises and overthrow you. Those who make this argument point to Iraq (no nuclear deterrent—Saddam overthrown) and North Korea (a nuclear deterrent—Kim Jong Un succeeded his father Kim Jong Il with no end in sight for the Kim dynasty). Both countries have engaged in horrific human rights abuses; the only factor that accounts for their wildly different fates was that one of them had nuclear weapons to keep the superpower at bay, and the other did not.

Given the fate of countries that can’t deter America’s truly dangerous foreign policy, Iran has good reason to be weary. The evidence exists in the smoldering remnants of Libya and the re-ignition of the Cold War with Russia. Speaking about the latter, here’s someone who knows what it’s like to be lied to—Gorbachev:

With both sides flaunting their respective nuclear arsenal, Gorbachev told German magazine Der Spiegel the world “will not survive the next few years” if either side lost its nerve in the current stand-off. “Moscow does not believe the West, and the West does not believe Moscow. The loss of confidence is catastrophic.”

Although critical of his successor, the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner nonetheless believed Mr Putin was just reacting based on NATO’s flamboyant aspirations to expand, fuelled by the United States’ “dangerous winning mentality.” He said US-led NATO’s eastward expansion has destroyed the very essence of the European security order which was written in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. The bloc’s expansion, he claimed, was a 180-degree turn away from the Paris Charter of 1990. He said the latter was made together with all European states to finally leave the Cold War in the past.

“We won’t survive the coming years if someone loses their nerve in this overheated situation,” Gorbachev said. “This is not something I’m saying thoughtlessly. I am extremely concerned.”

Focusing on the borderline treasonous behavior of 47 Republicans may make Democrats sleep better at night, but when it comes to the threat of nuclear weapons being used, I think we need to be more worried about the only nation in the world that has actually used them. And we should also be worried about Israel, a country that refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty (Dec 3, 2014):

The United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday criticized Israel for failing to join the international non-proliferation treaty and urged it to renounce its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The U.N. also approved a resolution, introduced by Egypt and backed by all Arab nations, calling on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under international oversight, according to media reports.

The U.N. General Assembly reportedly said that Israel, which has so far refused to officially admit to having nuclear weapons, is the only country in the Middle East that has not ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and urged it to “accede to that treaty without further delay … not to develop, produce test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, to renounce possession of nuclear weapons.”

Going back to the Kogan piece, he concludes with this:

“Perceptions are reality in international politics,” Mike Mansfield, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, once wrote. The U.S. would be well-advised to pay attention to the perceptions its actions create. Iran is carefully watching whether Assad without chemical weapons will suffer the same fate as did the dictators in a non-nuclear Iraq and a denuclearized Libya.

Well said.


  1. Eric

    Too funny – the only reason Iran wants nukes is to make Jerusalem glow in the dark – then dare the rest of the world to retaliate-

    • lizard19

      you are very, very wrong.

      • petetalbot

        Don’t you think that the NATO foray into Libya had more to do with the Arab Spring uprisings than the fact that Qaddafi stopped the nuclear weapons program? I don’t think that NATO did the right thing – hell, the West seldom gets it right in the Middle East – but it was the chaos in Libya that opened the door, not the lack of nukes.

        • lizard19

          no, I don’t think that. the “Arab Spring” was exploited to take out a nation that had a leader trying to counter the petro-dollar and build up Africa. the Arab Spring didn’t have anything to do with it. neither did the supposed genocide that was allegedly about to occur, because that was US propaganda, which your fellow bloggers at ID ate up.

  2. steve kelly

    “All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”
    -George Orwell

  3. Why?

    • JC

      Oh my. We’re going to break out Prager “University” here? Nothing like ultra-right wing christian conservative propaganda.

      These folks are the leaders in the New Crusades, and have mastered the art of neocon propaganda techniques.

      • James Maxie

        Prager’s Jewish.

        • Starting a list?

        • JC

          Sure… so? Nobody said the 21st century crusades were going to be like the medieval ones. But they will consist of jews and christians working to eliminate islam to make the world safe for non-muslims.

  4. Too funny. People really think that Iran would commit suicide.

    Two things to remember, one mentioned in the post:

    The US was able to use the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because there was no deterrent, no penalty for using them. No one else possessed them. Once they were put in use, there was a mad scramble to have them, for survival sake.

    Secondly, quite the opposite of the USA propaganda line in 2002 and 2003 was that at that time the US was comfortably certain that Iraq no longer possessed chemical or biological weapons, and so attacked. Iraq was not invaded because it had WMD’s, but rather because it did not have a credible defense. Saddam made a fatal mistake – he disarmed in the face of an aggressor state.

    Iran looks at this and quite rationally realizes that if it has a bomb, it just might be able to deter an US attack or one by the US poodle, Israel. Those two nations are the rogue states in the region, and the reason for high tension.

    • JC just said that “Not all ayatollahs are evil”. How does that relate to his quote in the video?

      • JC

        There was only one ayatollah quoted in the video, Khomeini. There are dozens of others. And how quickly you forget that Khomeini took power after the Iranians overthrew the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Shah (“Emperor” or “King of Kings”) had been implanted in Iran through coups orchestrated by the CIA, and ruled with an iron fist for 38 years, a few years of that in exile.

        Do you think maybe Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranians had a reason to be pissed that their country had been run for over 30 years by a CIA-propped dictator?

        Get real, and quit lapping up the propaganda that says everything we do is good, everything they do is evil. Via Wikipedia:

        “Explanations for why Mohammad Reza was overthrown include that he was a dictator put in place by a non-Muslim Western power, the United States, whose foreign culture was seen as influencing that of Iran. Additional contributing factors included reports of oppression, brutality, corruption, and extravagance. Basic functional failures of the regime have also been blamed – economic bottlenecks, shortages and inflation; the regime’s over-ambitious economic program; the failure of its security forces to deal with protest and demonstration; the overly centralized royal power structure.”

        And who did the CIA overthrow first?:

        “Mohammad Mosaddegh or Mosaddiq, 16 June 1882 – 5 March 1967), was an Iranian politician. He was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 until 1953, when his government was overthrown in a coup d’état orchestrated by the British Secret Intelligence Service and the American Central Intelligence Agency.

        An author, administrator, lawyer, prominent parliamentarian, his administration introduced a range of progressive social and political reforms such as social security, rent control, and land reforms. His government’s most notable policy, however, was the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC / AIOC) (later British Petroleum and BP).

        Mosaddeq is regarded as the leading champion of secular democracy and resistance to foreign domination in Iran’s modern history. Mosaddegh was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the CIA at the request of MI6, which chose Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi to succeed Mosaddegh.”

        And what was missing in the Prager video was specifically the evil uses to which the U.S. has used THE BOMB. And the evil by which we overthrow democratically elected leaders and replace them with evil dictators.

        Wonder why the Iranians are pissed and might want to defend themselves?

    • Stuff like that film is so stupid they make my skin crawl.

      And why did he not say “Israel has nuclear weapons?” Why?

      The whole basis of the film can been summed up in two prepositions: one, that you the viewer do not know history do not understand current events. As an American news consumer, you do not. So you are easy pickings.

      The other proposition is this, which is true throughout the history of American propaganda, 1914 forward: “We are rational, they are not.” We were rational, the Japanese not, so we nuked them. Saddam was crazy. The Vietnanese were crazy. The Soviets wanted to attack us for no reason. Qaddafi was crazy. Milosevic was crazy. Korunas are crazy. Now the Iranians are crazy … and we’re not.

      Truth will be a little harder for you to swallow: we’re the crazy ones. Not me. I am not part of it. But you are. Why, look at the nutball film you just posted here!

      • Just looking for clarification Mark.

        Does the Assholetola believe what he said in Jan. or what he stated in my nutball film.

      • When viewing speeches, whether of Iranians, Americans, Russians or Zimbabweans, you have to ask yourself “who is the intended audience, what is the intended effect?” Iranians have to manage their own public opinion, just as Americans manage ours, and so say things that are intended to keep them together as a group and focused on outside threats. All countries under threat do that. Venezuela is doing that right now, with good reason. But it is just words.

        Speeches are generally useless in determining what’s real. Colin Powell’s famous speech before the UN about Iraq’s WMD’s was a complete fabrication, but it was intended for the American audience, and had its intended effect. Because he disgraced himself on the world stage, he had to retire from politics. But he was a soldier and did his duty. the speech itself can be thrown in the trash.

        Iran has not threatened or invaded anyone in 200 years, and is not perceived as a threat to its neighbors by its neighbors. Israel, which has nukes, has stolen land and is stealing land from its neighbors as we speak, threatening them, and has invaded Lebanon six times since its formation. Forget about speeches. Who’s a threat? Who?

  5. steve kelly

    Looking at Iran in isolation misses the larger war, the economic war against all people and countries who resist total global chaos and ultimate slavery.

    “Russia’s disconnection from SWIFT may cause difficulties with foreign debt repayment

    WARSAW, March 6. /TASS/. A possible decision to disconnect Russia from international financial message system SWIFT can be compared to an “atomic weapon,” Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said on Friday.” http://tass.ru/en/economy/781482

    And the aggressor is?

    • The aggressor is the greedy central bank of Russia.

      “Following the dramatic December surge in Russian interest rates when the Bank of Russia scrambled to preserve confidence in the then-plummeting currency and sent the interest rate to a whopping 17%, now that the oil price crash has stabilized it has been walking down this dramatic move, and after reducing rates by 2% on January 30 to 15%, moments ago the Bank of Russia once again cut rates this time by the expected 100 bps to 14%. The bank also said that more rate cuts are in the pipeline.”

      • I forgot. The Russians are irrational, we’re not.

        • What’s irrational about governments controlling money?

        • If you abandon the notion that they are irrational (while we are not) and try to understand their behavior as rational actors, it will make sense to you. Stop and think.

      • steve kelly

        Hate to keep bringing up “The Great One,” but didn’t Volker make similar interest rate changes for similar reasons? http://www.pbs.org/fmc/interviews/volcker.htm

      • JC

        Gee, where did the Russians get the idea to spike interest rates? Oh yeah, they learned that from the days of Volker-Reagan:

        Were Volker and Reagan greedy aggressors? Yep, in many ways!

        • steve kelly

          Swede,

          Does that make Putin the Reagan of Russia?

          • Putin’s dead Jim.

            http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-will-happen-if-putin-actually-dies-2015-3

            • Putin is a target, and he knows it. He does not carry a cell phone. there are people at Murder Inc. in Langley who would kill him by any means possible – poison, garroting, plane crash, triangulated gunfire, so that the Russians have to be on top of their game, and are.

            • JC

              Classic propaganda technique meant to prepare the people for a take down of Putin, one way or the other. Right out of Goebbels’ book of tricks.

  6. steve kelly

    See how easy that was. With interchangeable countries to hate, thinking is unecessary. We do not know why dogs follow their masters, they just do. That was not fair switching to Russia, but we are primed for any and all who do not tow the line.




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