Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Iranian Nuclear Issue and Informal Networks

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Iranian Nuclear Issue and Informal Networks

Article excerpt

Iran's policies," secretary of state-designate Condoleezza Rice said during her January 2005 confirmation hearing, "are about 180 degrees antithetical to our own interests at this point." Rice mentioned Iran's nuclear pursuits as a specific area of concern. Arguably, trying to bomb Iran into a stance more in line with our own will not work, and Tehran has repeatedly refused to enter into direct public negotiations with Washington on this or other subjects. Iranian officials have traditionally said that they require a nuclear capacity because the country's oil resources are finite. They insist that they want to use nuclear energy for electricity generation to maximize oil exports and increase hard currency earnings. An additional issue is national pride-some Iranian commentators declare that nuclear power is a right. The country has developed its nuclear capabilities independently, they argue, and Western (and specifically American) concerns about the issue mask an effort to delay Iran's development. Washington believes Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability as well; Iranian officials deny this vehemently. In any case, the ultimate objective of Iranian nuclear pursuits-weapons or energy-is not the focus of this article. The assumption here is that possession of any nuclear capability by Iran is undesirable.

This article offers social network analysis as a potential solution to the problem of a nuclear Iran. Political scientists use this methodology to understand relationships between individuals and organizations; it has been applied in the business world and in counterterrorism to identify key actors and predict their future actions and positions. Use of this methodology by the U.S. Army-creating "link diagrams" of blood and tribal relations-resulted in the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.1

There exists in Iran a set of informal networks that are in important ways more influential than the formal policy-making structure. This system of networks includes quasi-official and state-affiliated institutions that are not legally identified but answer only to the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah AIi Khamenei. Less structured networks in Iran are based on religious status and education, political affiliation, kinship, military service, and wealth. This article represents an effort to identify these networks, examines the factors that hold them together, and briefly discusses, for contextual reasons, their historical backgrounds.2

The ability of informal networks to influence Iran's apparently small and restricted nuclear policy elite is unclear. However, the dangers of a nuclear Iran

would be too great to ignore or dismiss this approach. This article therefore highlights members of the country's policy elite and their positions on the nuclear issue in the hope that this knowledge may provide a means by which the United States can persuade Iran to change its seemingly intractable stance. Short of that ideal, analysis of social networks sheds light on how outsiders can get information about, understand, and influence Iranian politics.


Personal networks tend to bypass formal institutions when a country's bureaucracies are weak or undeveloped, or when professional advancement depends on personal connections more than competence. In such an environment the networks provide mutual support, strengthen one's ability to respond to threats, reduce risk to the individual, and serve as communications mechanisms. The negative aspects of such networks include the fostering of conflicting loyalties, resistance to change, and the development of group thinking.

Identification of the actors ("nodes") and the relationships between them ("links") in current Iranian networks is difficult, because Western entree to Iran is restricted and work by Iranian scholars on this subject is limited. The modernization efforts of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1941-79) provided observers with much better access. …

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