The Meaning of Iran’s Nuclear Weapon Program
The motivation behind Iran's nuclear weapon program, like all situations surrounding all nuclear weapons programs, is not about nuclear weapons.
It is about prestige, and it is about respect, both of which Iran believes it is entitled to, and neither of which it feels it sufficiently has.
Remember that Iranians are the inheritors of the great Persian civilization, of cultural treasures such as Rumi’s poetry or thirteen UNESCO World Heritage sites. Their empire once stretched from the Indus River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Fast forward nearly a millennium, and the descendents of this once mighty empire find their nation listed on the “Axis of Evil” by the world’s most powerful country, which then proceeds to invade and occupy a neighboring country, also on that Axis. Remember also that this same invading country, not half a century before, had overthrown Iranians’ democratically elected leader and replaced him with a ruthless tyrant, whose brutal regime sowed the seeds for the eventual takeover of power by an oligarchy of different, yet no less ruthless, despots.
The five most powerful countries have a weapon of unimaginable destructive power. No other country is allowed, by international law, to have them. To develop a nuclear weapon requires a country’s smartest scientists and a chunk of its wealth. What greater demonstration of a country’s resources, both human and capital, than the development of a nuclear weapon? If the world won’t give Iran the respect its Persian forbearers merit, then they will solicit the respect by other means, seemingly, necessary.
Nuclear weapon-yielding countries tried to persuade Iran to relinquish its nuclear capabilities by promising that they would enrich uranium for them. This solution, of course, is premised on the acceptance of Iran’s dubious claim that it was seeking nuclear power, only. It is also premised on Iran’s acceptance of promise by countries that have overthrown their regime in the past, and which are likely plotting similarly, if less overtly, today.
It does not help, of course, for Iran to have at its supposed (yet somewhat shallow) head, a less-than-bright bumpkin who scores domestic political points by lambasting against the West’s staunchest ally in the region and calling for its destruction, however vaguely veiled the rhetoric, or its translation, may be. It is certain, no matter how shocking or unbelievable this may seem to war-weary Israelis, that the Israel element is not a driving motivator in Iran's nuclear weapon program. It's just a handy distraction.
Red herrings such as the Iranian nuclear energy program, or Israel’s nuclear weapons capability, prevent us from finding a solution to the real aim of Iran’s nuclear weapon program: respect and prestige, from which flows influence and prosperity.
It is a dastardly shame, a mark of our collective embarrassment that, over 60 years since the destruction of Hiroshima, and nearly 40 years since countries agreed, by law, to eliminate them, that nuclear weapons are still perceived as the best guarantor of respect, prestige and influence. This is the fault of the only five legal nuclear weapon possessors, whose membership in the closed nuclear club is the only commonality behind their shared, coveted permanent seats on the Security Council.
With full, cognizant recognition that nuclear weapons are genocidal, ecocidal and, to a high degree, suicidal, it is time that world leaders heed the desperate calls from their populaces and find another, more modern and useful source of national prestige and respect.
It is possible that such 21st century leadership will not emanate from the same corners of the world that led the 20th century down such a horrifically self-destructive course. The countries that lead the way in renewable energy systems, in innovative education and technology, will express the insights, priorities and values that will earn it the respect of peoples the world over.
Nearly ten years of political posturing, both within Iran and without, over the issue of Iran's nuclear weapon program, have layered the issue with a multitude of complicating factors. For Iran to give up its program now would result in the exact opposite of its primary goal; Iran’s “capitulation” to the West would amount to losing face, not garnering respect.
The onus is perhaps on the peace-loving, forward-looking, globalized youth, whose own values and behaviors are free, in ways unprecedented from past generations, from provincial dictates and norms, enabled by, of course, the much-heralded new arsenal of social media tools. The Twitter revolutionaries of Egypt and Tunisia found global respect and admiration, not from their wielding 1950s technology or their savvy use of force. Until the leaders of all countries learn that respect and power no longer stem from the antiquated vectors of yesteryear, we may continue to ignore the true impetus of Iran’s nuclear program, at our collective peril.