Sunday, 17 March 2013

Iranian-Western Relations Part 2

This is part 2 of a 4 part series on Iranian-Western relations. In part 1 we documented some of the background to the modern day crisis, and in part 2 we look at the events up until the modern day, with particular focus on Iran’s nuclear programme, and whether Iran is attempting to move towards nuclear weapons.

After the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh and the installation of the Shah in his place, Iran was ruled as a dictatorship and a western client state for the next 26 years. As noted before, suppressing legitimate demands for democracy tends to empower extremist elements, and the situation in Iran was no different. In 1979 Shiite radicals rose up and overthrew the Shah, taking over the nuclear programme that had been started under the Shah and infamously invading the US embassy, leading to the hostage crisis dramatised in the 2012 film ‘Argo’. The tragedy of the Iranian revolution is that Iran had come close to a semblance of national independence and democracy in 1953, but radical measures were taken by the West to cripple this possibility. Independence was eventually achieved in 1979; at the price of living under one of the harshest theocratic regimes in the Middle East.

The ayatollahs have ruled Iran from 1979 to the modern day: the current Supreme Leader of Iran is Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, and the President is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The current focus on Iran concerns its alleged nuclear weapons programme, and anyone who follows the news will no doubt have come across the debate over whether or not the US, Israel (and possibly Britain) should launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to prevent them getting a bomb. The immediate question to be asked is: is Iran moving towards nuclear weapons?

This question is oft ignored in the mainstream discussion; it is taken for granted that Iran is moving towards nuclear weapons, or nuclear weapons capability (the capacity to quickly build nuclear weapons if need be), and that its peaceful nuclear programme is a fa├žade for this darker motive. However given what we know about the lead-up to the Iraq war, the distortions, half-truths and lies (to name one of many, the claim that Saddam had bought uranium from Niger turned out to be false- , it would take great amnesia to uncritically accept Mr Romney and Mr Obama’s assertions that Iran is moving towards weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s body for monitoring nuclear sites and ensuring enriched uranium and plutonium isn't transferred to military uses, publishes regular reports on Iran’s nuclear programme. In 2011 and 2012 the Western media have jumped on the agency’s reports, claiming they document ‘damning evidence’ against Iran (see for example this Telegraph article- However a look under the headlines leads us to be a little more sceptical. Robert Kelley, Director of the IAEA’s Iraq Action Team in the run up to the Iraq War and with 30 years of experience in nuclear studies, wrote an article published by the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute at the beginning of last year ( writing that whilst it is accepted that Iran was attempting to acquire nuclear weapons up until 2003, by the 2007 'US [intelligence] agencies concluded ‘with high confidence’ that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in late 2003 under international pressure’. He described the ‘new’ evidence in the 2011 report as ‘sketchy’, and claimed that ‘all but three of the items that were offered as proof of a possible nuclear weapons programme are either undated or refer to events before 2004’. Furthermore the evidence the report relies upon for claims that Iran is trying to create a ‘device to produce a burst of neutrons that could initiate a fission chain reaction’ comes from a 2-page document passed to the IAEA in 2009, which was dismissed by the then-head Mohamed ElBaradei as a forgery.

The new IAEA stance towards Iran coincides with the arrival of a head of the agency, Yukiya Amano. Amano was supported by the US in the election process and has been accused by several former IAEA officials of a pro-Western bias in his judgments ( Wikileaks have released cables from US diplomats who claim that Amano is ‘solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program’ (document available here- Hans Blix, who was head of the IAEA in the run up to the Iraq War and warned at the time that Iraq probably didn’t have nuclear weapons, has claimed recently that ‘there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons’ ( This all gives us reason to be sceptical of the IAEA’s new stance on Iran. Indeed, the IAEA continues to monitor most Iranian nuclear facilities, Iran seems to be keeping its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium below the level needed for a bomb (, and the US’ National Intelligence Director said recently that if Iran were to attempt to move towards a bomb then the US and/or IAEA would pick up on it ( Israel’s intelligence services recently put back the date that they think Iran could achieve a bomb by to 2015/16 (; interestingly, Israel has been claiming Iran are a few years away from a bomb nearly every year since 1992 (

All of this is not to say that Iran certainly is not attempting to move towards nuclear weapons capability; they may well be. Indeed, assuming the Iranian regime is what international relations scholars call a ‘rational actor’ in the world system, it would in many ways be rational for Iran to attain a bomb. A hostile power, the US, has 42+ military bases surrounding Iran (, has recently invaded two neighbouring countries (Iraq and Afghanistan), and Iran have their facilities attacked with cyber bugs and scientists killed in the streets ( As noted in the major establishment journal Foreign Affairs, Qaddafi was overthrown by the US a while after he agreed to abandon his nuclear programme, and North Korea is now more or less safe from invasion after achieving nuclear weapons status ( But there doesn’t appear to be sufficient evidence to prove Iran are moving towards weapons yet, contrary to the dominant narrative in mainstream discourse.

The next post (which will be up in around 10 days) will examine the options for engaging Iran, and assuming it is moving towards a nuclear weapon, how to avoid that eventuality.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Iranian-Western Relations Part 1

This blog is derived from two things: a friend’s radio show that I appeared on to talk about the history of Western-Iranian relations up to the modern day (, and something I wrote a week ago in an attempt to get an interview for an editorial position at the Warwick Globalist. It is part 1 of a 3-part series on Iran, the first giving the background to today’s headlines, and the second discussing the modern day Western-Iranian predicament.

In 1953 Mohammed Mossadegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, a popular left-of-centre figure who wanted to nationalise the vast oil reserves of Iran, and distribute the riches amongst the Iranian people (today Iran is estimated to possess the 4th largest proven reserves of oil- and the second largest reserves of natural gas- according to the CIA). At the time Western oil companies, most prominently the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, later British Petroleum, or BP), had majority control over Iranian oil, and reaped most of the profits. Award winning journalist and former writer for the New York Times Stephen Kinzer writes that ‘just 16% of the money it earned selling the country’s oil’ (Stephen Kinzer ‘Overthrow’, 2006, pp. 117) went to Iran. At the time, Iran was undergoing a shift in the political landscape, with growing demands for national control over the resources the country was resting upon. The UK’s reaction to this was illustrated strikingly by a British diplomat: ‘We English have hundreds of years of experience on how to treat the natives. Socialism is all right back home, but out here you have to be the master’ (Kinzer pp.118).

The British- at the time under the premiership of Winston Churchill- considered ‘bribing Mossadegh, assassinating him, and launching a military invasion of Iran’ (Kinzer pp.119),  but settled on overthrowing him instead, documented in detail by historian Ervand Abrahamian (see his article ‘The 1953 Coup in Iran’ in Science and Society, 2001, 65 (2), pp. 182-215 for an overview). When propaganda, inciting demonstrations by Shia fundamentalists (see Mark Curtis ‘Secret Affairs’, 2012, pp. 45-54), and economic leverage failed to topple the Mossadegh government, MI6 turned to the United States, and the CIA. From then on, it was only a matter of time before Mossadegh fell; ‘economic shocks’, working ‘through local Nazis’ and having a ‘direct role in kidnappings, assassinations, torture and mass street killings’ (Abrahamian pp. 184) eventually forced him out, and the Western-friendly Shah was installed in his place. After the coup, 54% of the shares of the resulting oil consortium went to British companies, 40% to American, and 6% to the French. The British and Americans had directly orchestrated a coup to overthrow an elected leader, Mohammed Mossadegh; a leader who was described by President Truman’s ambassador to Iran as having ‘the backing of 95 to 98 percent of the population’ (Kinzer pp.123). The repressive monarch, the Shah, was installed in Mossadegh’s place, to act as a pliant puppet regime.

Throughout the Foreign Office documents from the time, emphasis is placed on ‘control’ of the oil reserves, and this illustrates an essential point in International Relations: the key geo-political aim is not access to resources, but control over them. More or less anyone can secure access to resources (Russia trades oil and natural gas with Europe and America), but control is where the real power lies. Only then do you reap the profits yourself, and gain the political power that comes from having control over the flow of the resources. Abrahamian references a Foreign Office document where the British Ambassador to the US said that ‘it is necessary for the UK to maintain control’ (FO 371/Persia 1951/91470 in Abrahamian); a theme common in the documents. Also worth noting is the role the American press played in the coup; newspapers ran a campaign of propaganda against Mossadegh, regularly describing him as a dictator, and contributing to a climate of hatred which helped legitimise his overthrow (although at the time it was unknown that it was carried out by the US and UK).

After the coup, the Shah ruled Iran as an oppressive dictatorship for 26 years, until the Iranian revolution of 1979 overthrew the dictator and replaced him with a new breed of theocratic Shia fundamentalists. Another lesson in international politics is that stifling of people’s legitimate demands for democracy and national independence has a tendency to foster fundamentalism as people become more desperate and incensed by their situation. One of the unique aspects of this particular coup is that it is possible to at least mention it in the mainstream (though not nearly enough). Barack Obama, for instance, acknowledged in his famous 2009 Cairo speech that “the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government” ( Today, Mossadegh is a hero in Iran- akin to what Churchill is to the British. Ironically, Churchill’s government overthrew the democratic government in Iran, not the other way around; a more or less secret history that may sound bizarre to many of us.  

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


I have decided to embark on a journey into the dark and, for me, little-understood world of blogging. The decision to delve into this crowded arena was taken for two reasons: mainly so that my thoughts, research and discoveries in the universe of international politics could be recorded, and act as an 'extended mind' for myself, as philosopher David Chalmers called it (see him give a Ted Talk on this particular thesis here-

The second, lesser reason, is that I felt some people may be interested in hearing my thoughts and examining the evidence and sources behind some of my claims. Those of you who have had the misfortune of being around me for an extended period of time will have no doubt been exposed to a lengthy tirade on international politics, or at the least the occasional comment with an odd-sounding opinion. This blog is to try to give those who are interested a small window into my frame of reference and world-view in International Relations, and hopefully provide some interesting view-points and information.

Having recently been elected president of the Warwick International Relations society (FB Page here-, and having the good fortune of getting an article published in the major campus magazine on International Relations, the Warwick Globalist (can be found online here- all the articles are worth a read; mine is on page 33-4, on the topic of West Papua, something I will post a 'blog' about at a later date), I felt that a blog on International Relations would be an enjoyable (?) activity. If it goes anything like I hope it will then there will be some space for constructive debate and sharing of ideas and information.

I am terrible with technology and have little idea what a blog is beyond a place where people 'write stuff and put it online' (maybe that really is all there is to it), so this could go horrendously. My hope is that: I will stick to a regular blog of reasonable length on varying topics around International Relations; with a place to comment (not sure if that's standard on a blog); and Google will make it easy for me. Some thoughts for upcoming blogs include: The Iraq War ten years on, the Iranian 'threat', West Papua, the global arms trade and Western Sahara.

I will attempt to reference all my sources in accessible online form using TinyURL, and give full names of articles, books and page numbers when my sources are only available in this form.

Now to figure out how to publish this.