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Iran: Nuclear Weapons And Irresponsible Leadership

"Fortune and misfortune lie with the ruler. not with the seasons of heaven"

THAI KUNG - Chinese military thinker, from the

"SEVEN MILITARY CLASSICS OF ANCIENT CHINA'

Within the past year, much attention was given to Iran's continuous military rebuilding effort since its disastrous and costly war with Iraq. In particular, there has been great emphasis on Iran as a potential regional military power, and more ominously, as a potential nuclear power. The realization of Iran as both a regional and nuclear power would certainly cause concern to its neighbors. The international community - particularly the United States -- is concerned with two developments. First is the growing conventional and nuclear capability of Iran, and second, the increasing authoritarianism of the Rafsanjani regime and its support for domestic and international terrorism.

It is a--truism-based- on historical-experience that the greater the absoluteness/authoritarianism of a regime, the less its confidence in dealing with the international community, and the more likely it would resort to force to solve problems. In this context, the current regime in Tehran could hardly be considered a responsible and reliable oarticioant for ensuing re¢ional peace. stability and security.

It is clearly recognized that all nations have fundamental rights to provide for their own national security interests and those of others through mutual security treaties such as NATO, the former Warsaw Treaty Organization and other regional security pacts. Moreover, Iran itself, prior to the revolution of 1979, was a member of the former Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) together with the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and Pakistan. Subsequently, the former regime undertook mutual security agreements with the United States. All the preceding agreements, treaties, pacts, etc., alluded to above, were undertaken by governments on the basis of perceived defensive security needs, with no outward declaration of aggressive intent. This in contrast to the bellicose rhetoric and state sponsored terrorist and subversive activities of Iran's present regime. It is no wonder that a more powerful and nuclear-armed Iran, controlled by the clerics, poses a great concern for future regional peace and security.

Traditionally, Iran's security defense policy has been dictated by its geo-strategic situation: From World War II to 1979, for defense against threats from the north, Iran relied heavily on the US deterrence. After the clerics took over in 1979, and especially after the aborted rescue mission of the US hostages, Iran, although its foreign policy was nominally "neither East nor West", tacitly relied on the Soviet deterrence against possible US attack.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and consequently, the defeat of Saddam Hussein, Iran decided to put its energy and resources to develop weapons of mass destruction, not for defensive purposes, but to give Iran leverage to lead the Muslim World. In November 1991, Mr. Mohajerani, Vice-President of Iran, referred to Iran's activity to develop nuclear weapons. He said Moslem nations including Iran must acquire nuclear capability that would make them strong. This idea was probably reinforced after the Iraqi defeat in the Persian Gulf War, by the Indian Defense Chief, who reportedly said in an interview that one of the results of the Gulf War was "... never challenge the US unless you have nuclear weapons".


The Post War Arms Build-up

Since the end of the war with Iraq (in 1988), Iran has undertaken an extensive rebuilding and upgrading of its greatly depleted armed forces, as might be expected, especially since the threat from its recent adversary, Iraq, is real, even though seemingly lessened at present. It is noteworthy that much of Iran's arms purchases are best described as offensive in nature and not necessarily designed to counter what one might imagine to be its real concern, Iraq. For example, since 1988, the arms purchases include: 10 fast attack missile boats, 75 SCUD-C surface-to-surface missiles, an unknown number of Su-24 fighter/bombers, 12 Tu-22 (Backfire) bombers, 72 AS-16 (Kickback) air-to-ground missiles, and three Kilo-class ocean-going submarines (two already delivered and one to be delivered soon). In addition, there are on order other weapons systems with both offensive and defensive capabilities.

Of particular interest in the above listing is the SCUD-C procurement from North Korea, because of the potential offensive threat it poses to Iran's neighbors to the South. It must be noted that this missile system is capable of being fitted with both conventional as well as nuclear warheads. Furthermore, there is every likelihood that the clerical regime in Iran will purchase the NO-DONG-1 medium-range ballistic missile or its follow-on, within the next five years, also from North Korea. With a range of about 600-800 miles and improved accuracy, the NO-DONG missile would be a direct threat to Israel, more so than the SCUD-13 system deployed by Iraq in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

The acquisition of several ocean-going submarines and fast attack missile boats presents a realistic threat to Persian Gulf oil flow, in as much as these naval craft could easily block the Straits of Hormuz by a missile or underwater attack. In the hands of an unstable and irrational regime, they also pose a direct danger to the U.S. and Allied naval vessels needing to access the Persian Gulf in periods of crises.

The acquisition of the long range Tu-22 (Backfire) bomber has no other use than extending Iran's offensive "punch" far into the Indian Ocean (against the U.S. and Allied Navies) or to the entire Middle East and beyond: a capability far beyond the accepted defensive needs of the clerical regime.

The Nuclear Weapons Issue

The "conventional" arms threat is multi plied many times over when nuclear weapons are added to the equation. Much has been written recently concerning the activities of the clerical regime in regards to its involvement in the development of nuclear weaponry. The question does not seem to be one of the probability of such a development, but one of timing. In a recent article in The New York Times (January 4, 1995), Chris Hedges wrote a detailed and well-crafted article indicating that in five years, Iran may be able to fabricate a nuclear weapon, with the fissionable materials supplied by its nuclear facilities at Bushehr. If we examine the "conventional" weapons already purchased or on order, it is apparent that most of these systems can be readily adapted and modified to carry and deliver nuclear weapons.

In order to place the potential "nuclear threat" in proper perspective, it must be recognized that we are dealing with a contingency that is at least two to five years in the future. It will depend on the clerical regime's ability to receive or develop the requisite technological capability, and produce sufficient nuclear fuel, at which time the threat does become apparent and a focal point of international concern.

Apropos the issue of Iran gaining technological competence in nuclear weapons fabrication, much has been written in various military intelligence sources. It has been reported that Iran has acquired at least two nuclear weapons (one missile and one 152mm artillery round) from Kazakhstan. Some sources allege that Iran may also be receiving technological assistance from North Korea. In any event, it makes little difference whether Iran currently has nuclear warheads: in time, it will develop the capability either by virtue of its native talents and/or with the help of "scientists of fortune" from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The Economic Consequences Of Nuclear Acquisition

The more compelling question is not whether "Iran has the bomb", but rather, why it should want a massive offensive conventional and nuclear strike capability.
Secondly, who or what are the ostensible targets requiring such national commitment of human, economic, and material resources, to say nothing of the political capital expended in the international community.

The "why" of the clerical regime's military build-up can be answered simply as a normal action in light of the recent war with Iraq. More importantly, however, the up-grading of offensive conventional and future nuclear strike capabilities must be seen in the light of the Mullahs' determination to ensure their survival in the seat of power in Tehran, and more ominously for the future, perhaps to further their political-religious goals elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

The importance of Iran's current rearming and upgrading of fire-power can be measured in terms of its economic cost to the nation. The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) estimates that between 1987-91 the clerical regime ruling Iran spent an estimated US$8-billion in hard currency for weapons imports. At least a similar amount has been spent since 1991 for further purchases of weapons systems. This at a time when the country is experiencing significant economic distress as indicated by the fact that the per capita share of the GNP (i.e. the individual economic worth) has fallen to around $1,000.

From these bare economic facts, it is apparent that the clerical regime in Tehran is choosing "guns over butter", and, consequently, is perpetuating the economic misery of the Iranian population. Compounding this economic situation is the fact that Iran's external debt is at least US$40-billion, and given the relatively modest world prices for crude oil, Iran's main foreign currency earner, there is little hope for debt reduction in the foreseeable future. What this simply means is that as the external debt burden grows, the clerics will find it more difficult to acquire credit for domestic needs such as imports of necessary goods and services that are urgently needed to stop the nation's rapidly declining living standards.

Moreover, the great economic burden of the massive arms build-up has serious long term implications for Iran's development of its industrial economic base, notably, the petro-chemical infrastructure. Authorities estimate that Iran needs US$5-billion for repairs, replacement parts and maintenance of its petroleum extraction and processing equipment and facilities, and an additional US$1-billion for the maintenance of attendant petro-chemical equipment. If this investment in the petroleum infrastructure is delayed or slowed down, it is likely that within 15 years, the entire infrastructure will collapse, bringing about economic catastrophe.

The salient question is at what cost to the welfare and well-being of the Iranian people, and at what cost to the goodwill and economic credibility within the international community is the clerical leadership willing to expend for illusionary and self-destructive goals of religious fanaticism and domestic and international terrorism.

The Likely Targets Of The Clerics' Nuclear Policy

T he second salient question, given the above discussion regarding the excessive level of rearmament effort, is, who, what and where are the targets of the arms build-up. If one surveys the current Middle Eastern political, religious and social environment, it becomes evident that there is an array of differences that are not in accord with the clerics' concept of religious "fundamentalism" and its attendant political and social ways of life. These range from Israel's inherent Judaic nature, Egyptian, and Syrian political secularism, Saudi Arabia's Sunni sectarianism, the economic per capita wealth of the Persian Gulf States, the Turkish security links to the U.S., and the overall instability of the former Soviet Caucuses and Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan.

It is well within reason that the clerical leadership in Tehran may perceive some, if not all, of these differences as a threat to its "way of life" and ideology. Perhaps they also see them as targets of opportunity for some future date, when through armed threats and other coercive means, they look forward to imposing their hegemony, and forcing them to accede to their religious and political ideology. The clerics' support of political terrorism in Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria and elsewhere lends credence to their once far-fetched claim of converting the world of Islam to Khomeinism. In light of their actions and pronouncements, this indeed may be their first step on the road to achieving their avowed goals.

The nuclear strategic doctrine of the Islamic Republic was formulated by "The Strategic Islamic Research Center" headed by Hojatol Islam Khoeiniha. Following are the main conclusions and goals of the Center which were reached in a secret meeting in May 1991:

l. After the collapse of communism, Islam is the only force and Islamic Republic the only leader and supporter of the liberation of the oppressed masses.

2. Iran will naturally be on a collision course with the U.S., and must consider the U.S. a real threat to the Islamic world.

3. Iran needs to develop nuclear power and prestige. The result of this meeting, which was never publicized, should not be taken lightly. Nuclear weapons can be either the guarantor of state, or a threat to the whole region and survival of the country itself. The difference lies in the responsibility, wisdom, and the sophistication of the leadership, and the nuclear strategy it adopts. In the hands of responsible leaders, one can assume that nuclear weapons would not be used unless absolute survival of the country was at stake. In the case of the current clerical leadership in Tehran, it could present a real threat.

Like the United States, Israel is seen as the "Satan: the extreme negation of all that is held religiously and politically sacred to the clerics in Tehran. Moreover, the Islamic shrines in Jerusalem must be "redeemed". The clerics' success in this effort would most certainly evoke the Moslem masses to respond to its cause and jihad: a tide which none of the Middle Eastern States could withstand.

It is the opinion of many specialists that Israel is the lynch-pin for Iranian religious/political hegemony in the Middle East. Others point to the clerics' claim of the right to administer the holy shrines in Mecca and Medina. Another important target is likely to be Egypt which is already facing very serious challenges to its political and economic infrastructure from radical Moslem fundamentalists. The long arm of Khomeinism is most definitely felt in Egypt through the clerics' financial, material and moral support for the Egyptian religious radicals. The fall of the Egyptian Government would he a world-wide political event, and would pose a grave threat to the security of Israel and Saudi Arabia, and, most likely, would destabilize Jordan and Lebanon. The military assets of Egypt in the hands of radical extremists is difficult to contemplate for the United States and its Allies; for Iran, it would be a bounty worth all its effort and cost.

Comments On Iranian Leadership

finally, in our assessment, the current clerical leadership in Tehran seems to be totally incapable of comprehending the dangerous consequences of their course of
action. The clerics seem oblivious to the historic lessons of this century. All those who overreached their power paid dearly. Irresponsible policies and actions by irrational and despotic leaders brought untold hardship and misery on the civilian population. The overreaching of military power by the clerics in Iran could bring about the destruction of the Iranian nation. It should be made clear that the imperatives of Iran's security needs are recognized, and the bravery and dedication of its Armed Forces in defending the nation is lauded. It is our belief that the course of military expansion exceeds the requirements for defense of the frontiers against any adversary for the foreseeable future. The course pursued can only lead to the destruction of the patriotic Armed Forces needlessly.

In order to prevent the dangers of irresponsible military expansion and adventurism, we categorically support the replacement of the current regime with one dedicated to democratic principles well-grounded in the realities of the international security environment and balance of power concept. Furthermore, we insist that a new regime must have the support, respect and confidence of the Iranian people as well as that of the international community.

First and foremost on its agenda must be the well-being of the people, and guarantees for individual freedom and human rights. Along with economic security, it must work to ensure their physical as well as national security. These can be achieved by reversing the current aggression-oriented arms build-up and support for terrorism. Instead, the new leadership must be dedicated to, and must take an active role in promoting regional and world peace.

 



 

 

 

 


 

 






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