Today marks the 55th anniversary of President’s Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech at the United Nations. The speech was designed to lessen global fears of nuclear technology amid the escalating war of words between the US and the Soviets. In the half century plus since the speech, there have been over two thousand nucear weapons tests and at least 4 nations have joined the nuclear club. Yet, it seems that there is a potential member whose membership in this club is deeply troubling to the west.
The Iranians have been marching towards nuclear power for nearly half a century, dating back to the days of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Up until the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Ayatollah Khomeini, western nations, namely the United States, Germany and France were actively engaged in supplying Iran with nuclear technology. Once the Ayatollah assumed power, contracts to build nuclear power plants were nullified and the flow of nuclear technology ceased, thus forcing Iran’s nuclear program underground.
No one is really sure if the Iranians possess any highly enriched Uranium. What is known that they do possess a fair amount of low-enriched uranium that can be used be weaponized.
The Iranian move towards nuclear power has been evolving since the 1950’s. With the help of the United States and France, the Iranian Within decades, the Iranians will soon become an oil importer as their reserves become depleted. As with any country on this planet (including ours), their concern over energy independence has become an issue of national security.
From a geopolitical standpoint, to assume that the State of Israel is better suited to handle the “Iranian problem” is troubling. To defeat the Iranians militarily would cause a major imbalance in the power structure in the region and probably cause a major cultural shift within the country itself. This would not be desirable for anyone. We cannot simply lump Iran into the convenient parcel of just another hostile Arab nation. The Iranians pride themselves in their Persian heritage and are very comfortable in distancing themselves from their Arab neighbors. With the Iraq invasion debacle as historical precedent, one would be remiss in not considering our lack of understanding of the region as a primary reason for the current heightened state of hysteria.
Though the country is ruled as a theocracy, the overwhelming majority of its citizens are moderates. Unfortunately, we (our government) have failed over the years to engage the more moderate elements of their society. This was clearly evident in our reluctance to engage the reformist president, Seyyed Mohammad Khatami during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Though he angered both conservatives and reformers alike during his presidential terms, he was not the attention grabbing hardliner that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is. It will be interesting to see if and what type of tacit support the West will provide to Khatami, should he run against Ahmadinejad in the June 2009 general elections.
Military action against Iran through direct US surgical air strikes or allowing Israel to do so would be a major gamble at best. If there were ever a time and a place to have diplomatic boots on the ground, it would be now and in Tehran.
Read an update (2/13/09) to this post at: