Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons have long been discussed by politicians and commentators alike. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency report from earlier this month may speed up the likelihood of a diplomatic incident or even perhaps war.
The IAEA says that Iran have carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device", including computer modelling used to develop a nuclear bomb trigger. However, the report doesn't explicitly say that Iran is building a nuclear weapon; whilst Iran says the report's claims are baseless and that they are simply developing nuclear power. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes further, calling the IAEA as a "puppet" of the United States.
It is however understandable why Iran would take such a stance. The United States and UK were responsible for toppling the democratically elected Iranian Government in 1953. This coup d'etat occurred largely as a result of the continued desire from the UK to maintain control of Iranian oil. The new authoritarian government was then propped up by the United States until 1979.
After Saddam Hussein led Iraq invaded Iranian territory in 1980, NATO countries, including the United States, then supplied Iraq with weapons. The war lasted eight years, from 1980 until 1988, with Iranian casualties estimated at around one million. Saddam used chemical weapons on the Iranians during this time, which received international condemnation - except from the United States, who vetoed a U.N. resolution against the use of chemical and biological weapons in 1982. In fact, the chemical weapons used by Iraq had been paid for with loans from the United States.
Whether or not Iran is genuinely seeking nuclear weapons remains up for discussion. They maintain that they are simply developing civilian nuclear power. However, even if it were true, their desire for nuclear weapons is perhaps understandable - although clearly not desirable.
As a country that has seen its democratically elected government toppled and had hundreds of thousands killed by U.S. funded chemical weapons, they are right to be fearful. After all, George W. Bush said that they were part of an axis of evil in 2002- along with Iraq and North Korea - one of whom has already had a Government toppled by the United States.
There are currently nine countries with nuclear weapons - the five U.N. Security Council members, along with India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. The latter four however are not signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - which essentially promotes long term gradual disarmament.
Even If Iran did develop and test a nuclear weapon it still appears implausible that they would even use it, due to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The United States alone has around 10,000 nuclear weapons. If Iran were indeed able to develop a few, they would hardly be in any position of strength. Far more likely it that they would use the small artillery for the same reason the west purport to - as a deterrence. Of course, some commentators will maintain that the Iranian leader is unstable and unpredictable, however surely the same could be applied to the North Korean leader, who has yet to use their nuclear arsenal on another country.
Let it not ever be forgotten - only one country has ever used nuclear weapons - the United States - on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These attacks caused tremendous human and environmental destruction, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
Reports suggest that Israel acquired the means for nuclear weapons from the French, whilst Pakistan built their first plant largely as a result of western and Chinese equipment and materials. The United States have also played fast and loose with the NPT, by basing nuclear weapons in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey and Italy. Israel also engaged in secret nuclear talks with apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, but in the following decade the South Africans disassembled their weapons. All this is hardly a story of responsible nuclear states - instead a catalogue of examples of nuclear weapons being given to their allies.
The four nuclear countries not signed up to the NPT suggest that the treaty entrenches the position of the Security Council members, rather than genuinely leading to international disarmament. Without having them within the treaty, its credibility must be doubted. The NPT was extended indefinitely back in 1995, yet clearly in its current guise it is hard to see how stockpiles will be reduced significantly when countries such as the UK are developing a new generation of nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the Middle East continues to be a highly unstable region - so arguably the world should focus on making this entire region nuclear weapon free - rather than seeking to simply make Iran a pariah. Pakistan sought nuclear weapons largely because India acquired them, and it is hard to differentiate this desire from that of the Iranians as a result of the existence of weapons in nearby Israel.
The NPT also contains a major loophole - allowing any state to pursue nuclear energy for the generation of power. This clearly keeps the nuclear option on the table for any country and hinders effective IAEA checks on countries. The only way to be certain what countries like Iran are doing is to ban all uses of nuclear material completely.
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