Understanding the Logic of Iran’s Behavior

Why Iran Should Have Missile Capability?

22 February 2015 | 14:14 Code : 1944550 Review General category
Masoud Rezaei, Ph.D., Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran
Why Iran Should Have Missile Capability?

From last year to date, there has been a lot of attention given to the “Iran Missile Program" in nuclear negotiation between Iran and the P5+1 group. In this regard, the Western countries insist that Iran’s missile program “must be part of the agenda” for negotiation of a final agreement. However, the demand for negotiations on Iran’s missile program originated with Israel, both directly and through Senate Foreign Relations Committee members committed to AIPAC’s agenda. By contrast, Iranian officials denied any negotiation is taking place with six powers over its missile plan and stressed that the program is “not negotiable.” In this respect, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri said that the country “will never” accept to negotiate over its missile program and “defensive capabilities” with any world power, Fars news agency reported.

So, why the Western countries in the P5+1 group demanding that a negotiation on Iran’s nuclear program also incorporate its ballistic missile activities?  

On one hand, from the Western countries perspective, it’s important to remember that, UNSCRs on Iran’s nuclear activity, dating back to the initial resolution adopted in 2006, have referenced Iran’s ballistic missile activity and called upon Member States to take steps to avoid supplying its program. Resolution 1929, adopted in 2010, went even further and called upon Iran to forego any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.  It is on the basis of this resolution that the United States and others view Iran’s ongoing series of civilian space launches as violations of Resolution 1929.  So, in the view of Western countries, it should be no surprise the six powers insist that any final agreement on Iran’s nuclear issue incorporate restrictions on its missile program.

And the other hand, some members in the P5+1 argue that, Iran with missile capabilities would embolden Tehran's aggressive foreign policy, resulting in greater confrontations with the international community. This means that, Iran already has a conventional weapons capability to hit U.S. and allied troops stationed in the Middle East and parts of Europe. If Tehran were allowed to develop missile weapons, this threat would increase dramatically. So, advanced missile weapons in the hands of the Iranian government will have severe repercussions for American security and the security of our allies.

But there are exactly two points on the discussion that the West should keep the broader picture in their mind: "Historical fact and legal pleadings".

1) Historical facts: refers to state’s threat perception and security concerns.

- Having been invaded by the UK and the USSR in World War II (despite Iran's neutrality), and then suffering through eight years of a war with Iraq backed by its Arab neighbors and some in the West that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, it’s easy to see the logic of Tehran viewing a missile weapons as the ultimate shield. Indeed, Iran’s distrust of great power's intentions and its neighbors, and this country has always been sentenced to defend itself and increase the power against any threats or hostility measures. This fact has profoundly affected the way Iranians view the world and their perceptions of the historical process and international relations.

- After more than three decades, Western arms embargoes have atrophied Iran’s advanced weapons capabilities, especially in air defense, conventional ships and aircraft. It has tried to develop an internal defense industry, but it still has a long, long way to go before its domestic arms production even resembles anything close the Western arms manufacturing.  

- Iranians look around them and see that others in their neighborhood such as Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India, and China all have the nuclear bomb. To say that Iran shouldn’t have self-help is considered an affront to Iranian patriotism.

- Regionally, Iran considers Israel, Saudi Arabia, ISIS, Taliban group and its brand of Sunni extremism to be its main sources of potential threat. Beyond this, the presence of U.S. forces in the region is a concern, as is the general level of tension in the region.

- In a superficial review, comparisons of imports of major conventional weapons by the Persian Gulf countries, Turkey and even Azerbaijan show that Iran imported considerably, much less than the respective countries in the last decade.

- Moreover, the Middle East and some countries bordering Iran, today is riven by a series of overlapping conflicts along multiple fault lines, driven in good part by protracted government failures and exacerbated by interventionism outside meddling. Due to the complexity of political-security issues in the region, especially after the Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza wars and their effects on the Iran’s Near Abroad, Tehran policy makers more pay attention to the self-defense.

- The Persian Gulf, Levant and Central Asia region is the focus of Iran’s foreign-policy and defense strategy; it is considered part of Iran’s internal security. Therefore, if Iran desires advanced conventional weapons, it is for the purpose of providing for its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities or destroy itself.

2) Legal pleadings: refers to JPOA and UNSCRs.

Legally, the topic of missile program is not part of the interim accord reached in November 2013. It means that, the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) refers only to “addressing the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council’s consideration of this matter” and the formation of a “Joint Commission” which would “work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern”. So, the JPOA did not halt Iran's ballistic missile development. They referred only to possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program and to Iranian activities at Parchin.

On the other hand, Iran can legitimately question why it is being asked to undertake limits on its missile program.  Although UN Security Council resolutions have consistently raised Iran’s missile activities as a matter of concern, the P5+1 never raised the issue during talks on an interim agreement.  More importantly, past U.S. statements on the problem of the Security Council resolutions indicate that the administration had previously acknowledged that no agreement had been reached to negotiate on ballistic missiles and that it had not originally intended to press for discussions on the issue.

As a sovereign state situated in a challenging regional environment, Iran has legitimate defense needs, which ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads can help address.  However, there is nothing in international law that prevents Iran from doing so, so long as those missiles are not armed with weapons of mass destruction. As Charles Glaser – as one of the leading defensive realists– explains, “All else being equal, a state is more secure when it possesses the military capabilities required to protect its territory from attack. So, Iran is acting in a defensive manner to protect against conventional invasion. Contrary to most of countries, Iran has not invaded anybody for more than 250 years.

tags: iran missile nuclear

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