The Shah & the Atom: An International History of the the Iranian Nuclear Program in the 1970s

My first book project, based on my doctoral dissertation, explores the global debate in the 1970s around the opportunities and risks posed by nuclear technology, triggered by the confluence of the 1973 oil crisis and 1974 Indian nuclear test. I shed new light on this debate by studying the Iranian nuclear program, U.S. policy, and nonproliferation regime together. The manuscript draws on American, British, French, and Iranian archival documents and is informed by the scholarship on the global Cold War, international nuclear history, Pahlavi Iran, and security studies. The first part of the book manuscript looks at the decision by Iran under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, better known as “the shah”, to launch one of the most ambitious nuclear programs of the 1970s. I demonstrate the program primarily sought to transform the Iranian economy by substituting nuclear energy for oil. The shah believed this would free up oil for export and manufacturing and help rapidly modernize the economy. I also marshal new evidence to show that the secondary goal of the program was a nuclear weapon option.

The second part examines how the United States under Jimmy Carter sought to use nuclear cooperation negotiations with the shah to create a model agreement with strong safeguards he hoped would be adopted by other nuclear suppliers and recipients. This was a key but understudied element of U.S. nonproliferation efforts, alongside the better known creation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation Program. While an U.S.-Iran agreement was ultimately concluded, it was never signed for a range of reasons, including U.S. suspicion of Iranian motives. The third part of the manuscript demonstrates how Iran became the lynchpin of a transnational coalition of nuclear suppliers, recipients, and industry, that challenged U.S. nonproliferation policy. The scholarship has downplayed these challenges to U.S. policy as cynical ploys to access sensitive technology in order to build nuclear weapons. I show that the coalition led by Iran in fact articulated a coherent response to U.S. policy, at least partly underpinned by genuine interest in the promise of nuclear energy. This is the subject of my latest journal article published in The International History Review. Overall, my study also suggests greater continuity between pre- and post-revolution Iranian nuclear policy than scholars have previously held.

Bombs, Banks and Sanctions: A Sociology of the Transnational Legal Field of Nuclear Nonproliferation. (Postdoctoral Project)

My postdoctoral project, carried out under the supervision of historical sociologist and project PI Gregoire Mallard, builds on my graduate research. It focuses on the implementation of nuclear nonproliferation sanctions against Iran and creation of a global system of surveillance of the financial dealings of all states, banks and individuals, fostered by U.N. Security Council Resolutions and U.S. and E.U. sanctions since 9/11. We apply a sociological perspective to study this “transnational legal order” by analyzing how actors, institutions and legal technologies shape the processes of norm-creation and rules-implementation in the field of nonproliferation. We use a multi-methods approach, combining interview-based methods and archival research to study these processes in different contexts. Our first planned article based on this project draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of practice to highlight the new role of private actors in the implementation of international security agreements. It will focus on the role of the private consultants, lawyers, country risk analysts and security experts in interpreting the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, and what it means for global finance. The second planned article studies long-term discursive trends around sanctions by comparing two important periods in nonproliferation (1973-1979 and 2003-2010) using archival databases and quantitative analysis of the association of the word “sanctions” with key concepts, issues, and institutions.

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

Sabet, Farzan. “The April 1977 Persepolis Conference on the Transfer of Nuclear Technology: A Third World Revolt Against US Nonproliferation Policy?” The International History Review: 1-18. 2017.

Sabet, Farzan. “Iran: Resolving the Nuclear Crisis.” Journal of Public International Affairs: 74–92. 2013.

Safshekan, Roozbeh, and Farzan Sabet. “Discoloured Revolution: The Iranian Green Movement, Coloured Revolutions and Factional Politics in Iran.” McGill Journal of Middle East Studies XII: 2–29. 2011.

Safshekan, Roozbeh, and Farzan Sabet. “The Ayatollah’s Praetorians: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the 2009 Election Crisis.” The Middle East Journal 64.4: 543–58. 2010.

Manuscripts in Preparation

“The Other Iran Deal: Failure of the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Cooperation Agreement of 1978.”

“Mansoor Hekmat, Worker Communism, and Post-Revolution Left in Iran, 1979-2001.”

Other Publications

Sabet, Farzan, and Roozbeh Safshekan. “The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iranian Domestic and Foreign Power Politics.” In the Handbook of International Relations in the Middle East, edited by Shahram Akbarzadeh. Routledge. (Forthcoming)

Safshekan, Roozbeh, and Farzan Sabet. “The Source of Legitimacy in the Guardianship of the Jurist: Historical Genealogy Political Implications.” POMEPS Studies 28, New Analysis of Shia Politics. Dec. 2017.

Sabet, Farzan. “The Nuclear Renaissance and Nonproliferation Regime in 2017.” 2016-2017 Graduate Research Awards for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Ottawa: The Simons Foundation and International Security Research and Outreach Programme of Global Affairs Canada. 2017.

Sabet, Farzan. “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Political Elite On Syria: Understanding What They ThinkThrough Iranian Media Narratives.” Philadelphia: Iran Media Program, Center for Global Communication Studies, University of Pennsylvania. 2013.

Sabet, Farzan, and Roozbeh Safshekan. “Soft War: A New Episode in the Old Conflict between Iran and the United States.” Philadelphia: Iran Media Program, Center for Global Communication Studies, University of Pennsylvania. 2013.