Why Iran Makes Missiles?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Ali Esmaeili Ardakani
Ph.D. Candidate in International Relations and Europe Analyst

When we talk about historical mentality in foreign policy and international relations, the purpose is to highlight the significance of history in the decision-making and decision-taking processes used by a country’s leaders and politicians in the face of other international actors and developments.

When it comes to the process of foreign policy activism and international relations, historical mentality can set a new course for large-scale decision-making and decision-taking processes of a country. It is due to the gravity of this historical mentality that leaders of Germany have made the question about accepting or not accepting more responsibility within the international system and community the key question of their foreign policy. It is also due to this grave historical mentality that although a large number of leaders, politicians, and researchers from across the world have invited this country to assume a more active role in Europe and the world, Germans still have their own doubts about this issue.

When it comes to Iran, due to historical reasons, especially various invasions and acts of aggression against the country by the powerful and even neighboring countries, historical mentality is very strong among the country’s leaders and politicians. In particular, Iranian nation, statesmen and leaders cannot overlook what has occurred during the contemporary history, especially the Iraqi imposed war against Iran. Iran experienced that war after victory of its revolution in 1979. Many Iranian political elites believe that during the very war, almost the entire East and West assisted Iraq against Iran either directly (by supplying Baghdad with military and financial aid) or indirectly (through their tacit consent, purchasing Iraq’s oil, and so forth). Besides such experiences, the absence of the international system’s practical commitment to the international treaties and laws which have been adopted by international institutions on the one hand; and the imposition of unilateral sanctions on the other hand, have resulted in Iranian’s pessimistic outlooks towards the international system.

What is the problem?

So, what is the most important reason behind Iran's drive to pursue its missile program? As Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said time and time again, Iranians cannot overlook their historical predicament at a time that Iraq incessantly was bombarding Iranian cities and Tehran was in dire need of missiles to defend itself, but could not get them. Perhaps readers might ask why Iran was not able to obtain missiles that it needed? The answer given to this question by Iran's foreign policy elites is clear. The political system and the government that came forth through the Islamic Revolution in Iran had many reasons to associate the past monarchial regime’s inefficiency with its dependence on Eastern and Western powers. Thus, the new Iranian government decided to follow an independent policy in the area of foreign and international relations. Pursuit of this policy and distrust in the international system made the West become the other side to this equation. Not only the West did not submit to the UN views and did not admit their mistake in their absolute support for Iraq in the war against Iran, but also the international system, which was indeed dominated by the West, moved to impose a plethora of sanctions on Iran. This reaction by the international system prompted Iran to put its focus on the concept of self-sufficiency in a bid to totally cut its political, technological and military dependence on other countries. Iran aimed to become self-sufficient in production of technologies that it needed to build missiles in order to defend its territory, which had already gone through an eight-year invasion.

Iran's security concerns

Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, in addition to distrust in the West, Iran is faced with many other security concerns in the West Asia region. This region is a tense environment where Iran is facing armed rivals that are in waiting for a good opportunity in order to both isolate Iran and cut its access to all technologies related to nuclear energy and its defensive missile program. Of course, part of the effort made by Iran's regional rivals like Saudi Arabia and Israel may arise from their mistaken understanding of Iran's defensive missile and peaceful nuclear programs. However, intellectual and operational elites believe that Tehran’s security concerns emanate from conditions, which are both real and tangible. A few examples of threats against Iran are clearly posed by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel and the United States’ trans regional presence close to Iran's territorial waters. To these examples must be added a list of international terrorist threats as a result of the existence of failed states in the region. More specifically, Saudi Arabia signed an arms deal worth 460 billion dollars with the United States in 2017. Pakistan, on the other hand, is neighboring Iran as a nuclear-powered state. Turkey is another neighboring country of Iran, which is part of a European-American military and security organization (NATO) and has provided military bases to its allies. Israel is believed to be in possession of more than 100 nuclear bombs. The USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier is present in the Persian Gulf and other US warships have been always present in this region on a rotational basis.

At the present time, Iran is running a missile program in order to meet its territorial defense needs. Iran is being threatened on account of its missile program by an international system led by the West, which has not taken any confidence-building measure so far, and is not even willing to give any answers to comments made in this regard. Therefore, the historical mentality, which is a product of historical developments, and the need to be independent in meeting the country’s security needs, have caused Iran's totally defensive missile program to be somehow tied to its ontological security. According to the logic of ontological security, Iran's behavior and activism, which has come into being following the 1979 revolution and is aimed at defending its territory, borders and independent identity, will continue even if its political survival as an ordinary actor in international community is threatened by war, sanctions and other policies adopted by big powers to isolate the country.

By following up on its missile program in a tumultuous environment dominated by a Hobbesian anarchic culture[1], Iran is trying to meet its physical and material security needs and, in parallel, pursues its identity-based and ontological security in an independent manner. This is done through taking active measures within framework of international institutions, norms and regimes, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Conclusion and proposal

Any effort made to force Iran to stop its activities, which are under supervision of international institutions and based on the norms of international law, will amount to damaging Iran's ontological identity. Therefore, the country’s dignified and realistic approach to its missile program cannot be stopped through physical threats and sanctions.

At the present time and since the United States is doing its best to undermine Iran's nuclear deal, which is known as the JCPOA, Europe, especially its key actors like Germany, France and the UK, are considered as important actors in equations that determine future relations between Iran and the West in all fields. If Europe wants to know how important an independent missile program is to Iran, it must compare that program with the importance that NATO and its missile shield currently have for Europe. From the viewpoint of Iranians, Europe does not consider NATO as just a defense and security organizations of a military nature, but considers it as an indispensable part of its ontological identity. This is exactly the same viewpoint that Iranians hold about their missile program. With these comments in mind, one can conclude that West is able through adoption of short-, medium- and long-term approaches to put both process-oriented and per-case confidence building with Iran on its agenda in order to change the mentality of Iranians towards itself and the international system. Therefore, since the actions and performance of all parties to the JCPOA are under scrutiny, full compliance with and complete support for the JCPOA by all signatories can help the West initiate the process of confidence building between Iran and the international community.



More By  Ali Esmaeili Ardekani:
*Death Bell Tolls for Institutional Order: From JCPOA to Education and Peace :

*The Puzzle of Iran in US Foreign Policy :



*Photo Credit: Washingtonexaminer

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

[1]This is a reference to differentiation among three types of anarchy as defined by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant and explained in the words of Alexander Wendt, a theorist of international relations and constructivism.


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