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Earlier this month Iran had successfully launched its second satellite, the 15 Kg Rasad-1, into orbit. The Space Launch Vehicle, basically the Safir 2, does not suggest to us that Iran is well on the road to developing a long-range missile capacity.

But it has highlighted Iran’s grand plans for its space programme. Apparently the Iranians seek to launch a number of additional satellites into orbit. They also seek to launch in future a monkey, in a cruel experiment, on a way one trip to space. All this is but a precursor to a planned 2019 manned space mission. According to a New Scientist report

…”The monkey seems perfectly plausible,” Weeden says. Flying and safely returning a human to Earth by 2019 is more of a stretch, but it might be possible for Iran if it is a suborbital hop rather than a more challenging orbital flight, he says…

Naturally speculation has focused on what this means for Iran’s ability to deliver a 1 tonne military payload, consistent with a first generation nuclear reentry vehicle, by long-range ballistic missile. Many would be concerned about the dual-use aspect to Iran’s space programme as it further develops.

I would like to focus on something a little bit differently here given the “Arab Spring.” Earlier this year The Royal Society had published a fascinating report on transnational collaboration in science. The report had a number of things to say about the pattern of global scientific activity. One thing that we learn from the report is that Iran has the fastest growth rate in science as measured by the number of scientific papers published

… The number of publications from Iran has grown from just 736 in 1996 to 13,238 in 2008—making it the fastest growing country in terms of numbers of scientific publications in the world. In August 2009, Iran announced a ‘comprehensive plan for science’ focused on higher education and stronger links between industry and academia. The establishment of a US$2.5 million centre for nanotechnology research is one of the products of this plan. Other commitments include boosting R&D investment to 4% of GDP (0.59% of GDP in 2006), and increasing education to 7% of GDP by 2030 (5.49% of GDP in 2007)…

This is worthy of note because we are talking here of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Both Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad like to cloak themselves in the aura of modernity. The fact that Iran is making great strides in science surely serves as an ideological plus for political Islam in the Middle East and North Africa. Political Islam has always had a problem with modernity. This is not just in the sense that it reacts against modernity but that political Islam has been widely seen as not really providing any solutions for the problems of modernisation. This undermines the Muslim Brotherhood claim that “Islam is the solution.”

Iran is a regional leader in the development of indigenous science and technology.

So, could Iran’s scientific achievements bolster political Islam? I think this ideological challenge might prove to be more a threat to US power in the region than long-range missiles. The Iranian regime is facing a severe internal crisis of legitimacy as well as a number of interrelated socioeconomic challenges. These crises also impact on the ideological appeal of political Islam in the Middle East as they tend to support the notion that political Islam is not terribly relevant in the modern age.

But Iran’s scientific achievements go in the other direction.

While we are on this topic one emerging scientific power, India, is considering the development of an ICBM capability. According to a report in the Indian press

…India is seriously contemplating to enhance the reach of its strategic missiles. The Defence Ministry is considering a proposal to develop intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting targets 10,000 km away. At present, there is a voluntary cap on developing missiles beyond 5,000-km range and the ICBM capabilities will propel India into the elite league of nations possessing the deterrent with nuclear warheads — China, the US, Russia and the UK.The proposal for developing ICBM capabilities was moved by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) last month and currently being examined by the Defence Ministry. Since it is a major policy decision as ICBM has international ramifications and India is a nuclear weapon State, sources said here on Saturday that the ultimate decision to go for it would be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS)…

A formal go-ahead by the Indian government might have implications for US-India space programme collaboration. The need to deter China is cited as a reason for India developing an ICBM. Though India does not have full coverage of China, it does have the ability to deter China in the same manner that China currently has to deter the US. Deterrence is not really a factor here.

I tend to think that the proposed ICBM capability has more to do with an Indian version of military Keynesianism for the high technology sector. The proposed ICBM capability is also probably something that its advocates argue India needs to develop as an emerging great power in the global state system.

Sadly, the last point is probably right. Under mercantilism, which never really ended, weak states are not allowed to develop economically unless by the grace of the great powers.

It was the English who taught the Indians all about that. British imperialism was a key reason for the underdevelopment of India.

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