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Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions and Political Theory


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Political liberalism emphasizes the effectiveness of diplomacy and cooperation to solve international problems. Under the principle of liberalism, countries’ interactions to solve shared problems can result in mutually beneficial resolutions. Contrastingly, liberalism’s counterpart, political realism, emphasizes the maintenance and use of power in a country’s domestic and international agendas. Stressing countries’ individual struggles for power, realism argues that solutions to shared problems will result in outcomes that benefit one country (or some countries) more than others. While interesting, political theory also serves a purpose in understanding and evaluating potential outcomes in international relations. The ongoing Iranian nuclear issue is a prime example of using political theory to understand the potential outcomes of the international community’s dealings with Iranian leadership.

Although the world is comprised of almost 200 countries and several nations that have not yet attained statehood, it is undeniable that economic and social globalization have resulted in a sense of globalism, wherein global citizenry shares goals despite different state affiliations and nationalities. Consequently, it is understandable why states, working under the umbrella of various intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations (UN), favor liberalist actions. When countries and/or nations share at least one common goal, it is advantageous to work together to achieve results. While the altruistic medium of dealing with potentially catastrophic issues seems to be favored by the current American administration, it is questionable–after numerous unsuccessful diplomatic initiatives–whether political liberal methods will yield desirable results in dealings with Iran.

Despite stalled efforts to resolve the Iran nuclear issue, things began to look up in early 2012 when the United States and other powers announced that talks with Iran would commence. As the liberal approach was implemented, a stark difference from realist sanctions and talks of military action against Iran, international outlook was hopeful. The first round of talks, held in Istanbul, in April ended with Iranian officials appearing more flexible and open to compromise. Despite promise of resolution, May discussions in Baghdad concluded without reaching an agreement and left some questioning the viability of compromise.

The Baghdad discussions stalled with Iran demanding an easing of economic sanctions and recognition of its right to enrich uranium. The six other countries present at the conference, including the United States, wanted Iran to freeze its production of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity. While no concrete agreement was reached, the countries left talks claiming to have a better understanding of each others’ position and agreeing to reconvene for June discussions in Moscow.

Although resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue cannot be expected overnight, it does not appear that much is being accomplished in current talks. After two rounds of negotiations and a third round set to commence this month, there is no concrete evidence of results. This raises the question of whether a liberal approach to resolving the Iranian nuclear quagmire is possible. Although a realist approach, such as military action, may not be the answer to solving the Iranian nuclear issue, it is becoming increasingly clear that “negotiations” between Iran and the international community may be nothing more than smoke and mirrors, with all countries involved out for their own selfish interests and not invested in compromising. Despite the guise of liberal action, it is plausible that all countries involved are operating under realist agendas.

Also important to assess is whether or not Iran is invested in negotiations and wholeheartedly interested in compromise. While liberal tactics of diplomacy and compromise can be effective, the only way to yield positive results is when all parties involved are rational actors. While many argue Iran is irrational because of its violation of the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and continued efforts to advance its nuclear program despite international sanctions and condemnation, the international community has to entertain the possibility that Iran is simply an unwavering realist actor looking to acquire and maintain its power through an advanced nuclear program–not a far cry from many western powers’ tactics.



Allison Kushner
Allison Kushner

Allison Kushner received three undergraduate degrees from Boston University and a Master's degree in Middle Eastern Security and Diplomacy Studies from Tel Aviv University. She has spent time living and traveling throughout Europe, the Middle East, and China. A former political speechwriter, Allison has taught college level Political Science and International Relations in the U.S. and China. She continues to be engaged in public speaking activities at home and abroad.

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