In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad addresses and analyzes Iran's nuclear policy and the revival of the JCPOA. The interview focuses on the possible outcomes of Iran's nuclear policy, the effect of Iran's nuclear policy in the region, and the international response and reaction from the international community.
Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on Iran, the Middle East, and the post-unipolar world order. He is an associate fellow with the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (AUB-IFI) and author of the much-acclaimed book Iran in an Emerging New World Order: From Ahmadinejad to Rouhani (2021). Ali holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from SOAS.
Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.
In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Manochehr Dorraj addresses and analyzes the gradual development of bilateral relations between Iran and China. The interview focuses on the importance of Iran to China, how both countries try to optimize their gain and influence through this bilateral relation, and how this relation is affected by and may affect regional bilateral relations with China.
Manochehr Dorraj is a Professor at Texas Christian University where his areas of focus cover International Affairs, Comparative politics, Political Theory and Middle East politics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author, coauthor, editor or coeditor of 7 books and more than 80 refereed articles and book chapters.
Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.
How often do we consider nations with glorious histories tend to live under the constructed shadow of their past and continue a collective sense that is tangible yet sophisticatedly laying behind layers of time? Is it correct to assume the roots of Iran's nuclear program are somehow attached to reviving its past? What are the main differences between pre and post-1979 Iran and its nuclear development policies?
The issue appeared in the public debate a few years after Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power in 1944. The latter, who studied in Switzerland, developed a western attitude enriched by power aspirations and ideals of modernization. In this project, the nuclear program has always been present. For Shah, modernization necessarily passed through the implementation of a nuclear program. First, Shah intended to give his country a real energy alternative, not forgetting that nuclear weapons could give a strong international legitimacy: a powerful state, a state capable of defending itself, is a compelling state and a state which is able to develop its regional influence. Moreover, the program could give birth to a process of technological and scientific progress, increasing the power of the country through investments in new researchers. With the 1979 revolution and the change in the alliance system, Iran remained isolated and the nuclear program was suspended.
The decision of resuming the nuclear program has been guided by the will to conserve independence from other powers, intensify the distances from the United States, and start the first net of relations with its neighbours from a strong position of power. The government started gradually to intercept the feeling of the elite and of the public that the nuclear strategy crystallized the regional position. In other words, nuclear power could give to Iran not only a decisive international bargaining leverage but mostly a stabilizing tool in domestic politics. In some way, the perception that the Iranian people could have of the government and of its action could have been influenced by the ideal of a political elite capable of taking strong decisions. The Iranians would see the development of a nuclear program as an ambitious project enabling the country to develop a strategic aim and enhance its regional influence. From this element, some scholars have claimed that a new uniting consensus aroused around the nuclear pact, allowing the executive power to gain a wider leeway. Scholars have argued that the main reason that pushed Iran toward a nuclear program was deterrence. In this reconstruction, a primary role is played by the War against Iraq, which must be analyzed in a wider context. The war broke out after 1979 when Iran was isolated, and Iraq exploited the opportunity to improve its relations with the US. Such an attack, which engaged Iran all of a sudden, found it unprepared and taught to Iran the importance of appearing strong and resistant.
However, it could be claimed that deterrence is a dangerous strategy and that Iran in this way could face enormous risks in challenging the international community in such an open approach. Nonetheless, among the political elite, a decisive idea has spread and motivated the choices of Iran: if Iran goes beyond the imposed threshold, the international community will accept it. This has been a compelling argument that animated the internal debate about the nuclear program. In the international non-proliferation agenda, Iran’s nuclear program has been placed as a priority security issue: the consequences of a nuclear Iran, in the fragile region of the Middle East, could trigger threatening outcomes. To counter such a threat and identify the main efforts to be undertaken to address it, studies have focused on understanding the causes behind Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Realism has been the predominant international relations theory for this purpose. Yet, an opposite analysis has placed constructivist interpretations at the center of the debate.
In constructivist views, the revolutionary values associated with the regime are linked to the development of the nuclear programme. As such, normative factors have been proposed as the elements behind the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy. Mahdi Mohammad Nia has argued that, since 1979 brought the clerical regime under Ayatollah Khomeini to power: The Iranian nation has been dominated by a revolutionary ethos and this has been translated into its foreign and security policy. Consequently, Iran's nuclear aspirations should be looked at through the lens of this discourse.
The Russian tactic is that of a pincer encirclement of entire Ukraine – from Russian territory and occupied Crimea, Donbas, and Belarus - and inside they follow the same tactic as Kyiv's focus, methodically destroying civilian infrastructure and nuclear power plants. The attempt is to demoralize and coerce Ukrainians. Yet morale is rising and these same civilians are becoming soldiers. Such support somewhat offsets the quantitative advantage of the Russian army in manpower and equipment. Now, Russian troops make advances into Ukrainian territory only at the cost of hundreds of soldiers every day, failing for now to take control of any regional center.
Their qualitative advantage is very reduced, as can be inferred from the high level of losses, which seems to be well above 5%, in men and materials. Russia could take control of the territory, but only with long times and high destruction. Reservist and conscript call-ups, as well as the ongoing shipment of Syrian and Chechen militants to Russia and Belarus, will not be able to affect the balance of troops around Kyiv in the coming week, slowing down the Russian tactic as it is momentarily unable to conduct simultaneous attacks.
Russia is now deploying maneuverable Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, reported by Russian state news agencies as a “next-generation weapon”. While it is very unlikely that the deployment of Kh-47M2 missiles will have a major impact on the current stall of the invasion, It could likely point out a shortage of other weapons and a propagandistic effort to distort Russia’s military failure.
However, after an end of decades of deterrence orthodoxy, the danger of a possible escalation involving nuclear weapons is real. Indeed, Putin has used nuclear threats to create a wide perimeter in which he may pursue a conventional war in Europe. NATO countries are doing everything to avoid escalations, complying with a policy of non-intervention for avoiding direct contact with the Russian military.
While not directing intervening in Ukraine, NATO countries are deploying significant military aid to the country while drastically raising defense spending, reclaiming the alliance's historical role as a protective haven against Moscow's military activities. Germany in particular is now increasing its defense spending to more than 2% of its economic output: a historic departure from its postwar commitment not to transfer armaments to combat zones. Moreover, the European Union's recent investments (€500 million) in arms and other aid to the Ukrainian military mark a “watershed moment” in its history.
However, many countries are starting to be bitten by the economic effects of the war, especially those with currencies linked to the rubble. More sanctions implications are quite likely to emerge in the coming weeks, particularly in a case like the EU-Russia energy partnership, where dependency is significant. Indeed, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is now serving as a geopolitical catalyst on key strategic, economic, and societal issues and will certainly bring to consider re-alignments, particularly in Post-Soviet countries and the Middle East. NATO's deterrent posture must be strengthened as well as cooperation and dialogue with the various regional actors in order to figure out the next evolutions in the geopolitical chessboards.