Iran's Drones Are Getting Deadlier by the Day
Key Question: Why Is Iran developing such deadly weapons?
Unlike Iran’s nuclear program, the country’s arsenal of ballistic missiles has received only scant scholarly attention. At best, some highly technical analyses have been offered. At worst, the missiles have been considered only as part of the nuclear project, designed to carry nuclear warheads. However, the missile program is a complex and sophisticated response to Iran’s unique security challenges, and should be analyzed on its own.
The signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015 has made this task more urgent. With the nuclear program rolled back, Iran’s missiles have become a new target of international attention. The ballistic program is run by the Revolutionary Guards, which has been subject to numerous sanctions because of its alleged terror activities.
The focus is especially intense in Washington, where the Obama administration’s drive to conclude the nuclear accord was divisive. For instance, some critics urged imposing a new round of sanctions on Iran to curb its missile program. Others suggested using American anti–ballistic missile defense capabilities in the region to target Iranian ballistic trials. According to this rational, denying the Revolutionary Guards the ability to test missiles would disrupt its research and development opportunities.
Both courses of action have potentially far-reaching consequences. Slapping more sanctions may prompt Tehran to abrogate the JCPOA. Intercepting the missiles of a sovereign country violates international law and may lead to a huge conflagration in the Middle East and beyond. Given the high-level stakes of these policies, an analysis of Iran’s rationale for developing its ballistic arsenal is in order.
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Intentional-relations theory indicates that the decisions that drive the proliferation of nuclear weapons are quite similar to those that prompt the quest for a ballistic-missile program. Both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are instruments of power that may be used as deterrent or compellent threats. They both serve to enhance the security of a state through raw power. As John Mearsheimer, a leading realist theorist, put it, states always strive to maximize their power over their rivals, with hegemony as their ultimate objective.
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