Zarif: Iran’s military program serves to prevent another Saddam
In an article published in the Atlantic on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Tehran’s insistence on a robust military program is to prevent another regional bully like Saddam Hussein from emerging.
The following is a summary of
Iranians live in a troubled and unstable region. We cannot change geography, but our neighborhood was not always so stormy. Without delving too far back into history—although as an ancient peoples our memories are measured in millennia, not decades or even centuries—it’s safe to say that our region began to experience
insecurity and instability when foreign, indeed completely alien powers, arrived and began interfering.
Today, what that meddling has wrought is a fractured Middle East. Steadfast allies of the West, rather than considering the plight or aspirations of their own peoples, spend their wealth arming themselves, sending to the West the riches their natural resources provide.
Allies of the West—throughout their brief history as nations hostile to my country—pounced on Iran in the aftermath of our Islamic Revolution, which freed us from a dictatorship not unlike theirs and allowed us to set our own course in history, independent and peaceful but allied to neither East nor West. While we voluntarily set aside a domineering role in the region, they funded, armed, and supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran.
We Iranians, punished for having the gall to declare ourselves free of domestic tyranny and foreign dominance, were denied even the most basic defensive weapons, even while missiles rained down on our cities to the cheers of our Arab neighbors. One of those neighbors, Kuwait, a major funder of Iraq’s war on us and the facilitator of its oil sales, shortly afterward became the victim of Saddam’s ambitions itself. Yet in the interest of regional peace and stability, we chose to support Kuwait’s sovereignty in the face of Iraqi invasion, despite Saddam’s offer to share the spoils with us; he even sent his fighter jets to Iran, ostensibly for safe-keeping, but really in an attempt to lure us to his side. Our leadership firmly rejected this offer despite the hostility, both overt and covert, some Persian Gulf states had shown us since the revolution. We preferred for our Persian Gulf neighbors to remain stable, functioning, independent countries, rather than enjoying the certain but brief satisfaction of seeing them receive their just deserts.
Our interest in our region’s affairs, though, is not malevolent. On the contrary, it is in the interest of stability. We do not desire the downfall of any regimes in the countries that surround us. Our desire—in principle and practice—is that all the nations of the region enjoy security, peace, and stability. Unfortunately, this is not the desire of some of some of our neighbors, whose untried leaders cherish the delusion of regime change in Iran, and support terrorist groups that seek to overthrow our government or create fear for the sake of wounding the nation. Our neighbors do this even while saying that Iran’s influence is spreading— especially since the conclusion of the nuclear agreement of 2015.
Iran’s influence, though, has spread not at the purposeful expense of others, but as a result of their and their Western allies’ actions, mistakes, and wrong choices.
It is because of the hostility shown to us since the Islamic Revolution, from within our own region and from the West, and because of the West’s refusal to sell us any defensive weaponry that might deter a future Saddam, that we have developed an indigenous capability. It includes missiles, which require testing to ensure that they perform as designed, and which are now accurate to within seven meters.
We purposefully excluded our defensive military capability from negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal is formally known, precisely because Iran will never abrogate its right to defend its citizens or delegate that right to an outside party. It is not intended as leverage or a bargaining chip in future negotiations. No party or country need fear our missiles, or indeed any Iranian military capability, unless it intends to attack our territory or foment trouble through terrorist attacks on our soil.
Saudi Arabia spends over $63 billion on defense annually, ranking 4th in the world behind only the U.S., China, and Russia. The UAE, a country with less than 1.5 million citizens, ranks 14th, with over $22 billion in annual defense spending. Iran doesn’t even make the list of the top 20 spenders: Its $12 billion puts it in 33rd place. It is hardly ramping up to be the new hegemonic bully in the neighborhood. Our goal is not to have the biggest or best-equipped military, or to possess trillions of dollars worth of weapons, but to have the minimum materiel required to deter and to counter threats and armed attack. Our biggest asset for stability, security, and independence is our people, who—unlike the citizens of some U.S. allies in the region—choose their government every four years.
The Iran-phobia perpetuated by some of our neighbors—which in the age of rule by political neophytes has become a kind of hysteria—is now influencing the outlook of the U.S. This is true of the nuclear agreement and is evident more generally in the kind of open hostility toward Iran President Trump expressed in his 2017 UN speech. But the evidence for “bad behavior” by Iran is nonexistent. Iranian “aggression” is a myth, easily perpetuated by those willing to spend their dollars on American military equipment and public-relations firms, and by those promising to protect American interests rather than those of their own people. In the end, they serve neither.
The successful implementation of the nuclear deal—by Iran, at least—is proof of Iran’s good will and peaceful intentions. If we had hegemonic ambitions, an agreement would never have been reached. The JCPOA can in fact be a model for the diplomatic resolution of crises, and for peaceful outcomes in regional disputes. Rather than look at its shortcomings—for in any deal or bargain, there are shortcomings from the perspective of either side—it would behoove other countries beyond to look at its benefits. For there are also benefits for all sides, including for our immediate neighbors.
Iranian “aggression” is a myth, easily perpetuated by those willing to spend their dollars on American military equipment and publicrelations firms, and by those promising to protect American interests rather than those of their own people. In the end, they serve neither.
It is because of the hostility shown to us since the Islamic Revolution, from within our own region and from the West, and because of the West’s refusal to sell us any defensive weaponry that might deter a future Saddam, that we have developed an indigenous capability.