Iran, Democracy, and Nuclear Weapons
With all of the talk about Iranian defiance over its nuclear program- and inspired by a Stephen Walt post at ForeignPolicy.com- I began to wonder if a democratic Iran would act any differently on the nuclear issue than it is today. Is authoritarianism really that big of a factor in Iran’s nuclear policy? And if it is, then it would seem logical to conclude that regime change could be the best long-term solution for the international community.
A neoconservative argument, I have to admit (absent the debacle in Iraq, ushering in a democratic movement in Iran by force may still be a credible idea in the U.S. Government). But if the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved through a democratic transformation, such an argument could be quite useful.
After assessing the pros and cons of democracy- and whether it would create an enlightened leadership in Tehran with fresh ideas and moderate thinking- I came to a simple conclusion. A democratic Iran, while it would be beneficial for the Middle East as a whole, would not alter Tehran’s stance on the nuclear issue in any conceivable way.
In fact, it is downright laughable that some in the U.S. Government (and those in the west generally) firmly believe that a democratic Iran would magically solve most of the outstanding issues in the Middle East. The desire for a nuclear program within Iran has cut across partisan and ideological lines; both moderates and hardline Islamists in Tehran wholeheartedly support Iran’s quest for a nuclear capability (whether this is civilian or not). Over the past three years, the nuclear option has transformed into something much more significant than a few uranium enrichment plants. The program is now a symbolic part of Iranian nationalism, thus making it even marker to persuade the Iranian leadership to forgo the nuclear path.
Let’s say that Iran were to become a democratic state in the next decade. Would that actually ensure more compliance and cooperation with the United States? On some issues, such as human rights and economic growth, perhaps. But on issues the U.S. really cares about- like national security and oil prices- the answer is much bleaker. After all, democratic governments in Europe and Latin America have not necessarily caved-in to American pressure.
Regardless of whether a regime is democratic or not, all states have their own interests to promote. Considering the strategic importance- and obsession- of a nuclear capability inside the Islamic Republic, all the democracy in the world may not persuade the country to abandon its most prized-possession.
-Daniel R. DePetris