Growing Up in Tehran, I Have A Unique Take on Non-Proliferation

By Ariane Tabatabai
posted on February 28, 2014 in Diplomacy, Security/Intelligence
I was born during the Iran-Iraq War and grew up in post-conflict Tehran. My childhood, despite being quite normal, was dominated by politics. With academic parents in the fields of political sociology and political philosophy, a country where one learns about hating “Zionists” before being able to spell the word, and the drawings in textbooks of children killed by Iraqi chemical weapons, it was quite unavoidable. As a teenager, I knew I did not want to have anything to do with any of that. But I guess that was also unavoidable.
So, naturally, I specialized in international affairs, then international security, and eventually arms control. 
My interest in these issues took root during my master’s program. My dissertation was a comparative study of the Islamic and international legal frameworks governing the conduct of warfare. A small chapter of my dissertation assessed the legality of weapons of mass destruction under Islamic law, which led me to discover that though the topic is highly politicized, it essentially remains a terra incognita, or uncharted, map. 
I decided to delve deeper into the issue with my Ph.D. thesis, and subsequently developed a passion for the field. Regional security and arms control are more than just my work; they are personal to me. Growing up with chemical weapons being used against my compatriots and with the majority of my adult life having been dominated by my country’s nuclear endeavors, I am inclined to be fascinated by these issues.
I became involved in the Middle East Next Generation of Arms Control Specialists Network when I began working at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, D.C., in February 2013. Dr. Chen Kane was looking for an Iranian who worked on arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament issues when she approached me to take part in the group’s projects. I did not know how much her mentorship would impact my life, professionally, intellectually, and personally. I could not imagine not only meeting colleagues who would greatly impact my professional life, but also forging deep friendships that would shape my personal one.
Our group is very diverse, due to both our professional and academic backgrounds as well our political and religious beliefs. We all grew up in a region where biases, distrust, and even dislike of our neighbors are a fact of life. Yet, there is no sign of that in our interactions, professional or personal. A number of people have been surprised to see a group of young arms controllers from the Middle East speak not just the same language, but with a single voice. We do not always share the same views, but we take pride in being able to utilize the differences in our views.
This blog post also appears on the official Tumblr of the British Embassy in Washington. Showcasing what makes Britain GREAT and celebrating the UK-US relationship: