The Security Dilemma of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Although there are numerous examples in which states have successfully cooperated with one another with little to no conflict, state cooperation is generally extremely difficult to ensure and isn’t always smooth sailing. There are various factors that play into how well or poor cooperation goes between states. Scholars have various theories to explain why cooperation is so difficult.

Although many reasons were discussed throughout the course, one obstacle that has remained constant and difficult for states to overcome is trust. Considering that international relations generally follow a very realist type playing field for interactions, states have a very difficult time trusting one another. This is mainly due to this theory’s idea that states act out of selfishness to protect themselves due to the international anarchic structure. Since states function in anarchy, there is no central authority to force and ensure cooperation or follow through. This anarchy produces the selfish and protective nature in states that ultimately enforces a perpetual Security Dilemma. The security dilemma is where nations seek their own security through means that can threaten another nations security. Although the security dilemma can be avoided and resolved, this typically acts as an obstacle for state cooperation.

A relatively long but current issue that serves as a prime example in which these particular points interfere with cooperation is in the case study of the ongoing talks with the United States over Iran’s nuclear program. A security dilemma acts as the main obstacle preventing cooperation, of course among many other smaller factors. Iran began a nuclear program that the United States felt threatened by and responded by putting sanctions on Iran. This greatly effected Iran’s economy and threatened the Iranian government. This gives Iran even more incentive to strive for militaristic nuclear capabilities, although there is not 100% evidence to clarify whether or not they have been building such capabilities in response to the United States. However, it is clear the Iran did feel threatened by the United States actions and continued to build its nuclear programs.

This security dilemma reflects a lack of trust on both sides. For instance, in this BBC article, Amir Paviar notes in his analysis that many US Congress members believe that after a recent decision to extend talks that the Iranian government was simply attempting to buy more time to strengthen the country economically. It is extremely difficult to cooperate when every move made is under scrutiny and doubted. However, it seems as though the security dilemma of this situation is recognized, and possibly attempted to be avoided furthermore. David E. Sanger from the New York Times explains how President Obama is trying to progress cooperation by threatening to veto any bill passed by congress that puts more sanctions on Iran out of “fear they will undermine chances for a deal that he believes would be a more lasting solution than permanent sanctions or military action against Iran’s nuclear sites.” It is obvious that a security dilemma is one of the main issues affecting cooperation, and this instance shows an effort of attempting to overcome it.

As previously discussed, the realist interactions between states contributes a lot to their inability to successfully cooperate. M.J.S. from The Economist uses Robert Einhorn’s perspective to show how Iran “fails the realism test at several levels.” This is due to it’s ability to receive fuels from Russia or the uranium-enriched market. This realist understanding of the situation makes cooperation very difficult, and trust impossible. The United States sees Iran acting out of self-interest and perceives it’s ultimate goal to absorb more power militarily. This is a very important resource to realists who see this as a countries best way to protect itself.

State cooperation is no walk in the park and can prove to be very challenging for all parties involved. The US-Iran negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program proves as a perfect case study to illustrate some of the very common obstacles states face when seeking cooperation. The lack of trust, selfish perception of states, and constant security dilemma prove to be the underlying causes in this particular case prohibiting the two from more positive negotiations.


3 thoughts on “The Security Dilemma of Iran’s Nuclear Program

    • Hello,

      Personally I like to keep my academics and personal political ideas as separate as possible, but I do think that my post provides a strong argument when understanding why the United States (and Iran) have so much trouble cooperating on this issue. I think that recognizing what is prohibiting both parties from successful cooperation is necessary and a strategic opportunity for both governments to move forward.


  1. I agree that they need trust each other to corporate, but I think it is impossible to corporate by positive negotiation because they definitely have three main factors which make negotiation fail: Asymmetric information, Commitment problem, and indivisible issue. First, Iran is not a democratic country. Even though they have president, presidents are not powerful as the chief of religious department. Therefore, Iran is not open nation, and it cause “asymmetric information.” In addition, at diplomacy presidents and prime ministers change once a while, and it has huge risk to commitment problem. At last, in this negotiation we can’t see the win-win result. If Iran makes nuclear, Iran is the winner, but if they don’t, they are the losers. This negotiation is 0% or 100%, and it is impossible to divide their benefits into two.


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