Students probe the history of nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence. They examine arguments for and against nuclear weapons, and the challenges of leftover Cold War arsenals, proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism.
This lesson was published in March 2012.
- Analyze the issues that frame the current debate on U.S. policy towards Iran.
- Identify and articulate the core underlying values of different policy options.
- Work cooperatively within groups to integrate the arguments and beliefs of the options into a persuasive, coherent presentation.
- Explore, debate, and evaluate multiple perspectives on U.S. policy towards Iran.
In the Classroom
1. Framing the Topic
Distribute copies of the KWL handout to students and have them brainstorm what they already know about U.S.-Iranian relations and Iran’s nuclear program, and what they want to know. As ideas are being generated, students should fill in the left-hand and middle columns of their chart.
Students should explore the following Scholars Online videos as well as the resources listed below to answer their questions and complete the “learned” column of the KWL chart. You might also want to distribute the first two pages of “The United States and the Iranian Nuclear Program: Policy Options,” which provide background to the topic.
Jo-Anne Hart – What is Iran’s role in the Middle East?
Jo-Anne Hart – Why might Iran want nuclear weapons?
Joseph Cirincione – Why would countries like North Korea and Iran want nuclear weapons?
To make sure students have a firm grasp of the topic before beginning the role-play activity, you may want to prompt discussion with some of the following questions:
Why does Iran have a nuclear program? Does it have nuclear weapons? Why is the international community so concerned? Why is it so difficult for the international community to determine whether or not Iran is attempting to build a nuclear weapon? How do current events both in the Middle East and the rest of the world affect this issue? What issues must U.S. leaders consider as they weigh their response?
2. Exploring Contrasting Policy Options
Break up your class into five groups and distribute the options handout. Assign four of the groups a policy option. Assign the remaining group the role of senators in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (If you have a large class, you may want to make a sixth group of foreign representatives.)
Option Groups: Each group will review its assigned option and develop a three-to-five minute presentation to give to the class. The presentation should make the best possible case for the option.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee: This group will review each of the options and prepare clarifying questions to ask of the option groups during or after the presentations. Each student should come up with at least two questions for each option.
Foreign Representatives: If your class is large, you may want to have some students be representatives from other countries. You should assign each student a country and tell them to research that country’s position on this issue. These students can present their countries’ views on Iran’s nuclear program and the options for U.S. policy after the presentations.
Give students about 15-20 minutes to prepare their presentations and questions. Then organize the room so that the four option groups face a row of desks reserved for the Committee on Foreign Relations. Explain that the simulation will begin with short presentations by each option group. Encourage students to speak clearly and convincingly. You may wish to have the senators ask questions after each presentation, or save all the questions for the end.
3. Considering U.S. Policy
After the simulation, ask students what they think about the different options. What aspects of the different options do students support? What policies are students concerned about? Can students identify some of the difficult trade-offs that policy makers must make in dealing with this issue? What values underlie each option? What do students think should be the primary aim of U.S. policy towards Iran? What policies would achieve this aim?
How would each of these options affect the U.S. relationship with Iran in the long term? The U.S. relationship with the rest of the world? How would it affect people in the United States? What about people in Iran? What role do students believe the United States should have in addressing this issue, or other international issues? How do student opinions about the role of the United States in world affairs affect the kinds of policies that they support?
Additional Online Resources
BBC News Online – Country Profile: Iran
The BBC provides an overview of Iran, including information about Iran today and a timeline with links to further information about Iran’s history and its nuclear program.
In Focus: IAEA and Iran
The International Atomic Energy Agency provides links to reports, documents, and press stories.
Council on Foreign Relations – Iran
The Council on Foreign Relations gives news and analysis on Iran.
US State Department – Iran
The US State Department provides background information, news, and congressional testimony on Iran and U.S. Iran policy.
Al Jazeera – Who is Responsible for U.S.-Iran Tensions?
This Al Jazeera program uses a variety of social media to explore this question.
New York Times – Iran’s Nuclear Program
This New York Times page provides an overview of Iran’s nuclear program with links to the latest news and analysis on the topic.
Additional Resources from the Choices Program
Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution
A published unit that traces the history of Iran from its early dynasties to the present, and helps students understand the political and cultural conditions that led to the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath.
The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons
A published unit that introduces students to the history of nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence. It examines arguments for and against nuclear weapons, and considers the leftover arsenals of the Cold War, proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Video resources to accompany Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution and The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons.
Materials for Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution.
Materials for The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons.