The tortuous saga of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s inspection of Iran’s nuclear program finally reached a conclusion of sorts on November 25, when it was announced that the powers represented on the body and of the UN Security Council had agreed the text of a new resolution accepting the conclusions of an IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program. The resolution is due to be considered at a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors on November 26. Reports suggest, however, that a compromise has been reached by which any Iranian breaches of the resolution would be referred to the IAEA for consideration. The original draft apparently did not threaten any specific action in case of an Iranian breach of the resolution.

The controversy over the resolution had arisen a week earlier, when the IAEA finalised their report, based on months of investigations and talks with Iranian officials, concluding that although Iran had had a covert nuclear program for 18 years, there was no evidence of a nuclear weapons programme. This conclusion, based on intense scientific scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear facilities, was immediately rejected by the US, whose top arms control official, John Bolton, said on November 13 that the IAEA’s conclusions were "impossible to believe". Totally ignoring the detailed findings of the investigation, he went on to say that "a massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities only makes sense as part of a nuclear weapons program."

The US, which had originally demanded the investigation into Iran’s nuclear programme in order to put political pressure on Iran, had apparently been demanding that any suspected breaches referred to the UN Security Council, which it dominates. This possibility was strongly rejected by Iran, which knows that the US wants to manipulate and exploit the issue, as well as by Britain, France, Germany and other Western powers, nervous of the US deciding on war and forcing its will on the international community, as happened over Iraq. Iran has always insisted its nuclear programme is only for peaceful power-generation, but has been wary of the IAEA investigation, both because it represents a gross invasion of Iranian sovereignty, and because of the US’s proven ability to manipulate international organisations.

The question that arises, however, is whether it might be wiser for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Although they are classified as weapons of mass destruction, and the US makes much of their terrorist potential, history suggests that the real value of nuclear weapons is in having them as a deterrent. Certainly the Cold War was much cooler than it might have been had one of the two side had an advanage in terms of nuclear weapons.

This, of course, is what the US is eager to avoid. At the moment it feels free to act as a global bully, exploiting its massive military and political hegemony to impose its will on international institutions, other western powers and other countries alike. The last thing it wants is for a country such as Iran to be able to defend itself, and therefore feel free to defy the US writ. It can be argued that not only did the US not attack Iraq because it had weapons of mass destruction, but in fact the US only attacked because Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

Although Iran is strong compared to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and other Muslim countries, its determination to maintain its independence and avoid being subverted, infiltrated or undermined by a hegemonic foreign power makes it a major target for an aggressive, out-of-control superpower like the US. Some people argue that Iran would be foolish to try to develop nuclear weapons under the beady eyes of the US and its subordinate international bodies. But we have seen, in the very recent and high-profile case of Iraq, that not developing weapons of mass destruction, and attempting to cooperate with the international bodies as far as possible, is no defence once the US decides it wants a war and is determined to find excuses for one. That is not, of course, to advocate that Iran should develop nuclear weapons; that is not for us to say. But certainly no-one should be surprised if, under the circumstances, some in Islamic Iran do feel that that might indeed be the wisest thing to do.