Iranian President Raisi’s Renewed Emphasis on Space Is Likely To Create New Tensions

December 20, 2021

Author: 

Jim Lamson and Jeffrey Lewis

Author's Title: 

James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Publication: 

War on the Rocks

Western press reporting on the first 100 days of Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, has naturally focused on his impact on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. But in Iran, officials refer to three, not two, “power-creating” (eghtedar-saz) industries: nuclear, missiles, and space. And it is space, more so than either nuclear or missiles, where Raisi has focused his early public efforts. And it is Iran’s moves in space that will probably present President Joe Biden with the first challenge of the post-nuclear deal era.

In his first 100 days, Raisi has moved to place his imprint by reinvigorating Iran’s space program, the results of which will be visible in the coming months and years. Raisi has now set in motion a process that will result in Iran launching more satellites in the coming year, unveiling new space launch vehicles, and breaking ground on a new space launch facility in southern Iran. These developments will understandably be interpreted by Western media in the context of Iran’s missile programs and the broader security situation. But it is important to understand that Iran is also deeply committed to the economic, military, and security uses of outer space.

The Biden administration will have to choose how to respond to Iran’s growing presence in space. Will the United States try to balance its legitimate concerns about proliferation with Iran’s right to access space? Or will it treat Iran as a pariah, hoping that vocal opposition to Iran’s space launches will somehow produce a different result than the same approach did with North Korea?

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