Iranian Nuclear Issue within the State System

Iranian students shout slogans during a rally around the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in support of Iran's nuclear program, near the city of Isfahan, central Iran, on Nov. 15. (Photo: Arshideh Shahangi, Xinhua Press, Corbis)

"If Iran's oil is banned, not a single drop of oil will pass through the Hormuz Strait. … We are not interested in any hostility, our motto is friendship and brotherhood, but Westerners are not willing to abandon their plots," Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said after the United States and European Union proposed restricting Iran's oil trade. This latest proclamation follows in a process now resembling a cat-and-mouse game between Iran and the United States. From U.S. drones on Iranian soil to Persian naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, current measures of resolving the Iranian nuclear question are manifesting greater mistrust between the United States and Iran instead of creating systemic regulative authority on nuclear energy and the defense industry. It is a process that is surely undermining open democratic progression in the Middle East.

Applying economic sanctions and threatening military strikes to address state nuclear technology in the Middle East is again putting a Middle Eastern nation on dangerous footing. The issue of misplaced nuclear technology within the state system may not simply be Iranian nuclear expertise. The question of Iran follows an intractable war in Iraq over the same subject; the divided nuclear Korean Peninsula; nuclear Pakistan with its specter of radicals accessing WMDs; and now the pending sale of Australian uranium to Pakistan's sensitive neighbor and nuclear proliferation non-signatory India. Myriad concerns here pertain to the state system's inability to regulate itself for collective security. The quandary of nuclear technology and the defense industry is systemic. These regulatory inadequacies form a context, or paradigm, of systemic weakness within the international state system. And it is this paradigm that could well be a root cause of international concern over Iranian nuclear technology.

Analyses show no single power—such as the United States, Russia or China—or U.N. body like the IAEA can resolve the question of state nuclear power, basically because of the global free market forces in which defense industries operate; and secondly because the energy and defense for the security of any state in the 21st century are relative matters with terrestrial import of the state system. It would take geopolitical frameworks of accord to overcome the state system's regulatory weakness for comprehensive security and address the causal links between nuclear energy and defense.


Take the IAEA. The methodology of the IAEA always seems to invalidate its charter of direction, which is ostensibly systemic by nature. According to the 1992 Rio Declaration, the IAEA via related organizations is supposed to develop international guidelines on matters from environmental protection to sustainable resource management with a responsibility to ensure nuclear-related activities in one nation do not damage the environments in others. Rather than develop geopolitical accord between states, however, in respect of the relative nature of 21st-century state security, IAEA activities ostracize the state amid a blaze of global media focussed on public disempowerment and defense. In the wake of IAEA inspections in the Middle East, defense industries and warfare have increased beyond any systemic management of nuclear resources.

The United States, for instance, has just sold another 84 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia as Iran tests its latest round of ballistic missiles in the Strait of Hormuz for the same reasons. In the cases of both Iran and Iraq, IAEA inspections highlight the state's defense industry in the nuclear equation, way beyond multilateral considerations of energy and environmental management. Not only does the state become belligerent in response, but defensive to the point of greater nuclear mistrust all around.

Evidently, the aggregation of greater defense throughout the state system does not necessarily realize progressive rationale between states to the level required to regulate global energy resources. Yet defense industry regulation per se is consistently resisted by major powers, most notably the United States and Israel. Relying on increasingly sophisticated defense systems by states for security, however, has never resolved the problems of the trade of defense and nuclear technology and the relative nature of energy and defense within the world today. And structured as it is, neither has the IAEA.

Structural change

The IAEA may not have the necessary political mechanisms to resolve nuclear problems such as those in Iran.As the organization works mainly with the U.N. Security Council, it would be subject to the political void between the United Nations and the state. Thus far both NGOs and strategic forces have filled this regulatory void in the state system to the tune of ineffective resolutions via the U.N. Security Council or military interventions. And with myriad NGOs carrying intra-state responsibilities, is it any wonder military direction instead of open rationale between states on global concerns such as nuclear technology and defense predominates? This apparently is the framework of rationale that the IAEA has relied on since its inception. Indeed the IAEA has only two regional offices, Canada and Japan. Yet the Middle East and the Americas are two regions with a causal link to some of the chief security problems engendering nuclear technology. The translation of Middle Eastern oil into Middle Eastern weapons via U.S. defense industries has rendered the world's foremost nuclear power one of the largest emitters of CO2, and the Middle East a hot bed of warfare and nuclear defense problems.

The United States and Iran couldn't be clearer on the problematic rationale a political void between the United Nations and the state produces. Mistrust and power struggles have remained rife for decades. The rationale has been defensive all around. Political analyst David Szydloski points to current U.S. policy as laying the groundwork for yet another invasion over yet another nuclear quandary in the Middle East. However, the IAEA report predicating such policy points to continued diplomacy, noting Iran is "carrying on scattered research activities that do not amount to a full-fledged restart of an integrated weapons program." Right or wrong, the push to fight fire with fire rather than causally resolve the issue through progressive regulative authority is a structural failing of the state system reflecting a lack of regional rationale.

Progressive rationale or strategic uncertainty

"I don't think the administration knows what Israel is going to do. I'm not sure Israel knows what Israel is going to do ... that's why they want to keep the other guys guessing. Keep the bad guys guessing," said U.S. Democrat Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator John McCain agreed: "I'm sure [administration officials] don't know what the Israelis are going to do. They didn't know when the Israelis hit the reactor in Syria. But the Israelis usually know what we're going to do." Relying on drones to clarify facts on the ground hasn't filled the gaps in U.S. knowledge about Israeli leaders' thinking, let alone resolved Iran's nuclear intentions. Far from it.

Iran's leaders simply see the drone as evidence of American hostility compounding decades of mistrust and false assumptions. Since the shah's downfall last century, nothing the United States, United Nations nor the IAEA has done seems to have alleviated concerns by Iran towards the West. As Stratfor Intelligence notes, "At the moment … not just between Washington and Tehran but also between Washington and Moscow—and factoring in the Israeli wild card—the risks of miscalculation on all sides are very high."

Even so, Iran wants to cooperate with the IAEA. "It is possible for Iran and the IAEA to resolve all remaining issues according to the Work Plan on "Understanding of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Agency on the Modalities of Resolution of the Outstanding Issues," notes Dr. Ali Omidi, associate professor of international relations in Isfahan University Iran. He further notes that constructive dialogue is the only way for a causal resolve to Iran's nuclear issue. Likewise Pentagon Press Secretary George Little says, "The U.S. believes that the Iranian regime should devote its energy and resources to establishing friendly relations with countries in the Gulf region." Can the IAEA develop the framework of rationale accordingly?

Acting within a systemic framework allows all states to contribute positively to a mutually desired goal. Addressing security issues within a geopolitical framework can lead to developing nuclear technology for advanced forms of energy. Together states can ameliorate the transition from a global dependency on fossil fuels to more advanced cleaner energy forms. Most importantly, reasoning state security according to global realities transcends the defensive rationale between states and reduces the burgeoning military industry on all for a generally sustainable future.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Laurelle Atkinson.