Strategic culture, ballistic missile, Iran, foreign policy
Drawing on an analytical framework that combines strategic culture theory with narrative analysis, this paper explores the recent evolution of Iran’s ballistic missile programme (BMP) (2015–2019). Iran’s strategic culture attributes a key role to the BMP but nevertheless allows room for manoeuvre in Iran’s security policy, which explains multiple and sometimes contradicting visions of the BMP. We demonstrate that Iran’s approach towards the programme is enveloped by political discourses, which shift with the direction of Iran’s international relations and domestic politics. We distinguish two competing narratives – ‘revolutionary’ and ‘moderation’ – and demonstrate how they define the opportunities and constraints of Iran’s military behaviour in different ways. Finally, we demonstrate a move towards a more confrontational approach, reflected in the consolidation of the ‘revolutionary’ narrative. This article contributes to a more fine-grained understanding of Iran’s policy towards its BMP, which remains central to Iran’s strategic culture.