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Iran and Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons: Is War Imminent? Research Paper


Within the past few years Iran has pursued a distinctly anti-U.S. stance and has reportedly developed a weapons program that is meant to discourage any attacks on its soil creating a situation where war is a distinct possibility within the Middle East.

This paper assumes that war is not imminent given that Iran’s actions are meant not to attack any foreign entity but to ensure the continued survival of the state in the form of the authoritarian regime that is currently in power.

Reason behind Iran’s Domestic Policy Agenda

From a trade and international relations perspective, it is at times assumed that Iran’s apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons and its bellicose rhetoric aimed at the U.S. seemingly reflects a regime that does not abide by logic and rationality as the cornerstones of its foreign relations policy. However, it should be noted that under the theory of realism one of the primary concerns of the state is survival.

While it may seem that Iran’s actions are apparently detrimental towards the state’s continued survival, this is actually far from the truth. What this section will show is how Iran’s bellicose rhetoric, combined with its pursuit for nuclear weapons, is in fact a method that has been intentionally implemented to control its population rather than as an actual means of aggression against other states.

In his analysis of Iran, Al-Tamimi (2013) explains that its political structure, governing bodies and various councils are heavily steeped in Islamic traditions and law. Many of those in power are conservative traditionalists who view the concept of “liberal change” as detrimental towards the continued survival of a state that utilizes Islam as the cornerstone of its governance Al-Tamimi, 49 -57.

Al-Tamimi (2013) even goes so far to say that the Iran’s political government espouses a form of “ultra conservatism” wherein the concept of change that is not conducive towards the promotion of Islamic values and principles is viewed as detrimental towards the continued survival of the state.

As a result, this has given rise to preventive measures within the country in the form of considerable control on internet traffic, merchandise that enters into the country as well as they types of activities that local citizens are allowed to participate in.

In fact, such a level of control has impacted the news media within Iran, which is heavily censored by the government, to the point that only pro-government news stories are allowed to be televised.

Jervis (2013) explains this by stating that survival for Iran’s government is not perceived primarily as the state continuing to prosper economically or that its people are not placed in danger, rather, survival is viewed as preserving the current status quo within the country.

The government actively attempts to prevent ‘liberal ideas” from western methods of governance and society from seeping into the country so as to prevent the local population from being “corrupted”. This is to ensure that Islamic principles and the leaders that espouse them continue to remain at the forefront of Iran’s existence (Jervis, 105).

Studies such as those by Leverett and Leverett (2013) correlate Iran’s current behavior as a classic example of an authoritarian state whose government is attempting to remain in power no matter what (Leverett and Leverett, 22).

What must be understood is that this predilection to remain in power through whatever means possible is explained by Leverett and Leverett (2013) as being due to historical evidence showing how government officials from authoritarian regimes were often convicted and sentenced to jail once democratic systems of governance were put in place resulting in them being held accountable for the various restrictions on freedoms and atrocities that they had committed while in power.

Kaplan (2010) explains that it is the concept of accountability that encourages these regimes to continue along a path of governance that attempts to curb “dangerous changes” since this endangers those who are in power.

This has given rise to a foreign policy agenda which focuses on preventing “liberalist notions” from arising within the local population to the extent that the Iran and its leaders have been accused numerous times by the United Nations and several other states of human rights abuses (Kaplan, 70-73).

Such accusations further discourages the country from allowing foreign influences from affecting its local population since the leaders of the country know that once they let a democratic foothold establish itself within the country their positions and very lives would be in danger.

Iran’s Foreign Policy Agenda

The work of Ben-Meir (2009) explains that despite what amounts to erratic action and decisions, states are actually rational decision makers and pursue a policy that they believe would result in a better and more advantageous position for the state (Ben-Meir, 74-89).

However, the study of Calabresi, Crowley and Newton-Small (2013) shows that sometimes this pursuit of a more advantageous position is in part influenced by those in power who pursue what they believe is the most advantageous position yet such an orientation may not be the best path for the general citizenry (Calabresi, Crowley,and Newton-Small, 20).

What this means in the case of Iran, when taking the section on domestic policy into consideration, is that its leadership is pursuing a path that focuses on what they believe would be best in their eyes and not necessarily what would be best for the people.

For Calabresi, Crowley,and Newton-Small (2013), Iran’s foreign policy agenda of developing nuclear arms is meant as a deterrent towards undue or even forceful interference from outside parties in Iran’s domestic affairs. Goldberg (2010) states that developing nuclear arms is a way in which Iran’s leaders ensure that its authoritarian government continues to remain in power through the suppression of rights and liberties within the country (Goldberg, 56-69).

In fact, studies such as those by Goldberg (2010) point to the fact that since states are rational actors Iran would know that any nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies would result in the country being turned into a nuclear wasteland as a direct result of retaliatory strike from the U.S. Its rhetoric and various claims are meant to discourage direct interference in its domestic affairs and nothing more.


When taking into consideration the various studies on Iran’s domestic agenda with the studies on its foreign policy objectives, it thus becomes clear that in the case of Iran, war is not imminent given that its actions are meant not to attack any foreign entity but to ensure the continued survival of the state in the form of the authoritarian regime that is currently in power.

This study has shown that Iran, a rational actor in international relations, knows full well that it cannot match the military might of the U.S. and it had no plans to do so from the very beginning.

The country is merely trying to deter other countries from implementing any form of “aggressive democratization” that would endanger the current authoritarian regime. Thus, despite the continued aggressive rhetoric against the U.S. and its focus on developing a nuclear program, such actions are merely there as a “hands off sign” for other countries such as the U.S. that would attempt to democratize Iranian society.

Works Cited

Al-Tamimi, Naser. “Will Riyadh Get The Bomb?.” Middle East Quarterly 20.2 (2013): 49- 57. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center. Web.

Ben-Meir, Alon. “Nuclear Iran Is Not An Option: A New Negotiating Strategy To Prevent Iran From Developing Nuclear Weapons.” DOMES: Digest Of Middle East Studies 18.1 (2009): 74-89. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Calabresi, Massimo, Michael Crowley, and Jay Newton-Small. “The Path To War.” Time 181.9 (2013): 20. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Goldberg, Jeffrey. “The Point Of No Return.” Atlantic Monthly (10727825) 306.2 (2010): 56-69. Literary Reference Center. Web.

Jervis, Robert. “Getting To Yes With Iran.” Foreign Affairs 92.1 (2013): 105. MasterFILE Premier. Web.

Kaplan, Robert D. “Living With A Nuclear Iran.” Atlantic Monthly (10727825) 306.2 (2010): 70-73. Literary Reference Center. Web.

Leverett, Flyntmann and Leverett, Hillary. “The Real Challenge From Iran.” Nation 296.8 (2013): 22. MasterFILE Premier. Web.

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Knox, L. (2019, December 30). Iran and Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons: Is War Imminent? [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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Knox, Lexie. "Iran and Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons: Is War Imminent?" IvyPanda, 30 Dec. 2019,

1. Lexie Knox. "Iran and Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons: Is War Imminent?" IvyPanda (blog), December 30, 2019.


Knox, Lexie. "Iran and Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons: Is War Imminent?" IvyPanda (blog), December 30, 2019.


Knox, Lexie. 2019. "Iran and Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons: Is War Imminent?" IvyPanda (blog), December 30, 2019.


Knox, L. (2019) 'Iran and Its Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons: Is War Imminent?'. IvyPanda, 30 December.

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