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The Great Xenophobic Arms Race

Iran is openly expanding its nuclear capacity. As uranium enrichment continues to rise to higher levels, so too do the suspicions and fears of world powers like the United States and Israel. 

Dr. Uzi Arad, former National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, recently spoke at The School of Public Policy predicting a “Nuclear Iran” in as early as a year and a half.  The most accurate public policy decisions are made under the assumption of perfect knowledge, but in an imperfect and uncertain world, in what way can concerned nations proceed?  What are the potential strategic responses to Iran’s nuclear development program?

Dr. Arad argued that Iran needs to comply with the following measures: halt enrichment activities completely, transfer stockpiles of uranium out of Iran, eliminate certain suspicious facilities and allow for extensive, intrusive inspection regimes. If Iran fails to comply, Dr. Arad asserted that, “there is no middle ground for compromise.”[1]

Iran’s stance?  The Wall Street Journal recently released an article noting that Iranian officials are refusing to reduce or stop uranium enrichment below 20%.  According to the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, they are pursuing enrichment to meet the country’s need and “will not ask anyone permission to do so.”[2]

Uncertainty leads to aggressive military strategy, which may cause unintended negative repercussions.  Jacques E.C. Hymans argues in his more recent article, “Botching the Bomb,” that military intervention against a developing nation may cause nuclear experts within that country to commit themselves more firmly to nuclear weapons projects. Their reaction to international force could lead to a strengthening of nationalism and Western resentment.  Without violent intervention, specialists would otherwise be discouraged by the coercive and at times brutal managerial approaches of their political leaders.[3]

Military dismantlement of enrichment facilities, coupled with international pressure and sanctions, may slow the progression of nuclear development in Iran.  However, Iran is a challenging example of what is a more “universal” problem created by the civil and military applications of nuclear development.[4]  Other, more peaceful and potentially sustainable defence initiatives are suggested in Barzashaka and Oelrich’s paper, “Iran and nuclear ambiguity.”  Defence policy could focus on the development of stronger national defence systems, creating ceilings on uranium stockpiles, converting hexafluoride to oxide form (dismantling its potential use in weapons), and the creation of a uranium buyers’ cooperative that could be regulated by an international fuel bank.

As an ultimate policy initiative, the Non-Proliferation Treaty needs to refocus its emphasis from limiting the number of hands in which nuclear technology rests to disarming current nuclear arsenals altogether.   It’s time to implement policy that not only avoids discrimination and double standards, but also terminates the self-perpetuating cycle of military intervention in a nuclear arms race fueled by xenophobic terror.

*Jasmine Brown is a student in the Master of Public Policy program at The School of Public Policy (2011-2012 academic year)

[1] Dr. Uzi Arad, “Strategic Responses to a Nuclear Iran,” School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, video can be found at

[2]Farnaz Fassihi, “Hopes Dim for Nuclear Breakthrough with Iran,”  The Wall Street Journal.  28 May 2012, extracted 28 May 2012 from

[3] Jacques Hymans, “Botching the Bomb: Why Nuclear Weapons Programs Often Fail on Their Own-and Why Iran’s Might, Too,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2012.

[4] Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich, “Iran and nuclear ambiguity,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 25:1, 1-26.