Home Report/Analysis Special Report Conventional Missiles are an Elephant in the Room at Nuclear Talks

Conventional Missiles are an Elephant in the Room at Nuclear Talks

The report also points out that Iran’s procurement of components for these weapons has been in violation of ongoing sanctions. These facts are naturally being seen as one of the latest serious complications to negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group comprised of the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China. 

Chinese businesses have been among the illicit sources of ballistic missile components for Iran, and this month Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan announced that his nation was interested in expanding military ties with Iran. Meanwhile, Russia, which has joined Iran in supplying weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is reportedly supporting Iran’s assertion that its ballistic missile stockpile should not be a subject of discussion at the nuclear talks.

On the other side of this issue, naturally, is the United States, and a senior official of the Western nation made it clear this week that weapons capable of delivering nuclear warheads are an aspect of UN resolutions on Iran and thus must be dealt with as part of current nuclear negotiations.

Iran, of course, claims that its considerable ballistic missile expansion is nothing more than a conventional weapons program, and part of the national defense to which it is entitled as an autonomous nation. However, the UN has expressed concern over how difficult it is to monitor that ballistic missile program, which is so much more secretive than the acknowledged aspects of Iran’s nuclear enrichment efforts.

Iran has previously denied International Atomic Energy Authority inspectors access to suspicious sites on the grounds that they are military sites and are protected so long as Iran is not abiding by the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This has given rise to concerns that Iran could be using its conventional military sites as a veil in order to hide clandestine efforts to continue nuclear weapons development. 

It is only right to acknowledge that all of this is only speculative. It is entirely possible that Iran is telling the truth when it says that its ballistic missiles are not specifically being scheduled to be armed with nuclear warheads at some later date. It is also entirely possible that the United States is only using the nuclear issue as a pretense for attempting to limit Iran’s military strength. 

But this latter point illustrates an important point that is being doggedly ignored amidst Western efforts to secure a deal and safe face before the international community. The United States, or at least some of its officials and many of its legislators, are rightly concerned about Iran for reasons that go far beyond its pursuit of nuclear weapons. And as the leaders of Iran dig in their heels farther and farther, it is perhaps becoming clear that it was naïve to bring the regime to the negotiating table over so singular an issue. 

As negotiations have been ongoing, human rights groups have attempted to pressure the US government to demand improvements to Iran’s terrible human rights record before going forth with any further sanctions relief. Nations and political groups within Iran’s regional purview, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, have expressed skepticism and outright fear of the effects of that sanctions relief on a nation that is now free to use the influx of cash to build up its conventional weapons arsenal and expand its relationships with dangerous regional allies like Iraq and Hezbollah.

Iran is not dangerous because it seeks to possess a nuclear weapon. It is dangerous because it is ruled by a cabal of theocratic tyrants who routinely arrest their political opponents and throw them into overcrowded prisons where order is maintained through unprovoked beatings, and punishment meted out with long terms of solitary confinement and denial of medical treatment. It is dangerous because those same theocrats are prone to forming ideological alliances with extremist groups throughout the Middle East, stoking the fires of sectarian conflict and threatening to plunge the entire region into war.

And could there be any better evidence of that long-term threat of war than the fact that Iran seems to be actively preparing for it by building up its arms, making threatening overtures towards Saudi Arabia and the US, and urging its own citizens to get busy making babies who can grow up to serve as “soldiers for Islam”?


It may not be right to push for reduction of conventional weapons stockpiles amidst talks that are explicitly aimed at controlling a nation’s nuclear program. But it certainly is right of the US to push for the reduction of Iran’s arsenal. And it was wrong of the US to think that it would be enough to demand superficial nuclear transparency from a regime whose threat to global security takes so many other forms.

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