IPCS Discussion: Troubling Tehran & Reflections on Geopolitics

09 May, 2013    ·   3924

Portia B Conrad reports on the discussion of the book, 'Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics'

Portia B. Conrad
Portia B. Conrad
Research Intern

The discussion was based on the book, 'Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics', edited by Dr. Arun Vishwanathan and Prof. Rajaram Nagappa.

Prof. Rajaram Nagappa and Dr. Arun Vishwanathan

The “heart of the book” was the ‘lack of trust’. The theme of the book encompassed the idea of mastering over capabilities and not acquiring difficult technology. The question that is posed by the international community here is how to deal with Iran. This can be assessed from the West’s relations with Iran which has swung from one end of the spectrum to the other. In the pre-1979 context, there were very close linkages between the West including the US with Iran. The US and the French decision to sell nuclear reactors and arms is an attestation of the close relationship. Following the revolution the situation has changed drastically. However, a closer look at the situation does bring out that the situation is not so black and white. There have been instances like the contra affair (where Israel, US and Iran collaborated) and the 1979 collaboration between Iran and Israel to attack the Osirak reactor before the successful bombing of the reactor in 1980 by Israel.

Why is the Iran issue so complex?
a. One of the reasons is that there is a lack of consensus between the major actors on the nature of the Iranian violation in terms of its obligations under the NPT.
b. Another reason why the whole issue is so complex is because of the fact that there are differences on how to deal with Iran whether is by way of economic sanctions (how far does one go with this, there are differences here too b/w China-Russia and the West; UNSC sanctions only or bilateral targeted sanctions like targeting Iran’s oil sector.)
c. Going to war or launching targeted strikes are another divisive factor especially given Iran’s facilities are dispersed; hardened as they are located underground and more importantly because of Iran’s military and missile capabilities.

Thus, Iran’s capabilities can be summarized as first, military capabilities: Fairly large and well trained, The Iranians have a well developed military industrial base and have managed to keep its arms in a ready condition either through cannibalisation or through indigenisation. Second, asymmetric capabilities: Iran has thought about employing its asymmetric capabilities too whether it is in form of the midget submarines, attacking Saudi oil hubs, closing the Strait of Hormuz or mine the strait. Finally, Missile capabilities are another front it could excel in.

What the responses have been is also an interesting side to this issue. Sanctions: Since 1979 they have been under one of other kind of sanction. Now with the targeting of the Iranian oil sector it has targeted a sector which can actually hurt the regime as crude exports are the largest foreign exchange earner for Iran. How effective have the sanction been is another question. It has not caused the widespread disaffection against the regime. However the public at large has been put into problem with the rise of prices (inflation) and the fall of trial. Again, assassination of key scientists: this can cause problem for safeguard implementation with newer people taking over who are not familiar to the IAEA inspectors. Also, the Stuxnet attacks: Though a new way, the Iranian replacement of the damaged centrifuges makes it clear that they have achieved mastery over this rather difficult technology.

Dr. Manpreet Sethi
The book is a useful contribution by squarely placing the issue of ‘Troubling Tehran’ in India’s foreign policy matrix. Written by a set of Indian scholars from diverse backgrounds and one Iranian journalist, it brings together individual perspectives that contribute to the richness of the discussion in the book. After critically analyzing the book, certain concepts were missing and some insights were incomplete. One view that could be covered was India using Iran to enter Afghanistan and Central Asia. The other idea that could be covered was the thought of a more nuclearised region in order to predict a possible future of non-proliferation.  Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia on nuclear issues could also be highlighted. The perspective on Iran trusting India based on traditional relations as a facilitator was not covered either. While balancing the power play, especially with respect to China and Russia, the impact on India could have been included.

Nearly all chapters of the book mention India’s dependence for oil on Iran, and it is a common recommendation that India should reduce this dependence by diversifying its energy sources. However, by looking at oil as the primary reason for India’s interest in Iran, the book appears one-dimensional. The book should be seen as the beginning of a more serious consideration of the future of Iran and the region by the Indian strategic community. Other scholars should pick up from the book to further provide considered policy inputs to the government.

Prof. Anwar Alam
The foundation of the book lies in the ‘lack of trust’. Religious states are essentially irrational actors. What will happen if Iran becomes nuclear? So far preventing Iran was the general motive but now modernity has taken place and hence the approach has changed. In the last 2000 years Iran has not indulged into any attack. Iran has never had any historical aspiration to be a nuclear state. The quest for nuclear weapons was never there. Why does Iran need nuclear weapon it has abundance of nuclear energy and oil? For instance if Israel is taken as an example in order to assess its evolution as a nuclear power, Iran is clean in that context. There is a paradox that has been highlighted which is a result of a discourse set by the West. The preparedness of Iran for the war is well predicted in the book.