Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Iraq and Iran

By Bahgat, Gawdat | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Iraq and Iran


Bahgat, Gawdat, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


For most of the 1990s and the early 2000s the international community was concerned about finding and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003 the focus has shifted to the neighboring Iran. This essay examines the acquisition of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the missiles that deliver them in both countries. It discusses each country's motives for seeking such capabilities and attempts a history of their arsenals. Finally, the paper analyzes American efforts to prevent, or at least slow, the proliferation of WMD in Iran in the aftermath of the 2003 war.

Key Words: Iraq, Iran, WMD, Gulf oil, Gulf War, Iran/Iraq war.

Since the early 1980s the Middle Eastern military and strategic environment has been in a state of flux. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the Gulf war (1991), and the war in Iraq (2003) have drastically altered the strategic dynamics of the region. Three developments, with significant strategic implications, can be identified. First, Iran's conventional military capabilities under the Islamic regime have been severely restrained. The massive destruction of a large proportion of Iranian arms during the war with Iraq combined with a relative lack of available funds to buy new weapons suggest that militarily Tehran is much weaker than it was under the Shah. No more does Iran have the capability, resources, or international backing to play the role of the policeman of the Gulf, which it played in the 1970s.

Second, far worse than Iran, Iraqi military forces have been substantially destroyed. Enjoying high oil prices and revenues, Baghdad was a leading military force in the Middle East in the late 1970s. The three Gulf wars dealt a heavy blow to the Iraqi military capability and as a result of the last conflict Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled and a "new Iraq" has been established. The post-Hussein Iraq will re-define its national interests and its regional and international relations.

Third, subject to this changing military calculus and the subsequent strategic uncertainty, it is worth noting that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and the necessary missiles to deliver them - have in the past been introduced and used in the Gulf region. Chemical weapons played a decisive role in the Iraqi attacks on the Iranian troops from 1984 until the end of the war in 1989. In response, Tehran sought to retaliate in kind to the Iraqi attacks and developed its own stockpile of chemical weapons. Furthermore, the two countries launched massive missile attacks against each other's cities.

For years prior to the 2003 Iraq war, both Iran and Iraq have been interested in developing such capability not only to match Israeli power, but possibly more importantly to gain military and strategic leverage in their disputes with each other. Regional rivalries and insecurities compel nation-states to undertake efforts to safeguard their core interests. The acquisition of WMD and secure delivery systems would appear logical and even necessary to achieve this goal. Prestige can be seen as another incentive for states to acquire WMD, particularly nuclear capability. Nevertheless, the stockpiling of these non-conventional weapons combined with political rhetoric can substantially increase the odds for catastrophic war in the Middle East, and increase the chance for preemptive and preventive strikes.

This essay will review the status of WMD in Iraq and Iran. Particular attention will be given to the motives and history of the efforts to acquire these non-conventional capacities. Furthermore an assessment of the chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile capabilities of each state will be provided as well as their stand on the international nonproliferation norms and agreements. Finally, the future of WMD in the Middle East will be examined.

Iraq

During the Saddam era, Iraq was an interesting and unique case in the area of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). …

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