Iran needs greater economic security

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned the world against a nuclear capable Iran this week in his address to the United Nations, according to Foreign Policy Journal. Netanyahu, like many in the international community, believe that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against Israel because the country views Israel as an illegitimate Jewish state in a predominantly Arab region.

Victoria Cuthbertson | Daily Trojan

Victoria Cuthbertson | Daily Trojan


Nuclear weapons are undoubtedly dangerous. Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling wrote in his 1966 book, Arms and Influence, “Nuclear weapons make it possible to do monstrous violence to the enemy without first achieving victory […] Victory is no longer a prerequisite for hurting the enemy […] One need not wait until he has won the war before inflicting ‘unendurable’ damages on his enemy.”

The late Kenneth Waltz wrote extensively on the subject of Iran, the bomb and structural stability. In an article for the Foreign Affairs Journal titled “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” Waltz argued that the Islamic republic wants to get the nuclear weapons not for nefarious attacks on neighbors of different faiths, but to ensure its own survival in the increasingly militarized and westernized Middle East. As John Mearsheimer writes in his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, a nuclear bomb is a deterrent, a last resort weapon that ensures that one country will not attempt to wipe out the other for fear of nuclear reprisal. In effect, the bomb acts as insurance against a Western attack. And with the history of American involvement in the region over the past decade, Iran’s fear of Western invasion is legitimate.

Iran needs their weapons at this point because they have been isolated from the international community and cannot ensure a place for itself in the Middle East through other means. The West has imposed sanctions on Iran, but not to the point where Iran would give up its nuclear ambition.

According to the Brookings Institution, the sanctions hurt Iran and disconnect Iranian oil from parts of the world, but they cannot do enough damage to stop Iran from developing a bomb. In Foreign Affairs, Waltz writes,“If Tehran determines that its security depends on possessing nuclear weapons, sanctions are unlikely to change its mind. In fact, adding still more sanctions now could make Iran feel even more vulnerable, giving it still more reason to seek the protection of the ultimate deterrent.” Indeed, the sanctions have prevented Iran from developing serious economic ties to the rest of the world. Leslie Gelb, the President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in his 2010 article “GDP Now Matters More Than Force,” that connections to the global marketplace matter more to countries than the ability to defend themselves. Iran has the ability to become a significant oil exporter, given that it has the fourth largest reserves of crude oil in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. There would be little reason for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon if it had the ability to sell its oil on a world stage, bring foreign entrepreneurs into the country and become economically connected to the Middle East and the world. Financially, it would make no sense for the West to attack Iran if the country made up a significant portion of regional or world trade. Since this path is not open to Iran under current sanctions, Iran must fall back on trying to create a nuclear weapon.

Instead of looking to squash Iranian nuclear ambitions through an economic deterrent, the world should transition the focus from nuclear security to economic security. By lifting sanctions and giving the Iranian people the ability to buy and sell products on the world market, the resulting wealth through integration into world markets would give Iran an economic disincentive to jeopardize its ties to the world. If the Iranian people see their country become more open and integrated into the world, than the emphasis in Iran might shift from nuclear proliferation to economic prosperity because the benefits of growth and economic security outweigh nuclear security.

Israel has the right to be scared of a nuclear Iran, just as Iran has the right to be afraid of Western attack. Alleviating both of these fears, however, will require a new approach that transitions Iran from reliance on physical security to economic interdependence.


Dan Morgan-Russell is a sophomore majoring in international relations (global business). His column “Going Global” runs Mondays.

Follow Dan on Twitter @ginger_breaddan

7 replies
  1. Change Iran Now
    Change Iran Now says:

    Iran has consciously used sanctions to bludgeon its own people to make points with the global press. While its people can’t access capital, Iran offers a $3.6 billion credit line to Syria. While its people can’t find employment, Iran builds and operates 5,000 new centrifuges to enrich uranium and while hyperinflation wracks the economy, Iran dabbles in credit swaps to bolster its support for Hezbollah and now Hamas. Rouhani, a career hardliner, speaks of moderation, but ultimately Iran must demonstrate its commitment to advancing peace not by making demands on the world like it did under Ahmadinejad, but take steps to release political prisoners, halt public executions, restore open Internet access to social media, restore shuttered opposition media, prohibit the moral police from abusing women and step back from its support of foreign ventures in Syria. Economic sanctions can be quickly lifted if Iran’s leaders, especially Khamenei, took some of these steps, but I am not hopeful of such a change in direction, which is why these new sanctions are important to keep the pressure on. If you want to see what I mean, check out Rouhani’s career highlights at

  2. Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich
    Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich says:

    You should also note in your future writings that Iran is not suicidal. A country that has managed to survive inflicted war, coup attempt (1980 Nojeh coup), sanctions,terrorism, etc., is not about to develop a bomb and attack Israel with over 200 nuclear weapons and America’s nuclear arsenal to boost. Also remember that the well-being of Palestinians is the corner stone of their policy . How likely is it that they would kill them with a bomb?? Your point about economic prosperity is spot on. Try to disassociate your thinking and logic from the mainstream lies – I think you are capable.

  3. Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich
    Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich says:

    Kudos, Dan. I hope you always keep up with this spirit. It is doubtful that Iran wants nuclear weapons. They don’t need it . During the 1980-88 war, they were fighting not just Iraq, but almost the entire world . Washington and allies not only helped Saddam with satellite targeting, but gave weapons including chemical weapons. The war happened when the Shah’s military was virtually dissolved, with high ranking officials on the run or dead. yet, the world did not managed to defeat Iran. Now, they are far better situated, stronger, with almost triple the population mostly of military age. They don’t need a bomb. Only the cowardly adversaries of Iran do.

    • Arafat
      Arafat says:

      “During the 1980-88 war, they were fighting not just Iraq, but almost the entire world .”

      Soryaya, your propensity for hyperbole is only matched by your affinity of misinformation.

  4. Arafat
    Arafat says:

    “Instead of looking to squash Iranian nuclear ambitions through an economic deterrent, the world should transition the focus from nuclear security to economic security.”

    Another grand rationalization with no basis in reality.

    The truth is that Islam is a deterrent to economic security, economic stability and economic prosperity.

    Even countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait – all countries drowning in oil – lag behind the only non-Muslim country in the region (Israel) thanks to Islam’s retrograde influence.

  5. Arafat
    Arafat says:

    “Iran needs their weapons at this point because they have been isolated from the international community and cannot ensure a place for itself in the Middle East through other means.”

    Talk about a grand rationalization. Simply remarkable.

    Iran is isolated not because of what others do to it, but because of it. It, Iran, is not interested in normal relations with others, Dan. Iran is a theocratic dictatorship that is interested in rebuilding a Shiite caliphate, Dan. Read their mouths when their imams speak, Dan, and they will tell you this loudly and clearly.

    Not everything is America’s fault, Dan. Muslims are not killing off Buddhists in Southern Thailand, Hindus in Pakistan, Animists in Sudan because of American policies but because Islam’s core tenets include the goal of ruling the world. If you don’t believe me then read the Quran instead.

  6. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    Dan Morgan-Russell writes a nicely-reasoned article and cites famous international affairs expert Kenneth Waltz, whose writings I studied years ago while getting my BA and MA in international relations at USC. Their chain of logic makes sense, if one condition exists: That Iran is, and will be governed by a national authority that is rational and most concerned with Iranian national interests.

    But if that government is a theocracy with fanatical messianic views, they may not follow a path that is very rational. For example, they might argue that a nuclear strike against Israel would destroy it and that God would protect Iran against any Israeli counterstrike. Perhaps such a leadership would believe that the religious merit of destroying Israel was so holy, so sacred, so blessed by God, that His protection would insure that Iran only prospers and would not suffer at all any military consequences.

    Sound crazy to you? Would you bet that leaders like the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, would not believe this and order a strike? Or that another President like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would not initiate hostilities with Israel leading to an Iranian nuclear strike?

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