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Iran’s Threat of Nuclear Technology: A Product of US Cold War Foreign Policy



           The Cold War era dramatically affected the way in which US presidents fashioned their foreign policy decisions. To this day, remnants of the Cold War period still subsist within current US foreign politics. Since the 1950s, Iran-US relations have been strained due to the US’s ineffective foreign policy in Iran that has consequently led to an increasingly unstable Iran. Although the US has been trying to do what is in its best interest, it has done the opposite as a recent New York Times article described Iran as carrying a defiant attitude towards nuclear talks. Iranian politicians are “urging the United States and other nations to accept Iranian nuclear ‘realities’” (Erdbrink). Since the US has carried out inflexible and inconsistent Cold War policies, they have only contributed to Iran’s instability that in return has created a more resilient and furious Iran. The US then responds to this resilience with more aggressive policies that inevitably lead to further destabilization in Iran. This cycle can be broken by understanding past Cold War policies in Iran that have not worked. Therefore, it must be recognized that it is impossible for such policies to work now as Iran develops nuclear technology.


             For the US government, Iran has long been seen as an unstable radical Islamic state, which in return has generated fear of Iran’s uncertain future. The US government feels the need to protect itself and its potentially affected ally, Israel, from the shadows of Iran. What needs to be understood is that the US itself during the Cold War era had created this current volatile state.  At any hint of communism, the US had felt the need to intervene into nations’ domains in order to protect their own interests. The government leapt at the chance to overthrow the Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, when he decided to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Behind the claim that nationalization of this company could lead to a socialist Iran, came a deeper motive for US and post World War II allies to retain control of essential oil reserves. The US was able to consolidate the power of the Shah who was meant to be a puppet for US interests in Iran. The CIA planned coup created instability in Iran by setting the stage for the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Shah weakened at increasing protests and was eventually exiled which led to the rise of the radical Islamist state under the Ayatollah Khomeini. If the US had tried to “find ways for cooperation with a country that is moving towards technological progress” been more tolerant to nations during the Cold War, instead of intervening through various operation, then the US could have avoided deep-seated animosity between Iran and other nations (Erdbrink). It is therefore reasonable to assume that the foreign policy directed towards Iran during the Cold War was ineffective in fulfilling US interests and, in reality, only destabilized Iran further.


             Inconsistency of Cold War tactics has lead to ineffective policies that further destabilize Iran. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter spoke out against the violations of human rights in Iran and review the arms sales to the Shah. Rarely during the Cold War era has democracy been truly triumphant, yet by supporting human rights Carter was taking a step towards securing democratic values. However, contradictory to his previous statements, Carter soon reverted back to upholding supposed US interests. He “even called Iran an island of stability and praised the Shah as an enlightened ruler who justly deserved his people’s love and admiration” (Combs 348). These contradictions in American foreign policy during the Cold War could be a probable cause of why Iranian leaders feel that they “hold the upper hand in negotiations” since the US constantly wavers between democracy and self-interest and an resolute foreign policy towards Iran has failed to emerge in the past (Erdbrink). Further instability in Iran occurred when Carter allowed self-interest to rule by allowing the Shah to come into the US for medical assistance. The Ayatollah in return captured the US embassy in Iran and held hostage fifty-three Americans for almost a year.  The hostages “became a symbol of Americas growing peril and impotence in the Persian Gulf” (Coser 349).  This shows the foundation of instability and ineffective Cold War foreign policy that has led to the current radical Islamic state the US is troubled with.


             The Iran-Contra activities of the 1980s bought together two unlikely countries, Iran and Nicaragua, to create another mess or ineffectiveness of Cold War policy that was sure to backfire against the US in later years. Both countries at the time threated US interests—Iran under radical Islamist rule and Nicaragua undergoing a socialist movement— so they were played against each other. The US backed the contras because of the fear of potential spread of socialism throughout Latin America. This fear of communist resemblance ignored the possible effects of giving weapons to Iran for the containment of communism. Moreover, the US backed contras brutal tactics “seemed to merely strengthen sympathies for the Sandinista regime within Nicaragua” which once again contradicted the US’s main goals (Coser 377). Although the US hoped sales of arms to Iran would release some of the hostages, looking back, did it really make sense to donate arms to an increasingly unstable radical Islamic government?  Giving weapons to Iran, ignoring the fact that US gave the money from the sales to the contra, provided Iran with tools that could be used against the US. This would be an extremely ineffective policy in trying to protect US interests and in trying to control as well as create a stable Iran. One Iranian official might be right when he states that if the US wants constructive negotiations, it better come “with a new strategy and credible proposals” rather than using the same cold war tactics that have been used in the Iran-contra scandal which have deemed ineffective (Erdbrink).


           Through examples from Cold War history, it is obvious that the US administration’s tactics towards Iran have not only been ineffective and contradictory but have caused so much instability in Iran it has led to increasing threats from Iran to the US and its allies. The US is currently trying to deter Iran’s potential building of nuclear weapons through sanctions and other types of aggressive action. The issue, however, is that these sanctions mostly effect the Iranian people rather than the directed target, Ayatollah Khomeini and his top advisors. Iran’s leaders have been more confident and defiant that they can “withstand any hardships the West impose” so it is clear US implanted hardships to Iran have not stopped these leaders from emerging as influential components that threaten international stability (Erdbrink). Iran’s leaders feel that they, not the West, hold the upper hand at negotiations and have said, “ the West has no option but stopping to threaten Iran and reduce sanctions” (Erdbrink). If the Ayatollah hadn’t listened to a hardliner approach in the past, it is impossible that sanctions could work now against Iran. Moreover, although a sale of arms to Iran wasn’t a hardliner foreign policy, it gave mixed signals to Iran, which is ineffective as well.


     Consistency in American foreign policy is key to global successes for future presidents. It could make Iran’s Ayatollah less confident if the US held true to its word. Furthermore, the US must budge and make realistic compromises, rather than trying to fulfill its interests through covert actions. The ineffectiveness of short-term stability that the US created with its Cold War polices towards Iran need to come to a staggering halt.  A balance must be made between fulfilling US self-interest and preserving American democracy. It is obvious that Iran has held true to its ideologies, and the US must do the same. Otherwise, the New York Times article might be right when it states that “there can only be one winner and one loser… no compromise” which could lead to an increasingly unstable global arena.


Works Cited



Combs, Jerald A. The History of American Foreign Policy from 1895. 4th ed. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2012. Print.


Erdbrink, Thomas. "Iran Enters Nuclear Talks in a Freshly Defiant Mood." New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Feb. 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/world/middleeast/iran-enters-nuclear-talks-in-a-defiant-mood.html>.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.