Iran sees nuclear weapons as necessary to deter a U.S. attack
[ Page 366 ]
From an Iranian perspective, possession of nuclear weapons makes sense for purely defensive purposes. While nuclear weapons cannot solve all of Iran's security problems, they can solve some, and in so doing might make dealing with the rest much easier. At the most extreme, Iran is unlikely to be able to deter a determined American military operation without a nuclear arsenal. This lesson has no doubt been driven home to the Iranians by the divergent experiences of Iraq and North Korea, the two other members of President George W. Bush's "axis of evil." North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, and so the United States has not attacked it and is being forced to engage with Pyongyang. Saddam Hussein's Iraq did not possess nuclear weapons-but was believed to be trying to acquire them-and so the United States was willing to invade and overturn the Baathist regime. It is hard to imagine that the leadership in Tehran did not see this as a very simple set of reinforcing conclusions: if you have nuclear weapons, the United States will not dare use force against you, but if you do not, you are vulnerable.
The primary motivation behind Iran's nuclear weapons program is its desire to defend itself from an attack. It is surrounded on all sides by enemies and has learned from the Iran-Iraq war that WMDs can be decisive in a conflict and from the U.S. invasion of Iraq that mere possesion of a nuclear weapon could deter similar efforts at regime change in Iran.