Iran has an apocalyptic regime with a great deal to be apocalyptic about. As I have argued in these pages since 2005, no poor country in the entire troubled history of the world has seen its fertility rate plunge from 7 children per female just one generation ago to only 1.6 children per female today. There is no explanation for mass rejection of a nation’s demographic future except for deep cultural pessimism. Islamism, whether of the Sunni variety propounded by Sayyid Qutb or the Shia version of Ayatollah Khomeini, rejects modernity, which it views as corrosive of Muslim society. Its unsuccessful engagement with modernity has left a childless country plagued by social pathologies, including some of the world’s highest rates of opium addiction, venereal disease, and prostitution.
As a matter of arithmetic, Iran will have an elderly dependent ratio worse than Europe or the United States one generation from now, with one-tenth the per capital GDP. Demographic problems which barely are soluble in rich countries are a death sentence for a poor country. This is a train wreck that cannot be averted.
As a matter of arithmetic, Iran can sustain a third of its population as elderly dependents only by acquiring the wealth of its neighbors, for example, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, which has a Shia majority, and where Iran already is attempting to subvert the Saudi monarchy. That is why Iran is aggressive, and why no negotiation will contain it.