It seems that the murkiness behind Iran’s decision making is clearing. Realists always say that their theory has explanatory power when it comes to major policy decisions. We can safely say that a countries decision to halt or resume a nuclear weapons program is a major policy decision. The National Intelligence Estimate released on Monday concludes that Iran halted its program in 2003 in response to international pressure. This leads them to believe that “Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."
If it is true that Iran makes decisions based on cost-benefit approach then it is a critical time for US policy makers. The good news is that we know which direction to start thinking. If Iran is rational then it will respond to pressure. The hard parts, though, are knowing what type of pressure—carrots or sticks—would be the most effective and how much pressure would be effective. The estimate comments on this: “some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The estimate gives the obvious conclusion that it is “difficult” to suggest what this combination could be.