with all the talk going on about iran and its declared intentions to become a nuclear power, it is time for a change of perspective on the topic to avoid a one sides analysis of a complex situation.
the point of view that dominates the media is western-american focused and israel friendly. it shows israels fear of a nuclear iran, triggered by clear anti-semitic rhetorics. this situation of constant insecurity on the part of israel is enforced by its countries size that suggests a potential risk in case of a nuclear attack. even if second strike capabilities are a given, meaning it could strike back with a sea launched nuclear attack, it is likely that israel would not survive a direct attack. the only hope there is left is the strong partner overseas, that has the capabilities of potentially deterring a iranian attack by denial. in this picture iran usually gets accredited the role of the villain, the ‘bad guy’ who can not be trusted. in this picture of a rogue state that iran gets attributed by western discourse, one questions the rationality of iran – painting the picture with black and white religious fundamentalist colors in the background.
iran as a rogue state?
the central danger posted by a rogue state is its so called ‘irrational behaviour’ which suggests that the state does not react to the international bargaining process in a ‘rational’-cost-and-benefit-weighing and ‘putting its own survival on top of its priorities’-way. this makes it impossible to negotiate with irrational states. this is the maim frame applied to the iranian case in international discourse.
kenneth waltz, however, argues in forreign affairs that iran is not irrational and that it would be an error to assume otherwise. the impact this view of rationality or irrationality has on policy decisions is remarkable. waltz argues that “portraying iran as irrational has allowed them [u.s. and israeli officias] to argue that the logic of nuclear deterrence does not apply to the islamic republic.” viewing iran as a rational actor makes it possible to imply the balance of power between iran and israel, as argued by waltz.
even though waltz coherently argues for the rationality of iran, i disagree on the notion that rationality alone makes a balance of power likely. balance of power is a concept based on capabilities, while rationality is a mere condition to understand and value the distribution o capabilities. the biggest asset of capabilities that differs iran and israel is the uncomparable size of the two countries. rational or not, this difference makes a first strike potentially more threatening on the side of israel than for iran. one might argue that the united states and the sovjet union did not share the same size either, but that misses the point i am trying to make on part of an existential threat a first strike poses.
one might argue instead that a possible attack from iran will be responded by the united states, which puts an additional weight on the side of israels capabilities. the assured american assistance for israel does indeed change the picture in the case of a chance for deterrence by denial. if the united states is able to destroy any missile heading for an israelian target, the existential threat of a first strike is nullified. deterrence by punishment, in contrast, can not seem daunting to iran, if the goal of the regime is the declared extermination of the jewish state or the jewish people.
this is where another factor enteres the picture – following the clash of civilizations as a source of conflict in iternational relations, the argument of rationality gets terribly small. when cultural differences are central to policy decisions and decisive for the lines of conflict, balance of power may be stabalizing in a ‘i-do-not-kill-you-if-you-do-not-kill-me’ kind of manner for some time, but it will be a very unstable balance as well as it will not enable peace that is more peaceful than a absence of open war. if the rationality of ones believe suggests extiguishing the other is a ‘good’ and ‘rational’ thing to do, any consequence is likeley to seem like a necessary means. this is to say, that even if iran fits into the schema of western-rationality, it can still put certain cultural values above other interests that, to the western eye, would seem more ‘rational’.
iran part 2 – the ultimate weapon