Four years after the United States went to war to disarm Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it faces a far more dangerous and real proliferation crisis inIran. Should the Islamic Republic cross the nuclear threshold in defiance of the international community and its long-standing treaty commitments, it would effectively undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that has been the mainstay of global counterproliferation efforts for nearly four decades. Indeed, a nuclear Iran, with its expressed antagonism toward the United States, would be in a far better position to assert its regional influence, altering both the strategic and the political alignments of the Middle East.
Why does Iran want the bomb? What impact has the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had on Iran’s nuclear deliberations? Is there anything the United States and the international community can do to press Iran toward restraining its ambitions? The answer to these questions requires a betterunderstanding of the interlocking calculations that have propelled Iran toward the nuclear option in the first place.
REVELATIONS AND CONTINUITIES
Iran’s nuclear ambitions did not begin with the onset of the Islamic revolution in 1979. The nuclear program actually started in the early 1970s under the Shah, who, with the assistance of West Germany, France, and South Africa, sought to construct an infrastructure of nuclear power plants. Approximately $40 billion was earmarked for this ambitious project, whose purpose was the construction of at least twenty reactors.