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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.