With the possibility of a clash between the United States and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program looming on the horizon, one cannot help but wonder: Is it worth it for Iran, now grappling with increasingly onerous sanctions, to continue its pursuit of a nuclear capacity, albeit an ambiguous one?
By all indications, Iran's leaders believe so, based on their read of recent history. Since the end of the Cold War, according to this narrative, regimes that the U.S. dislikes for their internal behavior or external activity -- and Iran certainly qualifies on both scores -- run the risk of being on the receiving end of America's expeditionary firepower, unless they possess a suitable deterrent capability. Serbia in 1999, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 were all subject to military operations because each country lacked nuclear weapons, giving the United States a free opportunity to strike without fear of dramatic consequences.
In contrast, North Korea -- which, among other things, shelled a South Korean island, sank a South Korean destroyer, engaged in state-sponsored terrorism and criminal activities, and has committed gross violations of human rights that make a mockery of the very "responsibility to protect" -- has not only enjoyed immunity from any sort of military action but has engaged in high-level diplomacy with the world's great powers to bargain for economic aid and fuel deliveries for its cash-strapped country. To Iranian eyes, Pyongyang has been treated differently precisely because of its nuclear capabilities. Iranian commentators have also noted how Pakistan's nuclear arsenal has similarly shielded Islamabad from the full force of American wrath, despite years of semi-official Pakistani support for the ongoing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.