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The Iranian Nuclear Challenge

This page brings together CSSS research and expertise on the Iranian nuclear challenge. For those looking for a no-nonsense guide to the key issues at stake in negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, check out our explainer.

Nuclear Negotiations

Negotiations towards a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear issue are ongoing between the P5+1 and Iran. A framework agreement was agreed in Lausanne in April 2015 and pressure is now on to finalise the deal. If an agreement is reached, this will mark a significant step towards resolution of one of the most pressing issues in nuclear security.

For an insight into what is at stake in the talks, listen to Dina Esfandiary's recent podcast. Professor Wyn Bowen and Dr Matthew Moran have also commented on the prospects and consequences of a deal in recent months in two articles for the Telegraph: 'What will be the cost of containing Iran?' and 'Iran nuclear talks: What are the prospects of a lasting agreement?'.

On a related issue, read Project Alpha researcher Nick Gillard's piece in the 'Bulletin for Atomic Scientists' on how the framework agreement reached in Lausanne in April might spell a plot twist for Iranian procurement of nuclear material and technology, with the USA potentially emerging as favoured supplier.

While many support the prospect of a comprehensive deal, there are others who are strongly opposed. Some commentators, for example, have evoked the spectre of nuclear weapons proliferation in the region if the deal goes through. Dina Esfandiary debunks this argument in a recent piece for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. For a more detailed analysis, check out the book published by Dr Chris Hobbs and Dr Matthew Moran: 

For more analysis on Iran, follow us on Twitter: @WQBowen, @DEsfandiary, @MoranCSSS, @AlphaAnalysis

Iran, Nuclear Hedging and Proliferation Behaviour

Our research suggests that Iran's nuclear programme is best described in terms of nuclear hedging, a strategy based on the ability to acquire nuclear weapons relatively quickly should Tehran decide to do so. For a short summary of hedging and what this means for negotiations with Iran see 'Containment, not rollback, is the key to Iran's nuclear future' by Prof Wyn Bowen and Dr Matthew Moran.  

This work forms part of a broader research project that examines Iran's proliferation behaviour. A longer academic article on Iran and nuclear hedging has been published in Contemporary Security Policy

At one level, the project seeks to develop a more nuanced understanding of the strategy underpinning Iran's nuclear activities - the drivers and considerations that influence decision-makers in Tehran - and how these can be identified in practice. On a larger scale, the project aims to advance current thinking on the concept of nuclear hedging, a form of proliferation behaviour that has received relatively little academic attention to date.For more information, contact Professor Wyn Bowen or Dr Matthew Moran.

The Illicit Trade Supporting Iran's Nuclear Programme

The Centre for Science and Security Studies is home to Project Alpha, a research initiative dedicated to understanding and countering illicit, proliferation-related trade by conducting research, industry outreach and supporting international institutions. Project Alpha's investigations into procurement for Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes have been cited by the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. For more information, visit the Project Alpha website or contact Ian Stewart or Nick Gillard.

Staff at the Centre for Science and Security Studies conduct research on a range of political and security issues arising from Iran's nuclear activities. From analysing Tehran's efforts to circumvent economic sanctions to the significance of the country's nuclear advancement, our research aims to generate new insights into the Iranian nuclear challenge. Some current projects and research themes are outlined below. 

Iran's Regional Influence

The Iranian nuclear challenge should not be considered in isolation. The nuclear negotiations are influencing and being influenced by a range of other developments in the region. The effort to combat ISIS, for example, has seen Iran and the US become uncomfortable allies.  For an assessment of Iran's ISIS policy, see the recent article in International Affairs by Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabei. Dina has also written for Al Jazeera on the conflict in Iraq and what instability here means for Iran

Relevant Publications  

Academic Articles

Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai, 'Iran's ISIS policy', International Affairs (2015), Vol.91, No.1, pp.1-15.

Wyn Bowen and Matthew Moran, 'Iran’s Nuclear Programme: A Case Study in Hedging?’, Contemporary Security Policy (2014), Vol.35, No.1, pp.26-52

Matthew Moran and Daniel Salisbury, ‘Sanctions and the Insurance Industry: Challenges and Opportunities’, Business and Politics (2014), Vol.16, No.2

Daniel Salisbury and David Lowrie, ‘Targeted: a case study in Iranian illicit procurement’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2013), Vol.69, No.3, pp.23-30.

Christopher Hobbs and Matthew Moran, ‘Looking Beyond a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Is Regional Proliferation Inevitable?’, The International Spectator (2012), Vol.47, No.4, pp.127-148.

Matthew Moran and Christopher Hobbs, ‘The Iranian Nuclear Dilemma: Light at the End of the Tunnel’, Defense and Security Analysis (2012), Vol.28, No.3, pp.202-212.

Wyn Bowen and Jonathan Brewer, ‘Iran’s Nuclear Challenge: Nine Years and Counting’, International Affairs (2011), Vol.87, No.4, pp.923-943.

Op-eds and Briefings

Dina Esfandiary, 'War with Iran is the worst option', The Lowy Interpreter, 26 March 2015.

Dina Esfandiary, 'A partitioned Iraq would be a nightmare for Iran', Al Jazeera, 27 March 2015.

Wyn Bowen and Matthew Moran, 'Iran nuclear talks: What are the prospects for a lasting agreement?', The Telegraph, 18 November 2014.

Ian Stewart, Nick Gillard and Jonathan Brewer, ‘Internet trading platforms: making it easier to get around sanctions?,’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (online), 31 October 2014.

Ian Stewart and Nick Gillard, ‘Sabotage? Iranian exhibition gives insights into illicit procurement methods and challenges,’ Project Alpha Proliferation Case Study Series, 8 September 2014.

Ian Stewart and Daniel Salisbury, ‘Wanted: Karl Lee,’ The Diplomat, 22 May 2014.

Wyn Bowen and Matthew Moran, ‘Is Tehran ready to deal because it has already fulfilled its nuclear aims?’, The Lowy Interpreter, 11 November 2013.

Wyn Bowen and Matthew Moran, ‘Containment, not rollback, is the key to Iran’s nuclear future’, The Conversation, 5 November 2013.

Wyn Bowen and Matthew Moran, ‘Take advantage of the new era in Iranian foreign policy’, The Guardian, 1 October 2013.

Matthew Moran and Christopher Hobbs, ‘Would a nuclear Iran really trigger a new arms race in the Middle East?’, The Guardian, 19 December 2012.

CSSS staff working on the Iranian nuclear issue


Professor Wyn Bowen – @WQBowen

Dr Matthew Moran – @MoranCSSS

Dina Esfandiary - @DEsfandiary

Dr Ben Kienzle – @KienzleCSSS

Nick Gillard - @AlphaAnalysis

Project Alpha - @AlphaNonpro


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