United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)

Since declaring independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic (CAR) has immensely grappled with the maintenance of peace and national stability. In addition to complex economic constraints from sustainable development, the country has also witnessed a series of violent military coups that have critically severed their level of security.[1] The wavering foundation of political legitimacy, the myriad of armed actors, and the long withstanding ethnic divisions have collectively paved the way for the most recent phase of conflict in 2013, further ushering the involvement of United Nations Peacekeeping.[2] This paper follows the CAR’s progression of conflict, and ultimately concludes contemporary peacekeeping missions must address complex historical issues, rather than remedying spillover symptoms of the conflict.

On the surface, the current crisis can be largely attributed to religious antagonism between the Séléka rebel group (largely consisting of CAR’s Muslim minority) and the Christian anti-Balaka. In 2013, the Séléka’s violent quest for power established veritable fault lines between the two parties to the conflict, however, it was the persistence of poor governance which created conditions “ripe for rebellion” and continues to be an ongoing driver of the current crisis.[3]

The Séléka’s initial attacks resulted in violent human atrocities, killing more than 5000 people and displacing one fifth of the country’s population.[4] As they rapidly gained control of Northern and Eastern parts of the country, President Francois Bozizé came forward in an effort to establish a peace accord with the Séléka in late 2012. The Libreville Peace Agreement of 2013 aimed to redistribute power among the Séléka leaders and President Francois Bozizé.[5] Despite the peace accord, the Séléka took control of the capital Bangui in 2013, forcing President Bozizé to flee. Consequently, Séléka leader Michel Djotodia declared himself as president.[6]

Chaos rapidly followed as Djotodia had limited control over the various militias that made up the Séléka rebel group. Paradoxically, President Djotodia was unable to establish a functional government and the Séléka coalition deteriorated. Despite their short reign, the Séléka’s overthrow of the government marshalled a new wave of human rights atrocities including killing, arson and rape.[7] Djotodia failed to disband the Séléka in September 2013, and his resignation did little to contain the rebels’ violence.

The brutality of the Séléka produced fertile grounds for seeds of religious prejudice to flourish. Thus, the Christian Anti-Balaka group was formed. The revenge attacks of the Anti-Balaka introduced a new component of religious animosity, causing further destruction and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis across the country.[8] The excruciating cycle of violence between the Ex-Séléka and Anti-Balaka is characterized by retaliatory outbreaks, civilian attacks and ethnic cleansing. In September 2014, the African Union’s International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (‘MISCA’) was transformed into a United Nations Peacekeeping Operation, known as ‘MINSUCA’. The mission still operates today, deploying nearly 14,794 personnel and a budget of $976.38 million.[9]


The deteriorating security environment and fragmentation of rebel groups has made peacekeeping increasingly challenging, and reconciliation far from simple. Nonetheless, the failures of previous peace agreements exemplify the widening gap between elite decision-makers and the people they claim to represent. Due to the local nature of the CAR conflict, local peace committees must receive utmost support in creating dialogue between opposing parties. International organizations can therefore focus efforts on increasing accountability and justice among perpetrators of violence while serving as a deterrent for future attacks. Lastly, economic incentives can encourage members of rebels groups – who are often trapped in cyclical poverty – to disarm and reintegrate into their society.[10] Through collaboration between organizations rooted in communities of conflict and the resources of the United Nations, the CAR region can effectively work towards security, stability and peace.

[1] Institute for Peace And Security Studies (IPSS), Central African Republic (CAR) Conflict Insight, Ethiopia: Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 2018.

[2] International Peace Information Service (IPIS), Central African Republic: A Conflict Mapping, 2018.

[3] Conciliation Resources, Analysis of Conflict and Peacebuilding in the Central African Republic, November 1, 2015, https://www.c-r.org/resource/analysis-conflict-and-peacebuilding-central-african-republic.

[4] United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Central African Republic Fact Sheet”, Geneva: UNHCR, 2017, https://data2.unhcr.org/fr/documents/download/61126.

[5] Institute for Peace And Security Studies (IPSS), Central African Republic (CAR) Conflict Insight, Ethiopia: Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[7] United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “Central African Republic Fact Sheet”. Geneva: UNHCR, 2017. https://data2.unhcr.org/fr/documents/download/61126.

[8] Institute for Peace And Security Studies (IPSS), Central African Republic (CAR) Conflict Insight, Ethiopia: Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 2018.

[9] MINUSCA, “S/2018/922: Report of the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic,” MINUSCA, February 26, 2019, https://minusca.unmissions.org/en/s2018922-report-secretary-general-central-african-republic.

[10] Kendrick Foster, “From War to Peace in the Central African Republic,” Harvard Political Review, September 5, 2019, https://harvardpolitics.com/world/car-peace/.


“Canada is open for Business Again” – Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984)

The economically turbulent era of the 1970s marked a shift in bilateral relations between Canada and its primary trading partner, the United States. By the early seventies, escalating concerns regarding Canadian economic dependence became the forefront theme of Canada’s foreign policy agenda. Attempts to bolster and diversify Canada’s domestic economy were actualized through the implementation of the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) and the National Energy Program (NEP) during the Trudeau era. Despite these regulative measures, the triumph of the conservative party of Canada – under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney – in the 1984 election altered the trajectory of Canadian economic policy. Mulroney’s political agenda was characterized by an inclination to mend relations with the U.S. through economic deregulation and the revision of preceding policies, which had posed as a consistent source of tension. Shortly after his election, Mulroney staunchly declared “Canada is open for business”. This momentous statement – although frivolous at the time – became a guiding maxim for consequent economic measures. Through analysis of Canada’s foreign policy during Mulroney’s reign, this paper uncovers the stark shift in Canadian approaches to foreign investment and trade. I begin by laying the economic and political climate of the 1970s, characterized by the establishment of regulatory measures. Comparison of Trudeau’s restrictive economic policy and Mulroney’s counter regulation illustrates Canada’s shift in foreign investment attitudes. Furthermore, I uncover how Mulroney’s strategies propelled Canada towards free trade and deregulation; leaving behind a lasting legacy on Canada’s economy.


In order to fully grasp the significance of Mulroney’s victory and subsequent policies, it is vital to understand the increasingly complex bilateral relationship between Canada and the United States during the 1970s. The stage is best set by Peter Dobell, who highlights the United States’ growing concentration on domestic issues combined with “a disenchantment with foreign involvement” during the 1970s. In Canada, Dobell emphasizes the growing issue of economic independence and the growing desire for distinction from the United States. The establishment of a new economic policy under Richard Nixon – also known as the “Nixon shocks” – proved to be a catalyst in exacerbating already severed ties (Dobell). The Nixon measures were designed to revive the national economy, and tackle their “balance of payment” issues. More importantly, Canada was not exempt from Nixon’s proposed import surcharge. This violated the Canadian perception that “a special relationship existed between the two countries” and after Ottawa’s failed attempts at renegotiation, the new American doctrine propelled Canada to re-assess its relations with the US. As part of this reassessment the minister of national revenue, Mr. Gray, tabled a task force report called Foreign Direct Investment in Canada. At the time, Gray’s report appealed to the radical factions of the Canadian government, namely the “Waffle faction” of the NDP. In short, the report outlined a significant and rapid growth in the degree of foreign ownership within Canadian industries, especially in the area of manufacturing and natural resources (Dobell, 252). More critically, it called for a cohesive industrial strategy for Canada to control foreign capital. Lastly, it proposed a review agency which could screen foreign takeovers and new foreign direct investment in Canada, in an effort to “obtain the maximum benefits possible for Canada from FDI” (Ibid., 253).


Gray’s latter proposition marked the birth of the Foreign Investment Review Act (or ‘FIRA’) in 1974. In sum, the act prohibited foreign takeover of Canadian companies without the direct approval of the Canadian government. FIRA screened each corporation by analyzing their product, the Canadian market, their source of income, and domestic job opportunities. The most important factor, however, was whether the foreign investment provided substantial contribution to Canada. As a result, a centralized investment screening mechanism was created; limiting the degree of foreign investment and ensuring Canadian economic protection. The coordination of a unified mechanism complemented the centralized aspirations of then-PM Pierre Trudeau. The fear, however, was the potential decline in inward foreign investment due to the restrictive nature of FIRA. In retrospect, FIRA did not mark a drastic reduction of FDI within Canada. Instead, it served as a symbolic display of Canadian nationalism and foreign investment strategy. Ironically, it also served as a source of tension with the United States.


Similar to FIRA, the National Energy Program (or ‘NEP’) became another major source of friction between Canada and the U.S. in the late seventies. According to Leyton-Brown, the NEP was designed to achieve domestic security of supply, increase Canadian participation in the petroleum sect, and alter revenue sharing among governments (19). Like FIRA, the NEP was also signed into power by the Liberal Trudeau government, in response to the fluctuating conditions of the global oil market. The goal for revenue sharing deeply angered the oil-producing province of Alberta, who was already in political deadlock due to provincial-federal clashes. The controversy surrounding the NEP triggered bitter protests from the U.S., involving their appeal to the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) shortly after NEP’s implementation. By 1981, global oil prices had fallen and the initial motives for the NEP slowly evaporated. However, it was not until the election Brian Mulroney where the final remnants of the NEP were symbolically shattered.


As demonstrated in the preceding paragraphs, the period prior to Mulroney leadership presented serious challenges in mending Canada-US ties. While components of government regulation, such as the NEP and FIRA, were motivated by mere Canadian domestic interest, they proved to further injure economic diplomacy with the United States. Mulroney’s famous statement, that Canada is “open again”, indirectly points to the barriers posed by previous regulative economic policies. In keeping to his campaign promises, Mulroney announced a series of new initiatives for economic reform grounded in market liberalization. His determination was reaffirmed, when FIRA was terminated and replaced with Investment Canada in 1984. This new agency aimed to encourage FDI within Canada, rather than regulate and restrict it.  Additionally, the National Energy Program was formally terminated by Mulroney during the same time. Thus, Mulroney’s statement that “Canada is open for business” was subsequently backed by these immediate actions.


In the following decade, Canada was surely “open for business”. The Mulroney government’s foreign policy focused on enhancing multilateral initiatives, especially with the United States. In 1989, Mulroney launched a “going global” initiative by increasing investments within Europe and Asia. The Pacific 2000 Plan targeted Japan as a main country to strengthen FDI relations with; resulting in a dramatic increase in Japanese investment. During this time, the growing integration between Japan and the US increased Canadian incentives to trade globally. Mulroney’s de-regulatory economic strategy manifested during free trade talks with the U.S. in 1989, which marked the birth of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. It is critical to note that while Mulroney’s pro-US & pro-free trade attitudes accelerated market liberalization in Canada; the global super powers – Britain under Thatcher and US under Reagan – were also heading in this direction.  The global progression towards market liberalization and decentralization demonstrated that states were finally willing to “hold hands with the devil” (Churchill).  This age of ‘new pragmatism’ countered the confrontational period of the 1970s with a deeper recognition of the value of multinational corporations. The mentality of this new era is best captured by Susan Strange in the late 90s, who famously quotes: “the one thing worse than being exploited by multinational corporations is not getting exploited by multinational corporations.”



In the end, however, the global influences of market liberalization combined with Mulroney’s foreign policy altered Canadian economics for the decades to follow. Likewise, it shaped bilateral relations with Canada’s most critical trading partner: The United States. While Canada today does not possess a formal industrial policy on inward or outward FDI, a constant trend seen in every era is the increase in U.S. FDI.  The regressive economic policies of the Liberal government during the seventies immensely hindered Canada-US bilateral relations. Mulroney’s landslide victory and “open for business” attitude fostered the foundation for the Canadian market today. The overarching global direction towards market liberalization also played a critical role in altering Canada’s economic trajectory. This paper juxtaposed the restrictive era of the 1970s with Mulroney’s economic pragmatism. Quite literally, Mulroney “opened” Canada for business. He halted the National Energy Program, and encouraged FDI through the re-establishment of Investment Canada. His personal ties with U.S. president Ronald Reagan helped to secure Canada’s first comprehensive free trade agreement with the US.  More prominently, Mulroney’s famous statement ‘Canada is open for business again’ proved to be convincing and substantial by the end of his leadership.



Susan Strange (1991) “Big Business and the State,” Millennium, 20, 2 (1991)

David Leyton-Brown, “Canadianizing Oil and Gas: The National Energy Program, 1980-83,”

Peter Dobell, “Reducing Vulnerability: The ‘Third Option,’” from Don Munton & John Kirton.eds., Canadian Foreign Policy: Selected Cases.

Kenichi Miyashita and David Russell (1994) chapters 1 and 2, from Keiretsu: Inside the
Hidden Japanese Conglomerates, New York: McGraw Hill.

Greed and Influence: the Role of the Anglo-American Oil Company in Iran’s 1953 Coup D’etat Shakiba Fadaie

When analyzing contemporary relationships between the United States and Iran, the 1953 coup d’état emerges as a critical focal point in postwar history. In retrospect, the deep mistrust generated by the U.S.-British sponsored upheaval has rendered complex and hostile affairs over the past three decades. The 1953 coup was initially rooted in the 1951-53 oil crisis between Iran and Britain, eventually leading to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrowing the popular Muhammad Mossadegh and thus laying the groundwork for the establishment of monarch Muhamad Reza Shah Pahlavi. While the United States utilized the language of the Cold War and the spread of communism as their primary concern for the coup, their interests were deeply rooted in the repercussions that oil nationalization could render throughout the world. Moreover, the 1953 coup induced American policy makers to continue strikingly similar coups as demonstrated in the cases of Chile, Indonesia and Guatemala.

Through analysis of the history of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and the 1953 coup d’état, I examine the prominent role of the AIOC in facilitating the CIA-sponsored upheaval against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. I begin by offering a historical account of the early establishment of the AIOC in Iran, followed by an analysis of motives present for Britain and the United States. I conclude by investigating the negative spillover effects of the coup, leading to the looming presence of anti-Western sentiment felt in Iran’s contemporary age.

This paper begins by outlining the history of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s presence in Iran. In 1901, William Knox D’arcy purchased the sixty-year rights to extract, refine and export oil products across the entire country, in return for 16% of net annual profits and $50,000 in cash (Abrahamian, 9). As oil was struck in 1908, D’arcy sold his rights to the Burmah Oil Company, later becoming the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC). At the time, the British government secured 52.5% voting rights over the company and privately reserved the right to change the company’s board of directors. As a result of these changes, Britain successfully secured control over oil supplies for British ships during the world wars (Abdelrehim, Maltby, & Toms 833). By the end of World War II, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company had six new oil fields near Masjed-e-Suleiman producing more than 357,000 barrels per day. (Abrahamian, 11). Moreover, the AIOC continuously paid heavy sums to the British treasury, with more than 24 million a year in taxes and 92 million in foreign exchange (Abrahamian, 13). Its oil production in Iran was estimated to be the third largest in the world, and by far the largest industrial employer in Iran at the time.

Despite their impressive numbers, the AIOC was routinely criticized by the public due to their covert bookkeeping tactics and evident exploitation of Iranian resources.  By the late 1940s, Iranian critics revealed the AIOC’s generous 170 million payment in British taxes, 115 million in dividends to British shareholders, yet a trivial 105 million payment in Iranian royalties (Abrahamian, 17). Complaints against the AIOC peaked in 1950, when ARAMCO – an American oil company located in the Persian Gulf – agreed to split half its profits with both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Ensuing the rise of anti-Western sentiment, the Iranian majority began to view the AIOC as a controlling apparatus for British imperialism within Iran. Thus, the turbulent years of World War II allowed for the emergence of Mohammad Mossadegh as a national icon and hero.  In response to the growing power of Reza Shah Pahlavi and the strong influence of colonial powers in Iran, Mossadeq formed the National Front – a political coalition consisting of opponents to the Shah. By 1951, his party had won the majority of the seats in Iran’s Parliament (or “Majlis”), and he was soon appointed prime minister of Iran by the Shah. Mossadegh aimed to democratize Iran through the transfer of legislative power from the Shah to the Majlis. As a wealthy landowner and strong nationalist, Mossadegh viewed the AIOC as a test of Iranian sovereignty and feared the Shah would submit to the unfair demands of the West. Having had strong democratic beliefs, he allowed the growth of various political parties, notably Iran’s communist party: Hezb-e-Toudeh.

In an effort to appease Iranian criticism, the AIOC proposed another round of renegotiations with Iran in 1947. The new proposal, named the Supplemental Oil Agreement (SOA) failed ratification by the Majlis, explicitly due to criticism by the Iranian communist party and Mossadegh’s National Front. The unequal distribution of profits combined with the poor treatment of Iranian workers created an obvious foundation for opposition by the parties. Finally, during the Spring of 1951, the Iranian parliament approved Mossadegh’s oil nationalization act, thus ceasing AIOC assets. Great Britain, which quickly boycotted Iranian oil following the nationalization, expanded its attempt to control Iranian oil through the help of its trusted ally: the United States. The growing nationalist sentiment from the Majlis along with the emergent post-war unanimity on decolonisation further aggravated Britain, as they strategized for another surge of British imperialism. In response, Iran dismissed British workers at its Abadan refinery, halted oil exports to Britain, and banned the sailing of Britain-owned oil tankers (Onslow, 5).

The retaliation following Iranian nationalization was primarily conducted through the central British government, and not the AIOC solely. These efforts included but were not limited to: imposing financial blockades to the purchase of Iranian oil, spreading anti-Mossadegh propaganda, withdrawing British engineers from the Abadan refinery and freezing Iranian financial assets within British banks (Israeli, 253).  Additionally, the AIOC and British government refused to recognize the legitimacy of Iranian nationalization. The loss of the AIOC rendered an exponential financial and political loss for Britain, which was further exacerbated by their losses after World War II.


Britain, without a doubt, feared that Iranian control over its oil would influence the greater global market price for oil, and therefore concluded that pulling Mossadegh out of power would protect their domestic interest. More importantly, if Britain’s regional power appeared as though it was eroding, the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser could quickly shadow (Onslow 13).  Therefore, The British government and the AIOC utilized three primary means to regain their control over Iran’s natural resource. Gasiorowski argues that this three-track strategy included legal manipulation, undermining Iran through economic sanctions and military power, and the removal of Mossadegh from power (263). The British also engaged with the International Court of Justice in an effort to undermine Mossadegh. The appeal was quickly rejected as the conflict involved Iran – a country – and the AIOC – a corporate entity. The British also went further and attempted to persuade other countries to refrain from purchasing Iranian oil.

However, by 1952, British efforts did not triumph. The pro-Western Shah feared publicly antagonizing his fragile image, hence he did little to outwardly oppose Mossadegh. While U.S. administration under Truman staunchly opposed military intervention, the later election of President Eisenhower in 1952 produced fertile grounds for a U.S.-backed coup to occur. Eisenhower’s campaign was rooted in the growing anti-communist sentiment throughout the West, and Iran’s geopolitical importance further aggravated the growing need for intervention. Additionally, the new administration was well acquainted with the Middle Eastern oil crisis, especially since Secretary of State, John Dulles, and his brother Allen Dulles – director of the CIA – were long-time partners in a “law firm representing AIOC in the United States” (Abrahamian, 197). It wasn’t long before Britain had convinced the U.S. that intervention in Iran would effectively control the expansion of the Soviet Union within the Middle East. The prominence of the Iranian communist party, Tudeh, and its support for Mossadegh further exacerbated Washington’s efforts to protect their Cold War objectives. It is critical to note that British efforts to fiscally weaken Iran at the time had taken a toll on living conditions in Tehran, therefore the Tudeh Party was able to flourish in this weakened economic climate.

In February of 1953, British delegates arrived in Washington for a series of “formal meetings” which included Allen Dulles, then head of the CIA (Heiss, 3). The Dulles Brothers were firm in their warnings of a communist “takeover” within the Middle East, and quickly warned of the “communist challenge in Iran” (248). At the time, the U.S. relied heavily on Britain to exert their influence within the Middle East as the U.S. could not single-handedly “police the globe” (Heiss, 3). The evident overlap of British and American interests quickly actualized, and plans to overthrow Mossadegh were finalized by Churchill and Eisenhower by July of 1953 (Abrahamian, 197). The documents outlining the CIA’s exhaustive plans did not surface until nearly sixty years after the coup. These documents revealed the recruitment of fake protesters in order to drive off Mossadegh and install an American-backed Shah to power (Israeli, 248). They also revealed the extravagant $20 million budget allocated for the covert operation, later named “Operation AJAX” which was finally carried out by the CIA (Kinzer, 210).

The CIA also targeted Ayatollah Kashani, a prominent political figure and ally of Mossadegh. His confidant, Ahmad Aramesh, was given $10,000 by President Esisenhower to turn Kashani against Mosssadegh. The rise of Mossadegh not only threatened the domestic power of the Shah, but also that of the Iranian mullahs and clerics. Hence, Kashani eventually split sides against Mossadegh, creating further political turmoil and signifying the loss of the Islamic clergy support. In fact, newly released documents show Kashani was in close communication with the U.S. before the coup occurred, further indicating the clash of motives among the domestic factions in Iran.

The coup attempt began on August 15 and eventually succeeded on August 19, 1953 (Abrahamian, 210). Through the aid of protestors paid by the CIA, and intense propaganda efforts by the SIS, the coup had succeeded. Mossadegh was shortly imprisoned; peacefully spending the remainder of his life in house arrest and his foreign minister, Hossein Fatemi, faced execution. More importantly, the pro-Western monarchy was restored and the Anglo-Iranian oil company had prevailed. Although latter nationalist opposition left AIOC sharing Iranian oil with other countries, the covert operation had already fanned the flames for a lingering future of anti-Western sentiment within Iran.


The spillover effects from the 1953 coup greatly altered Iran in the coming years. Notably, Iran lost a great deal of progress made prior to the coup – progress towards a representative government and away from foreign interference (Gasiorowski, 278). The coup also left the Shah even more determined to fight his opposition. Through the establishment of SAVAK, the Shah’s internal secret police aided by the CIA, and the incessant arrests of ex-Tudeh Party figures, the Shah deliberately limited the Iranian people’s freedom of expression, association and democracy. Britain and the U.S., who had placed the Shah into power, ensured that concessions were provided to the AIOC over the production, refinement and distribution of Iranian oil, and granted AIOC over 40% of shares (Abrahamian, 212). The early corporate ambitions of the AIOC had rendered the corporation as an instrument of British foreign policy. The distorted power dynamic between Iran and the West plus the push against Britain’s imperialistic tendencies intensified Iranian nationalism and Western resentment. This unintended consequence also damaged Western geopolitical interests within the Middle East, and sowed the seeds for the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979. The period of Mossadegh’s reign is often recalled as the only period in Iranian political history where democratic ideologies and liberalization thrived. Thus, the Iranian people confided in the Islamic revolution’s promises to rid Iran of malign foreign interference and presence.

Historians, such as Abrahamian argue that Iranian oil was the primary cause for the coup, for Britain and the U.S. alike. Should Mossadegh have succeeded in nationalizing the British oil industry, it would set a harmful precedent for imperialistic countries during the post-war era. In juxtaposition to this perspective, other historians argue the political climate of the Cold War and Iran’s strategic geopolitical importance led the U.S. to believe “they had to take whatever steps necessary to prevent Iran from falling into Soviet hands” (Gasiorowski, 274).  Additionally, the prominence of U.S. involvement in the coup significantly shaped the trajectory of future Iran-U.S. relations; from the terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens to the U.S. hostage crisis following the revolution, the central anti-American theme within Iran prevailed for years to come (Gasiorowski, 280). More recently, the strain on Iran-U.S. relations rendered vast tension during the Obama-backed nuclear deal and the consequent economic sanctions by the Trump administration.


The legacy left behind by the 1953 coup in Iran had far-reaching consequences for the world of international politics. The United States, which had attempted to maintain an image of liberal democracy, became involved in strikingly similar upheavals for decades to follow. The coup also became a warning for neighboring states of the innumerable dangers and long term repercussions of foreign meddling in a state’s internal affairs. It challenged the very notion of state sovereignty and the right to rule. The presence of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now named British Petroleum (BP) characterizes the overlapping interests of major corporations and governments alike.  While the AIOC played a colossal role in the upheaval, it was also a tool for British imperialistic ambitions and an apparatus for foreign intervention. Further, it stands to showcase how covert actions by the world governments can be a short term and cheap solution to alter the course of world politics in their political (and economic) favour. In the end, however, the overthrow of a democratically elected government cast the darkest shadow on Iran. The overthrow of Mossadegh and the forceful placement of the monarchy subjugated Iranians to dictatorship for several years to follow, and set the stage for the events of the 1979 revolution. I conclude that the 1953 coup should not be overlooked when assessing Iran-U.S. relations within the contemporary age. More importantly, the events of 1953 illustrate the immense power of corporations such as British Petroleum, and the effective utilization of a corporate entity as an apparatus for government’s exercise of power.















Abdelrehim, Neveen, et al. “Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Control: The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, 1933–1951.” Enterprise and Society, vol. 12, no. 04, 2011, pp. 824–862., doi:10.1017/s1467222700010697.

Abdelrehim, Neveen, and Steven Toms. “The Obsolescing Bargain Model and Oil: the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company 1933–1951.” Business History, vol. 59, no. 4, 2016, pp. 554–571., doi:10.1080/00076791.2016.1232397.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1982. Print.

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Heiss, Mary Ann. “The United States, Great Britain, and the creation of the Iranian oil consortium, 1953–1954.” The International History Review 16.3 (1994): 511-535.

Israeli, Ofer. “The Circuitous Nature of Operation Ajax.” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 49, no. 2, 2013, pp. 515–515., doi:10.1080/00263206.2013.794637.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons, 2003. Print.

Majd, M.g. “The 1951–53 Oil Nationalization Dispute and the Iranian Economy: a Rejoinder.” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 31, no. 3, 1995, pp. 449–459., doi:10.1080/00263209508701063.

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Onslow, Sue. “Battlelines for Suez: The Abadan Crisis of 1951 and the Formation of the Suez Group.” Contemporary British History, vol. 17, no. 2, 2003, pp. 1–28., doi:10.1080/13619460308540993.

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Beyond the Law: The Covert Assassination of Iranian Nuclear Scientists


The development of Iran’s nuclear capability has resulted in profoundly complex political affairs for several decades. For Iranian nuclear scientists, these consequences have been fatal.  Since 2007, more than five prominent scientists have fallen victim to covert assassinations tactics, in an attempt to tarnish the very heart of the Iranian nuclear program. Despite the covert nature of the assassinations, sufficient evidence has surfaced tracing their origins back to the National Intelligence Agency of Israel (Mossad). For decades, the threat of a nuclear Iran has directly endangered Israel’s nuclear hegemony within the Middle East – compelling Israel to respond in a legally dubious and morally reprehensible manner.

Through the analysis of various international laws encompassing targeted killings, this paper evaluates the motives, efficacy and repercussions of targeting Iranian nuclear scientists. I offer an analysis of the assassinations through the lens of international humanitarian law, demonstrating salient violations of transnational norms and regulations. The second part of this paper evaluates covert assassination from a strategic policy standpoint, uncovering the unintended and grave consequences of targeting nuclear scientists. Furthermore, I explore the way in which covert assassination undermine global security and defy long-established conventions and pervading norms.


Background: The Assassinations

Targeting of atomic scientists in order to deter state weaponization predates the existence of nuclear weapons themselves. Concerned with the possibility of losing its nuclear monopoly in the region, Israel viewed Iran’s acceleration to nuclear weaponization as a colossal threat. Thus, Mossad created a plan in order to derail Iran’s nuclear pursuits. As part of the plan, five prominent nuclear scientists and physicists were murdered through covert operation. Those targeted included Ardeshir Hosseinpour, a nuclear physicist at the Isfahan uranium conversion plant; Massoud Ali Mohammadi, an expert in quantum physics at Tehran University; Majid Shahriari, an expert on nuclear chain reactions; Darioush Rezae Nejad, a nuclear physicist and researcher for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO); and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a professor at a technical university in Tehran and a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant (Maher). Iran quickly attributed these killings to Israel and the U.S., and Iranian counterintelligence later revealed that Israel had recruited Iranian spies to carry out these covert assassinations. In addition to murdering valuable assets of Iran’s nuclear program, it also created what Mossad regards as “white defection”. The theory follows that fewer Iranian scientists would work on future Iranian projects out of safety concerns, thus denying Iran of valuable scientific expertise.



We start by clarifying the meaning of assassination under international law, and what constitutes an assassination under these terms. While no universally established definition of assassination has prevailed, the common variations contain a singular theme. As explored by Reisman, if an assassination is committed beyond the realm of armed conflict it is defined by having:(I) a specifically targeted victim; and (II) a political motivation. The latter requirement distinguishes an assassination from murder, since it implies an aggressor state rather than an individual. As previous scholars have noted, assassination is viewed as an unlawful covert action and should not be granted “any color of law” (Reisman, 689). They argue that a pattern is emergent: conditional tolerance for assassinations exists at the elite level, hence preventing it from becoming a matter of law.  Due to this, no explicit prohibition of assassination exists within the realm of international law.  For this reason, I adhere to the standard set by Reisman for an assassination for the remainder of this paper. In this case study, the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists presents highly politicized motives and repercussions, thus they may be evaluated under Reisman’s definition. Lastly, “assassination” and “targeted killing” will be used interchangeably, although the latter is often utilized in the case of targeted terrorist killings. Nonetheless, all interchangeable forms of the “assassination” remain illegal under the realm of international law.


Assassination Under International Law

As often attributed to their covert nature, political assassinations have not been explicitly banned within the framework of international law. Through the analysis of various treaties and conventions, one may properly assess the illegality of assassination within the rights and obligations of a state. The role of customary international law is also critical; as rules of customary law are equally as binding as treaties. In addition to applicable statutes in international law, universal human rights law – presented through the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a critical aspect of customary international law –also provides valuable guidance when assessing targeted killings.


Two prominent bodies of law arise in regards to political assassinations. Firstly, International Humanitarian Law (or “IHL”) or jus in bello, governs the conduct of war in times of armed conflict. Parallel to this, jus ad bellum establishes the requirements needed to enter armed conflict, as set out in the UN Charter and the customary international law of self-defence, such as legitimate authority, public declaration, just cause and war as the final resort. Published in 1944 as part of the famous Geneva Conventions – and before this, the Hague Conventions of 1907 – IHL sets rules for the treatment of combatants and non-combatants alike. The notion of jus in bello further includes the principles of proportionality and discrimination. The former establishes that any harm to civilians must be balanced against the military advantage anticipated from attack, while the latter ensures that legitimate targets, like soldiers, be treated differently from illegitimate targets, such as civilians.


In principle, however, Israel may attempt to justify the assassinations as valid acts of pre-emptive self-defence. The UN Charter recognizes a state’s right to self-defence in Article 51, stating:

“Nothing in this present Charter shall impair the right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security. Actions taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”


The procedural requirement to report to the Security Council reflects the legitimacy and transparency of the state exercising self-defence. Conversely, it presents a narrow window where Israel may operate. Justifying the assassination of nuclear scientists would then require settling a wide array of surrounding political issues; the true gravity of the Iranian threat, the projected expediency of removing such threat, and the precise motives for doing so. Even so, the threat to Israel must be imminent, and the prospect of impeding the threat through assassination must be realistic. As discussed above, these issues encompass provisions of IHL concerned with necessity and proportionality under jus ad bellum.  Still, Israel cannot claim the assassinations were required through Article 51, as they do not meet the requirement of necessity nor immediacy.


Nonetheless, the case of Iran and Israel escapes evaluation under IHL, predominantly because neither state was in a state of “armed conflict” as per the IHL definition. Looking beyond their antagonistic history – often consisting of public and daring threats – the state of Iran and Israel cannot be assessed under the provisions of IHL. From this perspective, no act has risen to the level of an “armed attack”.  The International Criminal Tribunal defines “armed conflict” when there is “a resort to armed forces between states” or “armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups” (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, para 70). Under the Geneva Conventions, it is defined as a difference arising between two states, thus “leading to intervention of members of the armed forces.” (Geneva Convention para 1).  These definitions of “armed conflict” fail to encompass the political status quo between Iran and Israel. The public positions of both governments deny a state of armed conflict, and the limited focus on Iranian scientists evade the application of international humanitarian law.


In addition, the basic principles of sovereignty must be considered. Since the establishment of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the principle of state sovereignty has become a guiding principle of international law. Westphalian sovereignty protects a state’s exclusive autonomy in its territory while emphasizing the legal equality of states. Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter emphasizes the domestic jurisdiction of the state; stating that the United Nations has no authority to intervene in matters within the scope of domestic affairs. As enshrined in the United Nations system, Westphalian sovereignty is  a core pillar of the international system of governance.  In accordance to this principle and in the absence of armed conflict, Israel evidently violated Iranian state sovereignty by engaging in a violent act within its territory.


Beyond considerations of international humanitarian law and state sovereignty, human rights law  may be used as a guiding apparatus for evaluation. Under human rights law, it is often believed that a targeted killing is only “legal” – as a last resort – if it is required to protect life. This is only once all other means are exhausted, such as capture, in preventing that threat to life. However, it is important to note that human rights law is embodied through multiple treaties and statutes. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) emphasizes the “inherent right to life” that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived” of (ICCPR, Article 6, para 1). More significantly, the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights contends the human “right to life, liberty and security”. Under the declaration, human rights must be protected by the rule of law, and they apply to all humans within and beyond state borders. Thus, states are bound by fundamental human rights when acting within another state. Under human rights law, a state’s actions are not assessed based on territory but rather conduct. With this maxim in mind, a state must conduct operations in accordance to human rights standards “with regard to all individuals who may be under their effective control or who may be directly affected by their actions.” (Mezler, 137).  Even in the absence of state recognition, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has become widely accepted as reflecting customary international law, further impelling a state’s motive to comply.


As demonstrated above, there exists a rule of customary international law against violation of a person’s right to life; irrespective of territory, citizenship, and treaty ratification of the involved states. Undoubtedly, the explicit assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientists deprived them of this right to life. As a signatory of the aforementioned treaties, the state of Israel defied its obligations under international human rights law. For an assassination to be “legal” under human rights law, it must be “strictly necessary” and as a final resort to protect life. For Israel, great difficulty persists in establishing the necessity and urgency of the targeting of nuclear scientists.

Israel stands a slightly better chance utilizing the ICCPR in defence of their covert assassination. As aforementioned, the ICCPR forbids the “arbitrary taking of life”, with the components of “arbitrariness” as (I) requirement of a sufficient legal basis; (II) requirement of necessary; (III) requirement of proportionality; and (IV) requirement of precaution. (2006) Once again, Israel runs into the issue of necessity and sufficient legal basis. The UN’s Basic Principles of the Use of Force and Firearms also embody similar principles of the right to life. Parallel to the themes of human rights law, it states that lethal weapons may only be used in self-defence and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these means (1979). It echoes the importance of “non-lethal” means of enforcement in an attempt to protect life.


Policy Considerations and Unintended Consequences

In the absence of international law and the legal implications, the covert campaign against Iran’s nuclear Programme offers valuable insight for the theory and practice of coercive diplomacy. In what remains, I analyze the strategic significance in Israel’s decision to target scientists, and the subsequent unintentional consequences of covert action.


Firstly, it is clear that attacking Iran with military force was an unappealing option for Israel and the U.S. alike. The spillover effects of a full blown war and the consequent risks associated with it prove to be too costly for both states. Similarly, hostility between the states would prevail, along with increasing domestic support for the Islamic regime. It would also create a greater justification to establish an Iranian nuclear program, in the possibility of additional strikes. Within the greater arena of international relations, other states may condemn aggressor states in the event of military action. While the United States and Israel have a far greater military advantage over Iran, brute power asymmetry does not always guarantee a beneficial outcome for the aggressor state. Todd Sechser refers to this phenomenon as ‘Goliath’s Curse’. His research on coercive diplomacy states that as coercers gain more power, their threats may often fail – often because a challenger’s military power “exacerbates information problems that make its threats less likely to succeed” (628). Thus, coercive diplomacy can minimize ‘Goliath’s curse’ by applying the correct amount of pressure on a state, while assuring the likeliness of a state’s willingness to cooperate. Jentleson et al. recognize successful coercive diplomacy as a balance between “credible fore and deft diplomacy” (53). Thus, covert assassinations of Iranian scientists demonstrated the power of Israel and its allies to Iran. It signalled their power to retard Iran’s nuclear efforts. Additionally, the strikes targeted the heart of the nuclear program, representing increasing animosity towards Iran, despite the lack of a full-scale military attack.


As aforementioned, no state has come forward and taken responsibility for the assassination of Iranian scientists. Contemporary literature argues that states have become increasingly concerned with the protection of their reputation, hence the growing prevalence of covert action. Often, the focus is weighted on the reputation of the aggressor state in the face of international shaming. However, the reputation of Iran is equally important in the equation. Beyond international considerations, if Iranian leaders had quickly submitted to the demands of the West, it may have signalled a weak Iranian regime to its domestic population. Sechser notes “when a target capitulates to a threat, it reveals information about the limits of its resolve” (628). In other words, complying with a threat entails reputation costs for Iran, while revealing the perceived strength of the Islamic regime. At the same time, ramping up Iran’s nuclear efforts could have brought even more pressure and coercive action from outside states. States, such as Israel, could utilize Iran’s surge in nuclear efforts as justification for more covert assassinations. Thus, many scholars emphasize Iran’s incremental developments in building a nuclear weapon – in an effort to demonstrate its willpower domestically, while avoiding costly international ramifications. Volpe further asserts that Iran made “incremental advances” in order to “leverage concessions from the international community” (521).


Unintended Consequences

Despite the potential appeal for covert action, an array of unintended – and undesirable – consequences may occur as a result of covert action. More fundamentally, the looming inability to predict the outcomes of one’s action and the prioritization of short term interests over long term diplomacy can further aggravate undesirable consequences. In the context of Iranian counter proliferation, covert assassination may thwart diplomacy, inspire retaliatory measures, spread domestic sympathy for the regime, and undermine the ethical legitimacy of the aggressor states.


For Iran, the covert assassinations proved to be a powerful catalyst in bolstering support for the Islamic regime. Islamic fundamentalists and hardliners utilized the event as justification to further demonize the West during a time of rising fear and anxiety. It may also act as a unifying common enemy among Iranians, further contributing to Western resentment and fulfilling justification for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. After the assassinations, Iran launched a series of media campaigns referring to the scientists as ‘nuclear martyrs’ while parading their images throughout the country. Reports from Iran claim the propaganda-heavy homage to the nuclear scientists was part of Tehran’s strategy to generate public support for its nuclear program (Esfandiari).


In addition to the domestic backlash, aggressor states may face international backlash due to their outward violation of international law. These covert assassinations, as mentioned above, are clear abuses against long withstanding international norms and laws.  Many critics believe that the target of Iranian scientists violated international norms and principles against assassination. As noted by Waldron, assassination cannot operate within a ‘neutral principle’ (5). When contemplating the incorporation of a norm allowing covert assassination within the realm of international law, Waldron urges states to consider whether they would be comfortable with this norm “in the hands of their adversaries”. For Israel, the mere potential for Iran to partake in similar covert assassinations would surely undermine state security.


For these reasons, Waldron also asserts that the norm against political assassinations should be upheld for both strategic and ethical reasons (130). Through this perspective, covert assassinations undermine the broader international norm against killing. Moreover, violating international legal norms may embolden other states to act similarly. From a state’s strategic perspective, the erosion of the norm against covert assassination can prove to be increasingly problematic on an international scale. Fundamentally, these actions undermine valuable international norms which foster accountability and transparency among states.  By granting certain actors the right to covert assassination – justified on the basis that their targets are likely to harm them, or have already done so –the likelihood that all international actors become willing to evade such norms undoubtedly increases. These actors are not limited to the scope of international states, but rather terrorist actors with morally reprehensible ambitions. Whibley states that the power of a state builds on the respect and enforcement aspect of norms, and the way in which states exercise power has direct and indirect effects on the emergence of new norms (121). That is, the emergence of such norms are established by the acknowledgement and enforcement of these norms by other states, through similar practice.



The development of Iran’s nuclear capability has resulted in a prolonged diplomatic standoff with the West, lasting for nearly two decades. In the long run, however, the assassination of nuclear scientists did little for Israel’s benefit. While it disrupted Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a brief moment in time, the assassinations did not completely halt Iran from pursuing nuclear capability. Less than a few months later, Iran ramped up their efforts, which were briefly halted following Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal. Iran also paraded the ‘martyrs’ for years to follow, in an attempt to rally public support and prove the ‘need’ for nuclear capability.


Within the greater scope of international affairs, the assassinations – characterized as ethically and legally indefensible – reflect the long term recognition of the international community that erosion of these norms may end up harming their own security. As the Iranian case demonstrates, covert action is unlikely to completely unravel and derail a state’s nuclear ambition, thus a clear understanding of the consequences is significant for future policy implications. This also reveals areas where greater analysis may be beneficial – for example, whether covert assassinations may be an effective tool in deterring future generations and to what degree states will condemn aggressor states. Further, the covert assassination of Iranian scientists presents a myriad of legal, ethical, and policy considerations for future areas of scholarship.


This paper offered an analysis of the assassination of nuclear scientists through the lens of international laws, and long-held established norms. By closely assessing the motives, efficacy, and repercussions of the covert assassinations, I demonstrated the myriad of potential undesirable and unintended consequences for states who violate these international norms. As observed by George Orwell, actions are held to be good or bad, “not on their own merits but according to who does them”. The salient and fatal covert campaign against Iran represents the dangers of shrugging our shoulders and turning a blind eye, as we may unintentionally descend into an era of lawlessness and chaos.


















Brosius, Robert. “Brosius, 1 Killing Outside the Law: The Case of Israel’s policy of assassinating Iranian Nuclear Scientists.” (2013).


Hecker, Siegfried S., and Abbas Milani. “Ending the assassination and oppression of Iranian nuclear scientists.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 71.1 (2015): 46-52.


Maher, Richard. “The Covert Campaign Against Iran’s Nuclear Program: Implications for the Theory and Practice of Counterproliferation.” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2019, pp. 1-27.


Meisels, Tamar. “Assassination: Targeting nuclear scientists.” Law and Philosophy 33.2 (2014): 207-234.


Tobey, William. “Nuclear Scientists as Assassination Targets.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 68, no. 1, Jan. 2012, pp. 61–69, doi:10.1177/0096340211433019.


Vielhaber, David, and Philipp C. Bleek. “SHADOW WARS: Covert Operations Against Iran’s Nuclear Program.” (2012): 481-491.


Sechser, Todd. ‘Goliath’ s Curse: Coercive Threats and Asymmetric Power’ , International Organization 64/4 (October 2010), 627– 60.


Volpe, Tristan. ‘Atomic Leverage: Compellence with Nuclear Latency’ , Security Studies

26/3 (2017), 517– 44.


Esfandiari, Golnaz. ‘Iran Developing Cult of Personality Around Slain Nuclear Scientists’ , Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty , 17 February 2012.


Jeremy Waldron, ‘Can Targeted Killing Work as a Neutral Principle?’ (2011), New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, 1–14, at pp. 1–9. Available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/ sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1788226


UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Addendum : Study on targeted killings, 28 May 2010, A/HRC/14/24/Add.6, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0767ff2.html [accessed 30 April 2020]


United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1945, 1 UNTS XVI, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3930.html [accessed 30 April 2020]






Contending Theories: Realism and Liberalism in the Nuclear Twenty-First Century

Upon witnessing detonation of the first nuclear bomb on July 6, 1945, Robert J. Oppenheimer uttered the famous words: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”[1] The development of nuclear weapons capability ushered the end of World War II and propelled history towards a nuclear era characterized by fear and multipolarity. Since the bombing of Nagasaki in August of 1945, however, nuclear weapons have not been officially utilized in combat. Despite the challenges of modern nuclear proliferation, the non-use of such weapons remains a central phenomena on the international stage.

Rationale for the non-use of nuclear weapons capabilities are greatly debated among international relations theorists, and require thorough analysis of the complex roots of the state system. On one side of the debate, structural realists (or “neorealists”) would explain this non-use as natural to the study of “power politics.” Driven by an innate fear of death, they argue states seek nuclear weapons technology in order to promote security through active means of deterrence. In contrast, liberalism theory places significance on the international treaties, diplomacy and transparency among states. Through contending mechanisms of realist vs. idealist theory on nuclear non-use, I argue for the prominence and relevance of realism in the contemporary nuclear epoch. I begin by providing discourse on the neorealist account for the non-use of nuclear weapons, while examining the complex origins of realist methods of thought through Thomas Hobbes and Kenneth Waltz. Secondly, I offer the contending idealist critique of realist theory, and sketch the idealist theory of nuclear weapon non-use which renders illusions of peace. Discourse will be provided on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and anti-nuclear peace movements following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I conclude, ultimately, that nuclear attainment is in the interest of modern nation-states given the Hobbesian political climate of the twenty-first century.

Realism and the Deterrence of Nuclear Weapons

 For realists, the basic logic follows as such: if a state possesses a large nuclear arsenal, the adversary is less likely to attack due to fear of massive retaliatory action. By making the cost of war “frighteningly high”, states are discouraged from making the first strike against nuclear armed states.[2] Deterrence theory can be used to explain why the United States built approximately 70,000 nuclear warheads, more than all other nuclear-weapon states combined, during the Cold War. This sent a message to the adversary, in this case the Soviet Union, that attacking the US would undoubtedly result in mass destruction. During this era, the nuclear arms race between the US and USSR is said to have induced instability and eliminated the possibility for a nuclear war to break out due to second strike retaliation capability. Kenneth Waltz champions the idea of nuclear peace and concludes “more may be better.”[3]  For realists, it is not the particular difficulty of launching an attack, or normative philosophies that prevent nuclear war but rather the expected counter reaction that will result in “one’s own severe punishment.”

Historical roots of realist way of thought are deduced from prominent thinkers Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes. In particular, deterrence theory  occurs from the act of balancing power capability. Pursuit of self interest within the Hobbesian state of anarchy is analogous to to the current nature of state interaction. Written in 1651, Thomas Hobbes asserted that the lack of international authority fabricates a “state of nature” where the life of man is “solitary, poore, nasty, bruttish, and short.”[4] The continual fear and the looming danger of violent death pushes man to constantly seek self-interest, such as material gain, self security, and ultimately, survival. Given the lack of global governance today, I infer that nuclear weapon attainment increases security for a state by inciting fear in opposing nations.

Cover of the Leviathan, 1651. (Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, 1651 . Menston: Scolar P.)

For realists, the anarchic nature of humans (and thus the international system) is presented as the foundation affecting all behaviour and thus largely accounts for the structural logic of state interactions. Hobbes’ creation of Leviathan, a sovereign power possessing ultimate control, offers an escape from the state of nature. The lack of such a sovereign in the international realm today forces states to pursue security through material capability, such as the possession of nuclear weapons. The disproportionately immense levels of funding invested in military and weapons capability among great nation-states is attributed in their strive for security and survival. Adoption of the realist viewpoint, in sum, inexorably leads to the conclusion that all states that can go nuclear, should go nuclear – and the sooner the better.[5] Nuclear proliferation, through the lens of realism, is thus inevitable.

It is for similar reasons Kenneth Waltz argues Iran should be allowed to possess nuclear weapons capability. For realists, states are analogous to billiard balls interacting with one another. What occurs within the billiard balls themselves (domestic or internal politics) are of little concern to realists. The reasoning follows: If states such as Israel, US, and France can possess nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t Iran? With nuclear weapon attainment, Waltz argues Iran can effectively put an end to Israel’s regional monopoly and achieve stability in the Middle East.[6] Neorealist theory rests primarily on three assumptions: all states are rational actors, states operate in a state of anarchy, and the international arrangement begets a self-help system.[7]

Although intuitive and forthright, the realist perspective runs into trouble as they are often accused of offering nothing “but a naked struggle for power.” [8] They also fail to account for the numerous states that have the ability to go nuclear, but still have not made the transition. It is estimated that only one-fifth of the states with the capacity for building nuclear weapons have done so.[9] Moreover, the pace of nuclear proliferation has been essentially unaltered since the 1950s, begging the question of the deterrence rationale behind nuclear non-use.

Liberalism and Nuclear Weapon Non-Use

In this regard, liberalism in International relations offers an optimistic account of the international system by emphasizing the significance of joint cooperation and non-state actors.  Thus, liberals (or “idealists”) do not see it as a given that states will significantly benefit from nuclear weapon attainment. [10]On the international stage, idealists stress the importance of international norms of nuclear nonproliferation while grappling with the concomitant difficulties of dealing with norm rejecting rogue regimes.[11] Liberalism understands that human beings may act in self interest, however, they place emphasis on cooperation between non-state actors through reasoning. Similar to how neorealists turn to Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes to explain the nature of the state, liberals utilize thinkers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant particularly focused on the rational qualities of individuals, as he possessed an undeniable faith in human progress. Kant argued human reason can transpose into the international sphere, eventually overcoming war and conflict through vigorous changes in the domestic and international structures of governance.[12] Thus, idealists are primarily concerned with normative philosophies on how the world ought to be, and ways in which cooperation can devise such a world. Similar to Kant, John Locke offers a state of nature where humans are born with a natural right to life, liberty and property. In contrast to Hobbes’ Leviathan that uptakes our rights (except our inalienable right to life), Locke contends that government must not violate these rights based on a social contract. Moreover, Locke argues for the intrinsic virtue of human being, drawing attention to our duty to take care and respect the rights, property, and well-being of others.[13] Through propitious thinkers such as Locke and Kant, liberal international relations theory refute the idea that nuclear capabilities render long term peace, but rather the establishment of norms ensure international lawfulness.

While the realist camps attribute nuclear non-use to theories of deterrence and mutually assured destructive capabilities, idealists would emphasize the role of international organizations in their efforts to stop nuclear proliferation and use. States are part of a “community” where common norms, and values are shared, leading to stability and peace through ongoing negotiations. This fosters a reduction of uncertainty by providing information and generating narratives of mutual identification.[14] The nuclear counter culture that followed in the 1950s, resulted in procession of anti-nuclear weapon treaties suggesting success of idealist theories of cooperation.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, America saw an upsurge in protests against nuclear weapons testing. The looming fear of the outbreak of a nuclear war persisted and ushered the beginning of a counterculture era. It wasn’t long before the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock in 1947, which illustrated that the “closer to midnight” we were, the higher the risk of a nuclear war breakout. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Nuclear Freeze Movement, the Nevada Desert Experience and Russell-Einstein Manifesto were all parts of a colossal effort to eliminate nuclear weapons.

In particular, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) gave social movements a platform to operate upon. Established in the 1970s, the NPT aims to control nuclear proliferation through active verification, transparency, and irreversibility.[15] In efforts to promote disarmament, international relations theorists suggest the NPT has successfully established the non-use of nuclear weapon as a norm. While realists and idealists alike recognize the harsh realities of the anarchical world, liberals place emphasis on treaties like the NPT, contending that states are able to cooperate and reach mutual gains. Through the obedience of norms and institutions that promote collective security, the NPT aims to stabilise the relationship between nuclear and non-nuclear states.

Liberals also turn to other nuclear weapons treaties to verify the utility of cooperation and peace. As addressed previously, Iranian nuclear attainment was extensively promoted by Waltz, championing the idea of “peace through strength.” The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or “Iran Deal’), however, offered an alternative to nuclear proliferation, and devised a multilateral treaty between Iran, the five permanent members of United Nations, and Germany.[16] Still seen to this day as one of the greatest triumphs of international peace talks, The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ended a deeply complex stalemate between United States and Iran, whom have not had “formal relations” since 1979. Prior to the Iran deal, a political unrest loomed within the international community, and it was deemed highly unlikely that Iran would cease its enrichment programme altogether. Thus, the JCPOA created a framework where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) routinely ensured Iran was in compliance, while the international community successfully contained an international nuclear arms race. Liberal theorists may point to instances such as the JCPOA, and conclude it offered a fruitful and unprecedented opportunity for healing and mutual peace.

Upon surveying the success of such international peace talks, one may be inclined to lean towards an optimistic idealist vision, such as seen in Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion, endorsing the notion that it is an “economic impossibility for one nation to destroy or seize the wealth of another [state].”[17]. For Angell’s and idealists alike, the rise of globalization and interdependence contends that war possesses no commercial advantage. While this manner of thought is regarded as optimistic and progressive in contemporary society, there are potential dangers of idealist thinking.

The Realities of Liberalism

At first glance, nuclear weapon treaties such as the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty and Iran Deal may appear pioneering and fruitful. However, upon deeper analysis, the NPT only binds its signatories, therefore, non-signatories such as India, Pakistan, North Korea, and South Sudan are not bound by the treaties provisions.  Additionally, since coming into force in 1970, the NPT has been unable to restrain non-nuclear weapons states from developing nuclear weapon capability. A prime example is North Korea, Iraq, and Iran prior to the JCPOA. Article six of the NPT states “all states party to pursue negotiations in good faith toward three specified ends: (1) ending the nuclear arms race at an early date; (2) achieving nuclear disarmament; and (3) achieving a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”[18] However, the reality of the nuclear stalemate persists: no nuclear armed states have fulfilled their commitment to disarmament. To date, the nuclear weaponized states that signed the NPT still possess the same amount of nuclear weapon arsenals, if not more. Although the IAEA has a legal right to inspect suspicious countries, subsequent UN action is uncertain. In conjunction with weak enforcement mechanisms and little change in current arsenals, the regressive realities of the NPT only become clear upon consideration of the minimal effects it has on nuclear proliferation in the long term.

While idealists sought solace in the success of the 2015 Iran deal, the withdrawal from the JCPOA by the Trump administration in May 2018 shattered hopes for a non-nuclear Iran.[19] Trump adopted Gunboat diplomacy involving threats of military action, compelling unilateral concessions from Iran and muscling Iran to win the “survival of the fittest” game. International theorists attribute Trump’s withdrawal to fulfillment of his campaign rhetoric, ongoing pressures from Middle Eastern allies and active demolition of previous administration successes. This suggests Washington is less concerned with specific terms of the JCPOA, but rather the possibility of regime change within Iran.  Despite efforts from previous administrations to contain Iranian nuclear attainment, the Trump administration’s adoption of Machiavellian Realpolitik has left looming uncertainty within the international realm.


 Through investigation of the idealist and realist camp, I concur that realism is still of great prominence today. While I accept the notion that norms rendered a role during the counterculture era of the 1960s, I assert that the Hobbesian state of nature requires states to primarily seek their own security. Moreover, nuclear weapon attainment increases security for a state by establishing legitimacy in bureaucratic power relations. Recent action of the Trump administration reflects realist modes of thought, most notably, the significance of national sovereignty and security. The lack of global governance, therefore, renders a political climate where utopian ideals of peace fail to endure. I buttress these claims with the failures of the NPT and JCPOA as aforementioned. I conclude, therefore, that it is no longer a battle between contesting theories, but the realism of an atomic twenty first century.





Angell, N. (1911). The Great Illusion: A study of the relation of military power in nations to   their economic and social advantage. Toronto: McClelland and Goodchild.

Carr, E. H. (1930). The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An introduction to the study of   international relations. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited.

Dunne, Tim, Kurki, Milja, and Steve Smith (2013). International Relations Theories: Discipline    and diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freed, Fred, and Len Giovannitti. (1965) The Decision to drop the bomb. Wilmette, Ill: Films Inc.

Hobbes, Thomas. (1969) Leviathan, 1651. Menston: Scholar P.

IAEA. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” April 21, 1970. https://www.iaea.org/publications/documents/infcircs/treaty-non-proliferation-nuclear-weapons.

Locke, John. 1823. The works of John Locke. London: Printed for Thomas Tegg.

Meyer, Stephe. The Dynamics of Nuclear Proliferation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

Nasr, Vali. “Iran among the Ruins: Tehran’s Advantage in a Turbulent Middle East,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March/April 2018): 108-118.

Schelling, Thomas. ‘‘An Astonishing Sixty Years: The Legacy of Hiroshima’’ (Nobel

Prize Lecture), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (April 18, 2006) 608993; Miroslav Nincic, Renegade Regimes: Confronting Deviant Behavior in World

Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

US Department State. (2015)  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Washington: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/.

Waltz, Kenneth N. (1981)The spread of nuclear weapons: more may be better. London:     International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Waltz, Kenneth. (2012) “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 4 : 2. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/2012-06-15/why-iran-should-get-bomb.


[1] Freed, Fred, and Len Giovannitti. 1965. The Decision to drop the bomb. Wilmette, Ill: Films Inc.

[2] Kenneth Waltz. 1981. The spread of nuclear weapons: more may be better. London: International Institute for Strategic Studies.

[3] Kenneth Waltz. 2012. Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.

[4]Hobbes, Thomas. 1969. Leviathan, 1651. Menston: Scholar P.

[5]Jacques E. C. Hymans. 2006. THEORIES OF NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION, Nonproliferation Review.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Kenneth Waltz. 1979. Theory of International Politics.

[8]  E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis. 1919 to 1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relation

[9] Stephen M. Meyer, The Dynamics of Nuclear Proliferation. University of Chicago Press. 1984.

[10] Note: I utilize liberalism and idealism interchangeably. It is critical to note that liberalism is an international relations theory that is widely influenced by idealist ways of thought and theory.

[11] Thomas Schelling, ‘‘An Astonishing Sixty Years: The Legacy of Hiroshima’’ 2006.

[12] Dunne, Tim, Kurki, Milja, and Steve Smith. 2013. International Relations Theories: Discipline and diversity. P. 95.

[13] Locke, John. 1823. The works of John Locke. London: Printed for Thomas Tegg. pp. 106-107.

[14] Dunne, Tim, Kurki, Milja, and Steve Smith. 2013. International Relations Theories: Discipline and diversity.

[15]IAEA. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” 1970.

[16] US Department State. Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Washington: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, 2015.

[17] Angell, N. The Great Illusion: A study of the relation of military power in nations to their economic and social advantage. 1911.

[18] IAEA. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” 1970.

[19] Vali Nasr, Iran among the Ruins: Tehran’s Advantage in a Turbulent Middle East. 2018.

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