As deliberations over the Iran nuclear deal continue in Congress, University students, faculty, and guests gathered in PAC 001 to gain more insight on this pressing policy debate. On Friday, Oct. 9, the Wesleyan International Relations Association and the Adelphic Educational Fund hosted a talk by Guest Speaker Professor Mark Sheetz, entitled “A Nuclear Iran: What’s the Deal?”. The event was centered around Iran and nuclear proliferation. A debriefing conversation followed Sheetz’s speech.
Sheetz centered his talk around the concept of nuclear deterrence, the idea that a state’s possession of nuclear weapons makes other countries hesitant to start a war with it, for fear of complete annihilation.
For the past year, Sheetz has served as Fulbright Professor and Chair of Security Studies at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. He has taught previously at Williams College, Dartmouth College, Boston College, and the University. He has been published widely in academic journals and is currently working on a book examining the origins of European integration through the prism of Franco-German relations.
Luis Gonzalez ’19 attended the talk to learn about unfamiliar topics and also to gain a new perspective.
“I think that knowing about nuclear weapons and their involvement in international relations is something relevant to everyone because it may have a great impact on human civilization,” said Gonzalez. “[I learned that] because of mutually assured destruction that nuclear weapons in Iran serve virtually no purpose, however, they do make it more difficult for the west to assert its influence over Iran and its allies.”
Another student spoke to the politically charged nature of the University and how engaging in these discussions is necessary.
“[I came because] my family is originally from Iran and as we all know Iran is very much in the news these days,” said Dariush Yazdanpanah ’19.“I just feel like when you have an opportunity like this to come, within this community, and discuss what’s going on in the world it’d be foolish not to come. I feel like everyone in this community really cares about politics and issues around the world and it’s great to sit in and experience that and it’s great to see the perception of Iran in America as well.”
Sheetz started the talk with a series of questions posed to the audience regarding his personal views on the Iran deal, which he quickly acknowledged were not relevant. However, he did state that what is relevant is the truth of the situation and the proof that deterrence works.
“People ask whether I’m for or against nuclear weapons—but my answer is that it doesn’t matter because of nuclear deterrence,” Sheetz said.
Sheetz addressed why Iran would want a bomb they cannot use. The answer, according to Sheetz, is an easy one: Iran wants nuclear weapons for survival and political independence. He argued that the purpose of nuclear weapons is defensive, rather than offensive.
“Attacking a nuclear power is suicide,” he said, “[This would result in] annihilation or obliteration.”
This led Sheetz to begin speaking on where America comes into play. He also addressed the history of nuclear weapons to put everything into context, and the media’s perception of what a nuclear Iran would mean for the world.
Current media perception in America of a nuclear Iran may have to do with a general past of animosity the U.S. had toward other countries wanting to obtain nuclear weapons. He spoke about the beginning of America’s nuclear involvement with the Manhattan Project as well as more recent events, including, those in South Korea.
“The United States does not want anyone to have nuclear weapons because we want control and room to maneuver,” Sheetz explained.
He added that the American perception of the situation is skewed.
“The threat that this would impose on the United States is merely assumed,” Sheetz said.
He spoke about his supposition that politicians, including Hillary Clinton, take political positions without any analysis or evidence.
He assured the crowd that this is an American perspective more than an international one, referencing how European countries have taken the military option off of the table and how this proves that they are willing to accept a nuclear Iran. The hesitance from international countries is more related to the Iranian regime than to the weapons themselves.
Sheetz summarized that we can reconcile to a nuclear Iran by reinforcing the purely defensive motives driving Iran.
“A nuclear shield would protect Iran from nuclear retaliation,” he said.
Sheetz argued that a nuclear Iran would pose no threat to the U.S. or Israel, and he pointed to facts to show that deterrence works.
“[We need to] calm down about the threat—thinking it’s a threat means you think nuclear deterrence will fail,” he said.