Iraq and WMD

Elaine Sciolino makes a provocative point in yesterday’s New York Times — that regime change in Iran would not necessarily spell the end of its nuclear ambitions: Before he was overthrown by an Islamic revolution in 1979, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran said that his country would have nuclear weapons “without a doubt and ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Elaine Sciolino makes a provocative point in yesterday's New York Times -- that regime change in Iran would not necessarily spell the end of its nuclear ambitions:

Elaine Sciolino makes a provocative point in yesterday’s New York Times — that regime change in Iran would not necessarily spell the end of its nuclear ambitions:

Before he was overthrown by an Islamic revolution in 1979, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran said that his country would have nuclear weapons “without a doubt and sooner than one would think.” In the late 1970’s, in fact, Iran and Israel discussed a plan to adapt for Iranian use surface-to-surface missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads, according to documents discovered in Tehran after the revolution. The documents described conversations between Israeli and Iranian officials about the plan, which was kept secret from the United States. So if the monarchy had lasted longer, Iran might have become a nuclear power years ago. As George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, testified to Congress early this year, “No Iranian government, regardless of its ideological leanings, is likely to abandon” programs to develop weapons of mass destruction “that are seen as guaranteeing Iran’s security.”…. Iran has been blessed and cursed with a strong national identity, bountiful natural resources, an ancient intellectual and cultural tradition, and a strategic location. It shares borders with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, and has a 1,570-mile coastline on the Persian Gulf. It has long seen itself as a regional superpower. So an American campaign to persuade or coerce Iran to abandon nuclear weapons that does not consider its security concerns risks appearing unrealistic and futile.

Is Sciolino correct? On the one hand, number of democratic governments that overthrew unrepresentative regimes — South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, even Ukraine and Belarus in the early 1990s — did voluntarily abandon their nuclear weapons programs. However, none of those countries were in the Middle East.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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