The following is the introduction to the new Foreign Affairs eBook, Iran and the Bomb. Click here to purchase the book.
For more than three decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has posed a problem for the world. On the one hand, the Iranian regime’s radical Islamist ideology, support for terrorism and regional subversion, and quest for an illegal nuclear weapons capability have made it a dangerous revisionist power determined to upend the existing regional and global order. On the other hand, Iran’s position atop vast energy reserves and astride critical strategic choke points has made it an essential player in the global economy. This combination has produced a strange mixture of contention and connection, conflict and cooperation.
During much of this period, policymakers in Washington and other major capitals faced a dilemma. They felt they couldn’t live with the Iranian regime, but that the world couldn’t live without its oil. The result was often a rough and unacknowledged modus vivendi in which Iran’s energy resources flowed onto global markets while the regime itself was pushed to the margins of international society. But recently this always tenuous compromise has grown even less stable. The Iranian nuclear program has moved forward, as have threats of an Israeli or American attack on it. And U.S. officials, having learned to live without Iranian energy, now want the rest of the world to do so as well. They have managed to wean Europe off it and are pressing China to follow. So each month now seems to be billed as the one in which matters will finally come to a head, one way or another.
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