Revisiting Iran's nuclear rationales

Uriel Abulof*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


What is the rationale behind Iran's nuclear policy? This article identifies and reviews five answers: (i) Economy, mainly energy needs; (ii) Identity politics, pride and prestige; (iii) Deterrence of foreign intervention; (iv) Compellence to boost regional influence; and (v) Domestic politics, mitigating, through 'nuclear diversion' the regime's domestic crisis of legitimacy. How should we assess the theoretical validity and practical viability of these accounts? I suggest four factors: (i) Compatibility, the extent to which the various rationales are mutually exclusive; (ii) Consistency, the historical stability of the nuclear motivation; (iii) Rationality, the relevancy of ascribing rationality/irrationality to Iran in order to ascertain its nuclear rationales; and (iv) Falsifiability, our ability to refute theses on nuclear motivations. The article addresses recent events, including Rouhani's election and the Geneva interim agreement, and concludes with policy implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)404-415
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Iran
  • Rouhani
  • legitimacy crisis
  • nuclear motivations
  • nuclear proliferation
  • rationality


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