- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Iran: Domestic Politics and Nuclear Choices

Shahram Chubin


This chapter examines the domestic sources and dynamics of Iran’s nuclear program and the implications for Iran’s future political orientation.

Main Arguments

Domestic concerns drive Iran’s nuclear program and will determine the program’s direction. International pressure will stimulate domestic debate and reappraisal of the regime’s plan of action, yet whether such pressure will change Iran’s nuclear trajectory before enrichment is mastered remains uncertain. The manner in which the nuclear issue is resolved will determine Iran’s future path, both domestically and internationally.

Policy Implications

  • Keeping a UN coalition intact entails a slow diplomatic pace. If UN sanctions prove inadequate, the U.S. may need to build a broad informal coalition, carefully coordinating with European and Asian states.
  • A technical solution to the nuclear issue may necessitate the U.S. devising a comprehensive package to address the broader issues of Iran’s "behavior change." Calling for a "regime change" will not encourage Iran to be flexible. Stimulating a fundamental reappraisal of the program within Iran requires both raising the foreign policy costs of such a program and offering generous incentives to make critics of current policy more credible domestically.
  • If Iran persists with enrichment, the U.S. will need a containment and deterrence strategy, which would imply closer cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council states as well as with Russia and European countries.
  • Although a "squeeze" strategy is more effective than confrontation, the U.S. would best be prepared for regional fallout from exercising an ultimate military strike option.
  • The major Asian states are affected by Iran’s nuclear ambitions to differing degrees. Major economic investments in Iran from Asia, however, will not likely be forthcoming until the nuclear issue is resolved.