Fw: DOS -- Daily Press Briefing for March 30, 2005 -- Iran Transcript
*************QUESTION: What I wanted to ask about -- we were talking -- it's on Iran. My Reuters colleague who covers the IAEA in Vienna reported that, you know, that the EU-3 were moving closer to accepting Iran's insistence on keeping some reprocessing, for example, I think it was 500 centrifuges, which some would argue is not enough to continue a weapons program.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. know anything about this movement and what would your stance be on that?
MR. ERELI: I asked about -- I asked about that before coming out here and was told that we do not believe there's any credible basis to that report, and that we and the EU-3 remain united in the view that only a full cessation and dismantlement Iran's sensitive fuel -- nuclear fuel cycle pursuits can provide the kind of confidence we're looking for that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
In the back. Oh, I'm sorry, same subject?
QUESTION: Yes. You mentioned Parchin in your list of suspect facilities and I was -- this was like a week ago, the MEK, or former MEK, came out and talked about Parchin. Have you been in contact with them at all about their allegations of Parchin? Is this something you guys have --
MR. ERELI: I don't -- I'm not aware of any such contacts.
Received through the CRS Web Order Code RS21592 Updated March 17, 2005 -- Sharon Squassoni, Specialist in National Defense; Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Since 2003, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of Iran’s nuclear program have revealed significant undeclared activities with potential application for nuclear weapons, including uranium enrichment facilities and plutonium separation efforts. Pressed to give up these activities, Iran has declared twice (November 2003 and November 2004) that it would temporarily halt such activities in exchange for technical cooperation with Germany, France, and the UK. Yet, most evidence indicates that Iran has never completely suspended its enrichment activities, raising the question of whether Iran is buying time to build nuclear weapons or effectively using its program as a bargaining chip for wider economic gain. Ever on the brink of being declared in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has allowed IAEA inspectors access only when pressed. This report, which is updated as needed, analyzes the significance of the IAEA’s findings for a possible Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Iran has had a nuclear program for close to 50 years, beginning with a research reactor purchased from the United States in 1959. The Shah’s plan to build 23 nuclear power reactors by the 1990s was regarded as grandiose, but not necessarily viewed as a “back door” to a nuclear weapons program, possibly because Iran did not then seek the technologies to enrich or reprocess its own fuel.
Iran argues, as it did in the 1970s, that nuclear power is necessary for rising domestic energy consumption, while oil and gas are needed to generate foreign currency. Iran has asserted repeatedly that its nuclear program is strictly peaceful, but few observers believe that such an ambitious program is necessary or economic for Iran. In May 2003, Iranian officials stated that “we consider the acquiring, development and use of nuclear weapons inhuman, immoral, illegal and against our basic principles. They have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine.”3 On August 6, 2003, President Khatami stated that Iran “cannot use such weapons based on our Islamic and moral teachings.”4 The United States has long been concerned about Iran’s intentions to develop nuclear weapons. U.S. attempts to impose an international embargo on nuclear cooperation with Iran since the 1980s were mostly successful, but an overwhelming focus on restricting Russian cooperation on the Bushehr nuclear power reactor project may have caused the United States to overlook help that Iran apparently was acquiring from Pakistan in uranium enrichment technologies, according to some observers.
What Inspections Revealed
In 2002 the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) helped expose Iran’s undeclared nuclear activities by providing information about nuclear sites at Natanz (uranium enrichment) and Arak (heavy water production). In two years of intensive inspections, the IAEA has revealed significant undeclared Iranian efforts in uranium enrichment (including centrifuge, atomic vapor laser isotope separation and molecular laser isotope separation techniques), as well as significant foreign suppliers of technology, undeclared separation of plutonium, and undeclared imported material. Iranian officials have delayed inspections, changed explanations for discrepancies, cleaned up facilities and in one case, Lavizan-Shian, razed a site.5 According to IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, “Iran tried to cover up many of their activities, and they learned the hard way.”6 Only in January 2005 did Iranian officials share a copy of A.Q. Khan’s 1987 offer of a centrifuge enrichment “starter kit.”7
Inspections through June 2003 revealed various reporting failures on Iran’s part (including failure to report uranium imported from China in 1991) and raised serious questions, particularly about how Iran was able to advance to a production stage of centrifuge enrichment without having introduced nuclear material into the process for satellite photos of various Iranian sites.(required to be declared to the IAEA).8 Overall, undeclared uranium raises a red flag since it could allow Iran to experiment with processes relevant to a nuclear weapons program.9 In fact, Iran converted some uranium into metal and used other uranium in various processing experiments, including isotope production and purification and conversion processes. Some of these processes are relevant to plutonium reprocessing (e.g., dissolution in nitric acid and separation in a pulse column).10 In mid-2003, Iran admitted it conducted “bench scale” uranium conversion experiments a decade ago (required to be reported to the IAEA). Later, Iran admitted that it used, for those experiments, some safeguarded material that had been declared lost in other processes (a safeguards violation). After inspections in January 2004, the IAEA concluded that, “given the size and capacity of the equipment used, the possibility cannot be excluded that larger quantities of nuclear material could have been involved than those declared.”11
The IAEA has deemed credible Iran’s explanation that it needed to convert uranium into metal for its laser enrichment program (revealed only in October 2003). Iran’s two centrifuge enrichment plants at Natanz have generated significant concern.12 The pilot fuel enrichment plant (planned to have 1000 centrifuges) started up in June 2003 but shut down again after Iran decided to halt enrichment activities in December 2003. Construction on the commercial-scale plant (planned to have 50,000 centrifuges) has also been suspended. The plants are built partly underground, raising concerns about the transparency of Iran’s program. For safeguards purposes, a key question has been whether Iran had introduced uranium gas (process gas, or UF6) into its pilot-scale plant because the slight enrichment of uranium that would have resulted would have been a safeguards violation if undeclared. Iranian officials first told the IAEA that it was too difficult to use process gas and that highly enriched uranium (HEU) particles found at the Natanz pilot plant in 2003 came from contamination from foreign-origin centrifuge assemblies. Analyses of the samples showed different levels of enrichment at different locations, from 36% enrichment on domestically manufactured components to 54% enrichment on imported components, and 70% enrichment at the Kalaye Electric Company workshop. Iran had admitted just to 1.2% domestic enrichment. In addition, other sampling revealed UF6 contamination at the Tehran research reactor.
In October 2003, Iranian officials admitted they tested centrifuges at the Kalaye Electric Company using UF6 between 1998 and 2002. The IAEA has not ruled out the possibility that Iran’s own enrichment activities could be the source of the HEU in samples. Iran has been particularly slow in revealing two other developments related to enrichment — the existence of more sophisticated centrifuge designs (using maraging steel or composite rotors) and the laser enrichment program. Although Iran provided significant detail about the P-1 centrifuges in its October 2003 declaration, it did not admit until asked by the IAEA in January 2004 that it possessed more advanced centrifuge designs (P-2). In light of Libya’s admission that Pakistan supplied it with P-2 centrifuge designs, Iran’s possession of P-2 designs is not surprising. Iran also did not admit until October 2003 that it also pursued a laser enrichment program beginning in the 1970s, focusing on two techniques — atomic vapor laser isotope separation (AVLIS) and molecular laser isotope separation (MLIS). Although the IAEA has concluded that Iran’s declaration of very small enrichment levels and quantities appears consistent with available information, it will continue this issue.
The heavy water program also has raised questions about Iran’s intentions. Reportedly, Iran first told the IAEA that it planned to produce heavy water for export, but then told the Agency in May that the heavy water would be used as a coolant and moderator for a planned research reactor for research and development, radioisotope production, and training. Subsequently, Iran’s design information for the facility omitted necessary hot cell equipment for producing radioisotopes. The Agency has asked Iran to clarify this issue, given reports of efforts by Iran to import hot cell equipment. Despite the Board’s call for Iran to halt construction of the heavy water reactor, apparently construction continues.
In October 2003 Iran revealed that it had conducted plutonium reprocessing experiments in a hot cell at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center and estimated the amount separated as 200 micrograms. The IAEA calculated that more plutonium would have been produced (about 100g) and Iran admitted in May 2004 that it understated the amount. Inspections also revealed that Iran experimented in irradiating bismuth, which can be used to produce Polonium-210 for civilian purposes (for nuclear batteries) or in conjunction with beryllium to create a neutron initiator for a nuclear weapon. These experiments were conducted between 1989 and 1993. Polonium, it should be noted, is not ideal for nuclear weapons purposes, according to many observers.
IAEA Board of Governors Actions
The IAEA has resisted pressure to call Iran in violation of its NPT obligations. According to the IAEA Statute, if inspectors find a state in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement, they report that to the Director General who in turn informs the Board. The Board then informs all members, the UN Security Council, and the General Assembly.13 In September 2003 the Board called on Iran to suspend all further uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, resolve all outstanding issues, be transparent and cooperative with the IAEA, and sign, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol. In advance of the October 31, 2003 compliance deadline set by the Board, EU foreign ministers (the so-called EU-3: Germany, France, UK) opened negotiations with Iran.
Initially, the EU ministers agreed that once international concerns were fully resolved, Iran “could expect easier access to modern technology and supplies in a range of areas.”14 Iran said it would sign the NPT Additional Protocol and suspend all uranium enrichment and “processing activities.” Specifically, Iran told the Agency that it would suspend: operation and/or testing of centrifuges at the pilot plant, further introduction of any nuclear material into any centrifuges, and installation of new centrifuges at the pilot plant and at Natanz. Iran also said it would withdraw nuclear material from any centrifuge facility to the extent practicable.15 During the period of suspension, Iran said it did not “intend to make new contracts for the manufacture of centrifuge machines and their components;” that the Agency could supervise the storage of machines assembled during that period; that it had dismantled its laser enrichment projects and that it was not constructing or operating any plutonium separation facility. However, Iran reportedly continued to assemble centrifuges, and many observers felt Iran had not lived up to its part of the bargain. On February 24, 2004, Iran stated it would “suspend the assembly and testing of centrifuges and suspend the domestic manufacture of centrifuge components, including those related to existing contracts.”16
Although the Director General’s March 2004 report to the Board noted that Iran had been actively cooperating with the Agency, including providing access to workshops at military sites, Iran omitted any mention of advanced centrifuge designs (P-2) in its October 2003 declaration and the Agency was not able to resolve the major outstanding issue of LEU and HEU contamination at Kalaye and Natanz. Between February and June 2004, the IAEA attempted to verify Iran’s pledges to suspend activities. Its June 2004 report (GOV/2004/34) assessed that Iran had delayed inspections at the Natanz pilot scale enrichment plant; Iran had not suspended UF6 production or domestic production of centrifuge components; and Iran had not previously declared the procurement of 4000 magnets (and orders for more) for P-2 centrifuges.
The DG’s November 2004 report ( GOV/2004/83) noted that Iranian cooperation had improved since October 2003. At the March 2005 Board meeting, however, Deputy Director for Safeguards Goldschmidt gave a detailed list of Iranian actions from November 2004 to March 2005. Some observers believe the lack of a formal report by ElBaradei was a tactical move to allow EU-Iranian negotiations to proceed; others believe that it was a further indication of the Board’s inability to call Iran in noncompliance. Despite the suspension agreement, Iran continue the production of UF4, as well as quality control testing on centrifuge components.
Since September 2003, U.S. officials have maintained that “the facts already established would fully justify an immediate finding of noncompliance by Iran with its safeguards obligations.”17 In November 2003 (GOV/2003/81), the Board resolved that “should any further serious Iranian failures come to light, the Board of Governors would meet immediately to consider, in light of the circumstances and of advice from the
1 There were a few suspicions of a nuclear weapons program, but these abated in the decade between the Iranian 1979 revolution and the end of Iran-Iraq war, both of which brought a halt to nuclear activities. Iran’s current plans — to construct seven nuclear power plants (1000 MW each) by 2025
2 See statement by Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi at [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/ middle_east/july-dec04/iran_9-27.html].
3 Statement by H.E. Mr. G. Ali Khoshroo, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs, Second Session of the Prepcom for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Apr. 29, 2003.
4 “Iran Denies It’s Building Nuclear Bomb,” Associated Press, Aug. 7, 2003.
5 David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, “Iran: Countdown to showdown,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, November/December 2004, vol. 60, no. 6.
6 “Iran Was Offered Nuclear Parts,” Washington Post, Feb. 27, 2005.
8 Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Report by the Director General, GOV/2003/40, June 6, 2003.
9 Iran imported, but did not declare, 1800 kilograms of natural uranium in different forms: uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which is used in centrifuge enrichment; uranium tetrafluoride (UF4); and uranium oxide (U02).
10 Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Report by the Director General, GOV/2003/75, Nov. 10, 2003.
11 Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Report by the Director General, GOV/2004/11, Feb. 24, 2004.
12 See website [http://www.isis-online.org/images/main_satellite_index.html]
13 For text of the Statute, see [http://www.iaea.org/About/statute_text.html#A1.12].
14 “Statement by the Iranian Government and visiting EU Foreign Ministers,” Reuters, Oct. 21, 2003.
15 GOV/2004/11, February DG’s report on Iran, p. 10.
17 Statement of Ambassador Kenneth Brill at September 2003 IAEA Board of Governors Meeting.
18 “After Report, Iran Acknowledges ‘Minor’ Breach of Nuclear Pact,” Washington Post, Nov.
Q Yes, sir. The Iranians have dismissed the European incentive as insignificant. Should more incentives be offered? How long do they have until you take their case to the Security Council?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- first of all, I want to thank our European friends for taking the lead on this issue, telling the Iranians that they should permanently abandon any enrichment or reprocessing to make sure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.
Let me review the bidding on this, if I might, just kind of the history, right quick. Iran has concealed its -- a nuclear program. That became discovered, not because of their compliance with the IAEA or NPT, but because a dissident group pointed it out to the world, and -- which raised suspicions about the intentions of the program. You can understand why. It's a non-transparent regime, they're run by a handful of people. And so suspicions were raised. And as a result of those suspicions, we came together with friends and allies to seek a guarantee that they wouldn't use any nuclear program to make weapons. A lot of people understand that if they did have a weapon, it would create incredible instability; it wouldn't be good for world peace.
And so the best way to do that -- and this is where we are in the talks -- was to say to the Iranians that they must permanently abandon enrichment and reprocessing. And the EU 3 meant it. And now we're waiting for an Iranian response.
Q So how long do you -- how long do you wait? When do you go to the Security Council?
THE PRESIDENT: The understanding is we go to the Security Council if they reject the offer. And I hope they don't. I hope they realize the world is clear about making sure that they don't end up with a nuclear weapon.
America and other nations are also aware that the recent terrorist attack in Tel Aviv was conducted by a radical Palestinian group headquartered in Damascus. Syria, as well as Iran, has a long history of supporting terrorist groups determined to sow division and chaos in the Middle East, and there is every possibility they will try this strategy again. The time has come for Syria and Iran to stop using murder as a tool of policy, and to end all support for terrorism. (Applause.)
Progress in the Middle East is threatened by weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation. Today, Great Britain, France, and Germany are involved in a difficult negotiation with Iran aimed at stopping its nuclear weapons program. We want our allies to succeed, because we share the view that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would be destabilizing and threatening to all of Iran's neighbors. The Iranian regime should listen to the concerns of the world, and listen to the voice of the Iranian people, who long for their liberty and want their country to be a respected member of the international community. We look forward to the day when Iran joins in the hopeful changes taking place across the region. We look forward to the day when the Iranian people are free. (Applause.)
Iran and other nations have an example in Iraq. The recent elections have begun a process of debate and coalition building unique in Iraqi history, and inspiring to see. Iraq's leaders are forming a government that will oversee the next -- and critical -- stage in Iraq's political transition: the writing of a permanent constitution. This process must take place without external influence. The shape of Iraq's democracy must be determined by the Iraqis, themselves. (Applause.)
By Michael Eisenstadt1
For nearly two decades, Iran has been acquiring nuclear technology from around the world, ostensibly to support its civilian nuclear power program. These efforts have made slow, but steady progress. Reviewing the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear-related activities over the past twenty years (both overt and clandestine), and the long trail of partial, misleading, and/or untruthful declarations about these activities that it has provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that these activities were part of a clandestine nuclear weapons program. 2
How close might Iran be to acquiring ‘the bomb’? Were Iran to employ clandestine gas centrifuge cascades of the type being built for its declared civil program (this, presumably, would be its preferred path), it might be able to acquire enough fissile material for a bomb in 3-5 years. If forced to fall back on its reactor at Bushehr, which is nearly complete and could commence operations as soon as 2006 (if there are no teething problems), Iran could produce enough fissile material for its first bomb within 2-3 years of start-up—were it willing to openly violate its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations by diverting safeguarded spent fuel, or to withdraw from the NPT before taking this step.3 And if Iran were to obtain fissile material from abroad (i.e., North Korea or Pakistan), it could conceivably build a device or weapon within a year—assuming it possesses plans for a viable design, and the necessary special materials and components.
Given Iran’s apparent progress toward acquiring the means to build ‘the bomb,’ U.S. policy makers and military planners can be expected to devote, in the coming years, significant attention to the challenges of deterring and containing a nuclear Iran. This will pose major challenges, due to the nature of the Islamic Republic, regional political dynamics, and Iran’s support for and sponsorship of groups engaged in anti-Israeli and anti-American terrorism. These challenges are discussed in greater detail below.
Deterring The ‘Martyrdom-Seeking Nation’
Because Shi‘i religious doctrine exalts the suffering and martyrdom of the faithful, and because religion plays a central role in the official ideology of the Islamic Republic, Iran is sometimes portrayed as an ‘undeterrable’ state driven by the absolute imperatives of religion, rather than by the pragmatic concerns of statecraft. This impression has been reinforced by Iran’s use of costly human-wave attacks during the Iran-Iraq War, its prolongation of the war with Iraq due to its single-minded pursuit of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and its support for groups such as the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, that have pioneered the tactic of the suicide bombing.4
Is Iran “Undeterrable”?
Iranian officials have frequently sought to cultivate and play on this image of Iran abroad as a fanatical, indefatigable foe, whose soldiers seek martyrdom, and whose society is willing and able to absorb heavy punishment, in order to bolster the country’s deterrent capability. Thus, according to Iran’s former Army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. ‘Ali Shahbazi, though
…the United States or some country incited by it may be able to begin a military conflict… it will not be strong enough to end it. This is because only Muslims believe that “whether we kill or are killed, we are the victors.” Others do not think this way. 5
The perception, however, of Iran as an irrational, undeterrable state with a high pain threshold is both anachronistic and wrong. Within the context of a relatively activist foreign policy, Iranian decision-makers have generally sought to minimize risk by shunning direct confrontation and by acting through surrogates (such as the Lebanese Hizballah) or by means of stealth (Iranian small boat and mine operations against shipping in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War) in order to preserve deniability and create ambiguity about their intentions. Such behavior is evidence of an ability to engage in rational calculation and to accurately assess power relationships.
Despite the frequent resort to religious imagery in speeches and interviews, Iranian officials often employ the language of deterrence as it is spoken and understood in the West when discussing the country’s national security strategy. Thus, shortly after the Shehab-3 missile test launch in July 1998, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani explained that to bolster Iran’s deterrent capability we have prepared ourselves to absorb the first strike so that it inflicts the least damage on us. We have, however, prepared a second strike which can decisively avenge the first one, while preventing a third strike against us.6
Tehran’s conduct during the later stages of the Iran-Iraq War demonstrated that Iran is not insensitive to costs. It is possible to argue that in the heady, optimistic, early days of the revolution—from the early-to-mid 1980s—Iran, as a society, had a relatively high threshold for pain. During the early years of the war, Tehran was willing to endure hardships, make great sacrifices, and incur heavy losses in support of the war effort—eschewing the opportunity for a cease-fire in 1982 to pursue the overthrow of the Ba‘th regime in Baghdad and the export of the Revolution. But in its final years, popular support for the war with Iraq had waned: the population was demoralized and wearied by years of inconclusive fighting, making it increasingly difficult to attract volunteers for the front. Many clerics had come to the conclusion that the war was unwinnable.7 This was not, as Ayatollah Khomeini was fond of saying, ‘a nation of martyrs’.
Khomeini was probably the only figure with the charisma and moral authority to inspire the Iranian people to sustain the level of sacrifice required to continue the war for eight years. The double blow embodied by the unsuccessful conclusion of the war in August 1988 and the death of Khomeini in June 1989 marked the end of the decade of revolutionary radicalism in Iranian politics. Years of revolutionary turmoil and a bloody eight-year-long war with Iraq made Iranians weary of political violence and war, and risk averse. With respect to its ability to absorb casualties and bear costs, Iran has since become a much more ‘normal’ state.
This has clearly been manifest in Iran’s domestic and foreign policy behavior during the past decade and a half. Its cautious behavior during the 1991 uprising in Iraq and the 1998 crisis with Afghanistan that followed the Taleban victory there, provides perhaps the best proof that Tehran is wary of stumbling into a costly quagmire for which there would be little or no public support. It will sooner compromise its Islamic ideological commitments and abandon endangered Shi‘i communities to the depredations of their enemies, rather than risk Iranian national interests by entering into foreign adventures.
Such pragmatism is consistent with a basic principle of decision-making established by Khomeini shortly before his death. In a series of letters to then President ‘Ali Khamene’i and the Council of Guardians in December 1987 and January 1988, he affirmed the Islamic government’s authority to destroy a mosque or suspend the observance of the five pillars of faith (the fundamentals of Muslim observance) if Iranian state interests so required. In so doing, he sanctioned the supremacy of state interest over both religion and the doctrine of the Revolution.8 Ever since then, national interest has been the guiding principle of Iranian decision-making, whether with regard to social issues (such as birth control), the economy (foreign investment in the oil sector), or foreign and defense policy (restraint, since the early 1990s, in exporting the revolution).
This line of reasoning has implications for Tehran’s claim that Islam prevents it from acquiring or using nuclear weapons. Aside from the fact that strong circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate that Tehran is seeking a nuclear capability (these include Tehran’s procurement efforts, its failure to meet its reporting requirements under the NPT, and its participation in clandestine enrichment and reprocessing activities), experience also shows that Iranian decision-making on critical policy issues is generally based on raison d’etat, not religious doctrine or ideology.
Challenges for Deterrence
The main problem in deterring a nuclear Iran is not the putative ‘irrationality’ of the regime or its high threshold for pain. Rather, it is the:
1) impact of factionalism at the top on the regime’s behavior;
2) possibility that a nuclear Iran might be more likely to engage in terrorism or military aggression, or pursue an “eliminationist” solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and;
3) effect of domestic instability on the security of Iran’s nuclear stockpile and on the officials that control its nuclear arsenal. Each of these could complicate efforts to create a stable deterrent relationship with a nuclear Iran.
Political factionalism has sometimes lead to dramatic zig-zags in Iranian policy, as different personalities, factions or branches of the government work at cross purposes, seek to subvert their rivals, or press the government to take actions inconsistent with its general policy line. Accordingly, Iranian policy has often been inconsistent and unpredictable. Such behavior would seriously complicate efforts to establish a stable and predictable deterrent relationship with a nuclear Iran.
Recent examples of this tendency can be seen in Iranian policy toward Afghanistan and Iraq. According to U.S. officials, while Iranian diplomats played a constructive role at the Bonn Conference in December 2001 and the subsequent creation of an Afghan Interim Authority, Revolutionary Guard Qods Force operatives were working to undermine the authority of the nascent central government by arming and training the Afghan Shiite Sepah-e-Mohammad militia and cultivating the warlord Ismail Khan in Herat.9 Likewise, in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Iranian government has apparently encouraged Shi‘i groups such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to cooperate with coalition forces and to participate in the U.S.-sponsored Iraq Governance Council, while seeking to hinder reconstruction efforts and supporting groups engaged in attacks on Iraqis and Coalition forces.10
This tendency has even expressed itself in the economic domain. Revolutionary Guards shut down a new Tehran airport operated by a Turkish-Austrian consortium only one day after it opened in May 2004—claiming that the Turkish firm did business in Israel (a charge it denied). In September 2004, the Majlis froze a $2.5 billion deal with a Turkish consortium to create a privately owned cellphone network, only days after the contract was signed. Finally, a $390 million deal with the French company Renault to build cars in Iran came under attack by critical legislators in October 2004, though the Majlis has not blocked this contract. This ongoing struggle between advocates and opponents of foreign investment in Iran—part of the broader political struggle among factions of the dominant conservative bloc—is likely to continue.11
Propensity for Risk-Taking.
There are two schools of thought regarding how nuclear weapons affect the behavior of states. One argues that the acquisition of nuclear weapons induces greater prudence and caution among possessor states, and adduces U.S. and Soviet behavior during the Cold War as proof (though post-Cold War revelations regarding the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1956, 1967, and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars, and the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, demonstrating how close the superpowers came to nuclear war on several occasions, have diminished the appeal of this model).
The other argues that the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (in general) and nuclear weapons (in particular) can lead to an increased propensity for risk-taking. Iraq's maturing chemical and biological weapons programs may have emboldened Saddam Hussein to pursue a more aggressive regional policy in 1989-1990 and to invade Kuwait. Similarly, the confidence that Pakistan's leadership drew from its May 1998 nuclear weapons test may have emboldened it to attempt to seize a portion of Kashmir from India, in the mistaken belief that India would be deterred from responding militarily, leading to the Kargil Crisis of May-July 1999.
Thus, Iranian decision makers might believe that the possession of nuclear weapons could provide them with greater latitude to pursue more aggressive policies against their neighbors, the United States, or Israel. Iran is unlikely to engage in outright military aggression against any of its neighbors; its conventional military forces are weak, and there are few scenarios in which a conventional military move would make sense—at least under current conditions (although a civil war in Iraq might generate pressure for Iran to intervene, particularly if coalition forces were to leave Iraq). For now, however, on the defensive, surrounded by potential enemies and U.S. forces on all sides, Tehran seems more interested in preserving the political and territorial status quo in the Gulf, than on altering it.
It might, however, increase support for terrorist groups that target U.S. or Israeli interests, or resume efforts to export the revolution to places where there are large Shiite communities. Iran’s past successes in obscuring its involvement in terrorism or avoiding retribution, might lead some Iranian decision-makers to believe that they could support or commission acts of terrorism with impunity, as they have in the past (e.g., the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing), especially if they believe that ‘the bomb’ would shield them from retaliation. Such reasoning could lead to miscalculations and imprudent risk-taking, with potentially catastrophic results. This is no contrived scenario: an attack by Pakistani-based extremists on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 nearly led to war between the two countries.
A nuclear Iran might also be more inclined to take risks vis-à-vis Israel, in the belief that its nuclear capability would deter retaliation. This may have been the assumption underpinning the assertion in a December 2001 Friday prayer sermon by ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Expediency Council chairman, that
If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality. 12
While Rafsanjani’s sermon lends itself to alternative readings—as either a matter-of-fact description of strategic reality in a Middle East in which more than one country has nuclear weapons or, more ominously, as a statement of intent—it raises the disquieting possibility that some Iranians may see nuclear weapons as a means of pursuing an eliminationist solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This would not be surprising in light of the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes and anti-Israel vitriol in the public political discourse of relatively “enlightened” reformers as well as conservative hard-liners.
A discussion about terrorism and a nuclear Iran necessarily raises the issue of nuclear terrorism. The fact that Iran or its agents have not yet used chemical and/or biological agents in terrorist attacks may indicate the existence of a normative threshold against WMD terror, or it may indicate that, having achieved significant successes by means of conventional terrorism, Tehran and its surrogates perceive no need to incur the risk that use of nonconventional weapons would entail.
Nonetheless, because of the importance that Tehran has traditionally attached to preserving deniability, Iran is likely to seek, when acting against more powerful adversaries, the ability to covertly deliver nonconventional arms by non-traditional means (for instance, terrorists, boats, or remotely piloted aircraft). Because such methods offer the possibility of deniability, they are likely to become important adjuncts to more traditional delivery means such as missiles, and in situations in which deniability is a critical consideration, they are likely to be the delivery means of choice—either by members of Iran’s security services, or by operatives of Hizballah’s security apparatus, which has cooperated with their Iranian counterparts on some of the most sensitive and risky operations Iran has undertaken. The possibility of deniable, covert delivery of nuclear weapons by Iran could pose a major challenge for deterrence—particularly if the country’s leadership believed that the regime’s survival was at stake. For this reason, convincing Tehran that U.S. forensic capabilities (e.g., the ability to determine the origin of a nuclear device or weapon by analyzing the isotopic signature of its fission products) preclude the possibility of deniable delivery, will be of vital importance to U.S. policy.
Instability in Iran.
Finally, there are the implications of political instability and domestic unrest in a nuclear Iran. Should anti-regime violence escalate to the point that it were to threaten the existence of the Islamic Republic (unlikely in the near-term, but possible in the future, should popular demands for political change continue to be ignored by conservative hard-liners), diehard supporters of the old order might lash out at the perceived external enemies of the regime with all means at their disposal, as the regime teeters on the brink. In such a scenario, the apocalyptic possibility of nuclear terrorism by the Islamic Republic in its death throes must be treated seriously.
There is not a lot that the U.S. can do to alter those aspects of Iranian politics that make establishing a stable deterrence relationship with Tehran potentially problematic. What it can do, is to understand Iran’s “red lines,” the crossing of which could lead to crisis or conflict, while clearly communicating its own “red lines” to Tehran, in order to reduce the risk of miscalculation and introduce an element of predictability into their relations. And it can continue to encourage those Iranians working for political change in their country, in the hope that through these efforts a more moderate leadership may come to power—one not wedded to the use of terrorism or to the acquisition of nuclear weapons, or at least more likely to act responsibly should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.
U.S. efforts to influence a potentially hostile nuclear Iran must incorporate measures to deter by denial as well as by punishment.13 Raising doubts in the minds of Iranian decision makers about the country’s ability to reliably deliver its nuclear weapons, and stoking fears that the attempted use of such weapons could threaten their personal survival and that of the regime, could make the use of nuclear weapons prohibitively risky for Tehran in all but the most dire of circumstances.
By preventing Tehran from using its nuclear capability to intimidate neighbors and enemies, and casting doubt on its ability to reliably deliver nuclear weapons, the U.S. and its allies can strengthen deterrence, and undermine the utility of Iran’s nuclear weapons. It is therefore crucial to understand how Tehran might project influence or deliver nuclear weapons.
To bolster deterrence and warfighting, Iran has created a triad of capabilities that leverages the country’s geographic location adjacent to the world’s main oil supply routes, exploits the regimes’ connections to terrorist groups with global reach, and reflects the preference of the clerical regime for ambiguity and opacity in its actions. Iran’s deterrent/warfighting triad consists of the ability to:
1) disrupt oil exports from the Persian Gulf;
2) launch terror attacks on several continents in conjunction with the Lebanese Hizballah and other groups, and;
3) deliver non-conventional weapons against targets in the Middle East and beyond, by aircraft, land-based ballistic missiles, and by various non-traditional means such as ship-based ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, boats, and terrorists.14
As Iran stands up and expands its nuclear arsenal, it might seek to provide a nuclear “punch” to all three legs of its triad. In addition to producing nuclear bombs and ballistic missile warheads, it might seek nuclear naval mines and nuclear-tipped shore-based anti-ship missiles (for use against U.S. aircraft carriers), and perhaps eventually, man-portable nuclear devices (the so-called, but inaccurately labeled, “suitcase nukes”) for use by Iranian special forces or foreign terrorist groups aligned with Tehran.15
Iran may field nontraditional delivery means before it can deploy more traditional delivery systems, such as strike aircraft or missiles. Iran’s first nuclear weapon might be too large and/or heavy for delivery by aircraft or missiles, and insufficiently rugged to withstand the rigors of flight. Therefore, it might put such a device on a vehicle or boat.
To counter Iran’s deterrent/warfighting triad, the U.S and its allies will need to enhance their ability to:
• Detect and interdict attempts to covertly deliver nuclear devices by sea, air, or land;
• Identify and neutralize terrorist cells affiliated with Tehran;
• Detect and intercept nuclear-armed strike aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles;
• Counter Iranian naval mine, small boat, and submarine warfare operations.
Much progress has been made in recent years in developing capabilities to deal with some of these threats. In other areas, much remains to be done. These will be discussed below.
Deterrence by Punishment:
Threatening the Survival of the Islamic Republic
Iran’s leaders must understand that should they brandish or use nuclear weapons, the U.S. (and/or its regional allies) could threaten their personal survival and the stability of the Islamic Republic by conventional military strikes that:
• Target the senior leadership of the Islamic Republic;
• Disrupt the functioning of the security organizations responsible for the survival of the regime, and;
• Target key elements of the country’s economic infrastructure.
Would conventional threats be sufficient, however, to deter a nuclear Iran? The awesome potential of modern air power—particularly the ability to disable modern industrial and economic infrastructures—was dramatically demonstrated during Operations Desert Storm (1991) and Allied Force (1999) and, to a lesser degree, Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003). This capability enables Washington to counter conventional and nuclear threats by Iran (and others) with the credible threat of a devastating conventional riposte that does not necessitate the use of nuclear weapons (although the knowledge that the U.S. possesses a vast nuclear arsenal would undoubtedly enter into the calculations of Iranian decision makers). The bottom line is that the U.S. does not need to respond to the emergence of a nuclear Iran by extending a deterrent nuclear umbrella to its regional partners (which would undermine those elements of U.S. nonproliferation policy that seek to devalue nuclear weapons); its conventional capabilities should be sufficient to deter in all but the most extreme circumstances.
Targeting Iran’s Leadership.
Iran’s leaders must understand that if the Islamic Republic uses nuclear weapons, they will be held accountable for the consequences, and will become legitimate military targets. There are, however, practical obstacles to such an approach. Political authority in the Islamic Republic is widely diffused.16 Though the Supreme Leader is the paramount authority, many other individuals play important roles in the regime. Moreover, the dualistic power structure of the Islamic Republic, in which revolutionary Islamic institutions counterbalance the traditional institutions of the Iranian state (e.g., the supreme leader counterbalances the power of the president, the Guardian Council that of the parliament, and the Revolutionary Guard that of the regular army) provide the system of clerical rule with great resilience, and would complicate efforts to destabilize the Islamic Republic by decapitation strikes.
Though Iran’s clerical leadership is drawn from geographically diverse origins, many senior clerics now live in Tehran (particularly in some of the posher neighborhoods in north Tehran). 17 Many residents of the city know the location of the villas of senior clerics and regime personalities, making decapitation strikes possible—at least in principle. The difficulties of striking leadership targets from the air, however, should not be underestimated. During recent wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, numerous attempted strikes on “high value targets” (key individuals) failed. In Iraq alone, some fifty attempted decapitation strikes involving manned aircraft failed to kill even one of the intended leadership targets, while inadvertently killing scores, if not hundreds of innocent civilians.18 Success here will await the development by the U.S. of better human intelligence, and more flexible and responsive precision-strike capabilities and TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures). But with sufficient resources and talent devoted to this effort, it should become a viable option in the not too distant future.
If targeting senior officials offers uncertain prospects for success (at least for now), targeting their finances, business interests, and properties has a certain appeal, given the near-legendary avarice and corruption of Iran’s clerical elite. It is, however, hard to conceive of how this might be done in a way that is meaningful for purposes of deterrence. Many clerics have made their fortunes in the informal economy or through the bonyads (parastatal foundations); as a result, little is known about their finances or their business interests, greatly complicating efforts to target their assets.19 Moreover, the financial holdings of many bonyads and of at least some senior clerical families are highly diversified, further complicating efforts to put the squeeze on these individuals. Perhaps most importantly, the track record of recent efforts elsewhere to target the financial assets of senior government officials and their cronies in order to deter or compel, is not encouraging.20
Targeting the Regime’s Command and Control.
In Iran, several organizations have responsibility for ensuring the survival of the regime, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the security and intelligence organs of the Justice Ministry, the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), the Basij militia, and the street thugs of Ansar-e-Hizballah. The IRGC and LEF units are garrisoned throughout the country, while the Basij is more loosely organized, as is the more informal Ansar-e-Hizballah. The locations of most major IRGC garrisons and LEF facilities are well known to local residents, though the fact that these organizations are rather lightly armed (relative, for instance, to Syria’s Republican Guard and Iraq’s Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units) and are garrisoned in or near populated areas, could make it difficult to strike these organizations in a way that would undermine their effectiveness and loosen the regime’s grip on power.
Targeting Iran’s Economic Infrastructure.
Iran is acutely vulnerable to economic warfare. Iran’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports, which provide the country with some 80% of its foreign exchange earnings. Nearly all of its major oil and gas fields are located in the exposed southwest corner of the country and in the Gulf—where all six of its major oil terminals are also located—and nearly all of its oil and gas exports pass through the Strait of Hormuz. Four of Iran’s six main ports are located on the Persian Gulf; these handle about 90% of all imports by tonnage, while Iran’s sea lines of communication in the Gulf are vulnerable to interdiction along their entire length.21 Thus, the U.S. and its allies could halt Iranian oil exports as well as critical imports of refined oil products and other necessities, causing great harm to the economy—which is the regime’s Achilles’ heel—and perhaps leading to unrest and instability in the Islamic Republic.
During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), both belligerents targeted each others’ oil industry in the hope that economic warfare might bring their adversary to its knees. Oil facilities, tankers, and tanker terminals were hit, and though these attacks succeeded in reducing overall oil exports of both sides, these attacks were not pressed home in a sustained fashion, and therefore did not have a decisive impact on the outcome of the war.22 There can be little doubt that the U.S. has the means to succeed where both failed in the past, and effectively shut down Iranian oil exports through action in the air and on the sea. The main challenge would be to deter or disrupt Iranian retaliatory moves, which might not be limited to the Gulf region, and could take the form of an attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, attacks on oil and gas installations on the other side of the Gulf, attacks on shipping in the Gulf, and/or a terror campaign spanning several continents.
Containing a Nuclear Iran
What factors might affect Tehran’s ability to derive benefit from its nuclear weapons? And how might Tehran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons affect U.S. efforts to organize a “coalition of the willing” to deter and contain a nuclear Iran?
Tehran’s ability to derive political benefits from nuclear weapons will depend, to some extent, on whether Iran remains silent about its nuclear capabilities, adopts a policy of ambiguity, or makes known its newly acquired capabilities by means of an announcement or a weapons test.23 Iran’s actual nuclear status, however, is less important than the fact that in the coming years its neighbors are increasingly likely to perceive it as a threshold nuclear state, if not a de facto nuclear power, and to act accordingly. The domestic and regional context are also important here: Is there domestic calm or unrest in Iran? Is Iran at peace with its neighbors, or embroiled in crises or war? All these factors will affect the intensity with which the Iranian nuclear threat is felt by its neighbors, and could affect U.S. efforts to enlist foreign support in containing a nuclear Iran.
During the 1990s, Iran’s neighbors rebuffed U.S. efforts to politically isolate and economically pressure the Islamic Republic; they generally deemed these measures as unnecessarily provocative and injurious to their own economic interests. Rather, they have generally preferred to keep open channels of communication with Tehran to avoid antagonizing or provoking their large and powerful neighbor, and to preserve access to Iranian markets. For these same reasons, they will likely avoid participating in future efforts to politically isolate and economically pressure Iran. In the international division of labor, it will largely be the job of the U.S., Europe, and others to isolate Iran politically and pressure it economically.
Iran’s neighbors might, however, be prepared to join the U.S. and Europe in pointing out to Iran’s leaders that the acquisition of nuclear weapons will more likely harm than help their country, by prompting the formation of a loosely-knit coalition to contain Iran, deepening the U.S. role in the region, and perhaps prompting further proliferation—much of it directed at the Islamic Republic. Hopefully, this message would encourage Iranian decision makers to reassess the potential costs of a nuclear breakout. Some of Iran’s neighbors might also welcome the opportunity to enhance their own military capabilities by closer cooperation with the U.S., and deepen their relationship with Washington by expanding access, basing, and overflight rights to U.S. forces in the region.
Small Steps or Grand Design? The Military-Technical and Political-Military Context of Efforts to Contain a Nuclear Iran
Operation Iraqi Freedom initially inspired hopes that the U.S. would build on its military success in the war to establish a new regional security architecture capable of generating stability and security in the Persian Gulf.24 Most of these proposals call for confidence and security-building measures, the establishment of a regional security forum, collective security arrangements, or a mix of the three. Though such ideas merit consideration, conditions are not ripe for the creation of a regional security architecture in the Gulf, where politics are highly personalized, and characterized by distrust and petty rivalries.25 This militates against the creation of truly effective regional organizations that require state members to cede authority to the collective (this is the experience of the Gulf Cooperation Council and its Peninsula Shield force).
Accordingly, the U.S. should focus on military-technical cooperation with regional friends and allies, deepening existing bilateral security relationships where feasible (with Turkey, the GCC states, and the Central Asian Republics), forging new bilateral security relationships where possible (with Iraq and Afghanistan), and pursuing regional cooperative ventures (augmenting efforts already underway to create shared air- and missile-defense early warning and C4I arrangements) where desirable. No doubt, such an approach lacks the appeal of more ambitious proposals to create new regional political and security structures, but it would allow the U.S. to build on existing bilateral and multilateral efforts, and through incremental steps, lay the foundation for future regional collective security arrangements.
Countering the Iranian Threat
The principal security threats posed by a nuclear Iran include terror and subversion, limited conventional military operations conducted under the protection of Iran’s nuclear umbrella, and the use of nuclear weapons. When feasible, it would be desirable for the U.S. to provide its allies with the means to deal with each of these threats on their own (to include, in some cases, fielding an independent conventional retaliatory deterrent), so that they might have the confidence not to yield to Iranian intimidation, and might not feel compelled to acquire chemical or nuclear weapons to counter Iran’s nuclear option. In most cases, however, the burden of responding to these threats will fall to the U.S.
Regional Subversion, Global Terror. Iran might support opposition groups or sponsor acts of terrorism in neighboring countries, as it did throughout the 1980s, to compel them to deny U.S. requests for access or basing, and thereby undercut U.S. power projection capabilities in the region. Here, intelligence sharing and cooperation with friends and allies, and U.S. efforts to enhance the internal security capabilities of Iran’s neighbors, will be key. Also vital will be U.S. efforts to encourage political and economic reform in the region, to defuse popular disaffection with the political status quo—particularly in countries where extreme Islamists have in the past shown a willingness to work with Iran’s intelligence services (e.g., Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Afghanistan).
Staying the Hand on the World’s Oil Jugular.
Iran's conventional offensive options are limited. It does not pose a ground threat to any of its neighbors, due to the small size and poor condition of its ground forces, although it could launch limited air, or rocket and missile strikes into neighboring countries (and has done so in Iraq several times in the past decade). The main conventional threat from Iran is in the naval arena, specifically: the threat it poses to the flow of oil from the region, and the ability of the United States to project power in the Gulf.
Iran’s force of mines, missiles, small boats, and submarines, could temporarily disrupt shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. It could not, however, block the strait (as it claims), which is too wide and too deep to be obstructed. Moreover, although the Gulf is a significant barrier to major acts of aggression against the southern Gulf states, Iran could conduct limited amphibious operations to seize and hold lightly defended islands or offshore oil platforms in the Gulf. Its naval special forces could sabotage harbor facilities, offshore oil platforms and terminals, and attack ships while in ports throughout the lower Gulf, disrupting oil production and maritime traffic there.
Some Iranian decision makers might believe that ‘the bomb’ might provide them with a free hand to take such steps with relative impunity, since their nuclear capability would deter an effective response by its neighbors, or U.S. intervention on their behalf. For this reason, it is critical that the U.S. help its GCC allies obtain the means to counter Iran’s naval mine, special warfare, small boat, submarine, and coastal anti-ship missile forces. Countering these capabilities will also require a significant U.S. military presence in Gulf. As a result, the U.S. Navy will remain susceptible to Iranian attempts to intimidate U.S. allies into denying U.S. forces access and basing. This will remain a potential vulnerability for the foreseeable future.
For this reason, the U.S. Navy’s Sea Power 21 “Sea Basing” concept calls for the U.S. Navy to develop the ability to operate independent of shore-based logistical hubs, thereby limiting the impact of enemy anti-access measures and decisions by friendly states to refuse or limit access, basing, and overflight rights during crises or wartime.26
Among the concepts under consideration to free the U.S. from reliance on shore-based facilities include new Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future) cargo ships, Joint Mobile Offshore Bases (JMOBs), and large, semisubmersible platforms. (The latter two are floating structures derived from offshore oil drilling platforms.) These would deploy to crisis zones, and serve as large afloat logistics hubs, storage or repair depots, forward operating bases for combat and support personnel, or air bases (the cargo ships may be fitted with flight decks and/or runways, or several JMOBs could be linked together for this purpose). These concepts, if proven viable, could preserve the navy’s operational freedom in the Gulf, even if denied access to basing in the region. They are all, however, very expensive, are untried, and suffer from various drawbacks that might preclude their eventual deployment.27 Moreover, large floating bases would be vulnerable to an Iranian nuclear strike, vitiating their utility in circumstances where the use of nuclear weapons is considered a plausible Iranian option.
Preventing Nuclear Armageddon.
To deal with the possible use of nuclear weapons by Iran, the U.S. will need to be able to detect the deployment of nuclear weapons and preempt their use, or at least interdict the device or weapon en route to the target. The U.S. and its allies will need to establish the ability to detect the transport of nuclear weapons by small boats or merchant ships originating in Iranian ports, motor vehicles exiting Iran at official and/or unofficial border crossing points, and perhaps eventually, by individuals carrying “suitcase nukes.” Given the relatively short distances that penetrating radiation from a nuclear device or weapon may be detected (tens of meters for gamma radiation, scores of meters for neutron radiation emanating from an unshielded device or weapon), the early detection of a nuclear weapon being delivered by nontraditional means (such as a truck or boat) will pose formidable challenges.28 Nonetheless, the U.S. should consider (if it is not already doing so) unconventional methods of employing radiation monitors: aboard yachts or other civilian pleasure craft plying the waters of the Persian Gulf; on helicopters patrolling the waters of the Persian Gulf; on floating buoys clandestinely emplaced at the mouth of Iranian harbors, and; on unattended ground sensors emplaced along traditional smuggling routes on Iran’s border and adjacent to runways at Iranian military airfields. In addition, portal monitoring for radiation sources should be carried out at official border crossing points and ports of entry in neighboring states.29 to Detect Nuclear Warheads in the USSR-US Black Sea Experiment,” Science & Global Security, 1990, Vol. 1, 328-333.
Preventing the delivery of a nuclear weapon by sea will also require U.S. naval forces to work with local naval forces and coast guards in the Gulf to identify and monitor suspicious vessels plying the waters of the Gulf and passing through the Strait of Hormuz, and interdict them if need be. Detecting the transport of so-called suitcase bombs will require neighboring states to monitor official ports of entry, unofficial border crossing points, and if feasible, known smuggling routes, though the sheer number of these might render such a task impractical. The U.S. and its allies should likewise continue to encourage the networking of regional air- and missile-defense early warning and C4I networks, to enhance the capabilities of regional air- and missile-defenses. Several such initiatives are already underway:
• The so-called “Cooperative Belt” (Hizam al-Ta‘awun) program to create a distributed C4I network for the air defenses of the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that will enable them to jointly identify, track, and monitor hostile aircraft and to coordinate a response to airborne threats.30
• American Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers in the Persian Gulf can provide early warning and a first line of defense against air or missile attacks from Iran toward the southern Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, with their AN/SPY-1 radar and Standard SM-3 missile—which is just now entering operational service with the U.S. Navy.31
• The GCC is expected to undertake a major study of missile defense requirements, though the study has reportedly been delayed by the war in Iraq, and financial constraints.32
• The Cooperative Defense Initiative (CDI), which involves the GCC six, plus two (Egypt and Jordan), and which has promoted cooperation in the area of shared missile defense early warning.33 More, however, needs to be done to enhance cooperation among GCC members and with non-GCC members in the region.
Currently, cooperation in the area of shared missile defense early warning is limited to the GCC plus two, but future efforts could expand to include other participants. Thus, missile defense early warning radars located in Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia could provide early warning and detection and tracking data for missiles launched from western Iran against the states of the lower Persian Gulf (Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman), and Israel. Some of the lower Gulf states could provide early warning to Saudi Arabia with regard to missiles coming from south-central or southeastern Iran. The main challenge here will be to convince the Arab Gulf states to allocate funds for missile defenses at a time of fiscal austerity, and to transcend the petty rivalries that have in the past hindered cooperation among the Arab Gulf states in the conventional military arena.
Further afield, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey are also natural candidates for cooperation. Jordan has expressed concern that Israeli missile defenses could knock down incoming missiles from Iraq or Iran over the populated western half of the country, possibly producing casualties on the ground. Contingency deployment of U.S. missile defenses to Jordan might resolve this problem.
In addition, some have argued that boost-phased missile defense systems employing ground based interceptors located in southeastern Turkey, aboard ships in the Caspian Sea and/or the Sea of Oman, and in Tajikistan, could protect the U.S. against Iranian intercontinental-range missiles, if and when these are fielded. While a boost-phase missile defense would likely have many advantages over a mid-course national missile defense system, it has a major political drawback: the remnants of intercepted Iranian missiles and their warheads might land in Russia, virtually ensuring that deployment of such a system would meet with strong opposition from Moscow.34
Though regional allies may have an important role to play in deterring and defending against military initiatives by a nuclear Iran, they are unlikely to play a role in any preventive strike the U.S. might undertake against Iran’s nuclear program. The need to preserve operational security, and the desire of local allies to avoid being caught in the middle of a U.S.-Iran conflict, would likely preclude their provision of overt support for a preventive strike, which, for this reason, would probably be conducted by heavy bombers (B-1s, B-2s, B-52s) based out of the continental U.S. They could, however, play a supporting role in pre-emptive strikes against deployed Iranian nuclear forces (boats or merchant vessels, missiles, or bombers) during a crisis, by providing access and basing to U.S. Air Force aircraft (F-117s, F-15Es) participating in such a strike.
Iraq as Regional Counterweight to Iran?
Some have argued that as part of its efforts to dissuade Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, Washington might indicate to Tehran that should it acquire nuclear weapons, the U.S. would encourage Iraq to build-up its military as a counterbalance to that of Iran—and thereby ensure that Iran’s acquisition of ‘the bomb’ harms, rather than enhances, its security.35
For now, however, building up the Iraqi military as a counterbalance to Iran is neither practical nor desirable. Rebuilding Iraq’s armed forces will be an immensely costly task that will take many years. Current plans call for the Iraqi Army to field between 100,000-150,000 men organized into some eight divisions by 2006.36 For the foreseeable future, however, Iraq will lack the funds and the equipment needed to field a larger, more capable army, and the U.S. is unlikely to provide either. At present, the priority for the U.S. is to prepare Iraq’s internal security forces to assume increased responsibility for dealing with internal threats—particularly the insurgency raging in the so-called “Sunni triangle.”
Moreover, it will be up to the Iraqi Transitional Government to decide on the roles, missions, and force structure of the army (though the U.S. is likely to retain some influence over Iraqi decisions on these matters for years to come). It is not clear that the expansion of the Iraqi Army will be a priority of a new Iraqi government, that an Iraqi government in which Iraqi Shi‘a and Kurds are likely to play a major role will see Iran as its primary threat, or that the Iraqi government will take directions from the U.S. on such matters.
Nor is it in the U.S. interest that Iraq has a large military. For the coming years, it will be in the U.S. interest to keep the Iraqi Army relatively small, logistically constrained, capable of deterring and/or defending against external meddling and intervention in its external affairs, but incapable of threatening its larger neighbors. This might make it easier to convince Iraq’s neighbors to forgive or defer repayment of its debt and/or reparations burden, and thereby facilitate Iraq’s political and economic integration into the region. Finally, it is in the U.S. interest that the Iraqi Army remains small, should efforts to create a stable, democratic Iraq fail, and the country revert to authoritarian rule and an aggressive posture vis-à-vis its neighbors. To ensure that a post-Saddam Iraq does not eventually resurrect its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs to counter Iran’s own WMD, it would be desirable for the U.S. to include Iraq in CDI and associated efforts to enhance regional defenses against missiles and WMD, and to provide security guarantees that it will come to Iraq’s assistance in the event of Iranian meddling or intervention.
Reassure Allies by Enhancing Local Capabilities for Conventional Deterrence
The U.S. will want to ensure that regional friends and allies do not respond to an Iranian nuclear breakout by either accommodating Tehran, or acquiring WMD of their own. (Saudi Arabia might try to purchase nuclear weapons, while some of the smaller GCC states might leverage their extensive petrochemical industries to create a modest chemical warfare capability.) To avoid such an outcome, the U.S. should underscore that nuclear weapons will not stop the United States from meeting its security commitments to friends and allies in the region, or from retaliating for WMD use against U.S. and allied personnel. Continued U.S. efforts to enhance the ability of CDI participants to defend against and/or mitigate the impact of a WMD incident will be the most tangible expression of this commitment. However, enhancing defenses against WMD may not be enough to reassure some allies.
The U.S. should help those allies that feel most threatened by an Iranian ‘bomb’ and that desire to do something about it to develop a credible independent conventional deterrent, in order to build confidence in their ability to stand up to Iranian intimidation, and to discourage them from acquiring WMD in response to Iranian proliferation.
The U.S. can do this by helping its allies to enhance their naval special warfare and aerial precision-strike capabilities, so that these allies could disrupt Iranian oil production and exports, interrupt port operations, and interdict sea lines of communication. Emphasis should be placed on helping these countries develop relatively short-range precision strike capabilities so that they can hit high-value Iranian targets in the vicinity of the Gulf, but not much beyond that. This is because the most important Iranian economic targets are in the Gulf region, and because the ability to attack leadership or other targets in and around Tehran is of dubious strategic value. Moreover, by enhancing only short-range strike capabilities, the U.S. can ensure that its efforts to build up Arab capabilities in the Gulf do not compromise U.S. efforts to preserve Israel’s “qualitative edge.”
Continued U.S. engagement will also be essential to keep tensions among the GCC states in check, so that Washington’s allies do not use these weapons against each other. U.S. assistance in creating such capabilities should, moreover, be explicitly conditioned on a commitment by these countries to eschew the development or acquisition of WMD, and to dramatically clamp down on the smuggling of special materials and dual-use technologies for the WMD programs of third countries (such as Iran) through their territories. This, in particular, is a problem for Dubai in the U.A.E.37
These efforts should, whenever possible, leverage assets and weapons currently in the inventories of these countries to avoid the appearance that the U.S. is stoking a regional arms race, to avert tensions among GCC states (who may fear that such capabilities will more likely be used against their fellow GCC members, rather than Iran), and to avoid provoking Iran. Emphasis should be put on qualitative, over quantitative enhancements, and the creation of small, highly capable units that will constitute the mainstay of regional efforts to deter a nuclear Iran. Most of the smaller countries in the region simply lack the manpower to create large, highly capable forces anyhow. This approach is appropriate to both their resources and needs.
This is not an unrealistic goal; several Arab militaries have succeeded in creating small elite forces or corps that performed well in combat, even if the performance of most of their compatriots left something to be desired. Examples of elite Arab elite military organizations include the special forces of Syria and Jordan, the Republican Guard of Iraq, and Iraq’s F-1 and Saudi Arabia’s F-15 fighter squadrons.38 There are already signs that some of the GCC states may be heading down this path: the UAE’s interest in commercial satellite imagery, computerized mission planning support software, advanced simulators, and its efforts to build a potent conventional strike capability around its force of advanced precision munition-equipped Mirage 2000-9s (30) and F-16 Block 60s (80), show what a small state can do in this regard.39
Efforts to deter and contain a nuclear Iran will encounter significant challenges. The nature of the Islamic Republic, the regional political environment, and Iran’s support for and sponsorship of groups engaged in anti-Israeli and anti-American terrorism make establishing a stable deterrent relationship with a nuclear Iran risky and uncertain. The experience of the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the cold war and India and Pakistan since then, demonstrate that both preventive diplomacy and luck may be necessary to avert a crisis between Israel or the U.S. and Iran in the coming years, in which the possible use of nuclear weapons looms in the background. Managing the instability and uncertainty created by a nuclear Iran will pose major challenges for U.S. policy makers.
Iran may likewise emerge as the driving force behind efforts to create a new regional security architecture in the Persian Gulf and southwest Asia. While it is in the long-term U.S. interest to create a free-standing balance of power in the Gulf that obviates the need for a permanent forward U.S. presence there, for the foreseeable future, the stabilization of Iraq and countering the nuclear ambitions of Iran will draw the U.S. deeper into the affairs of the region. Enhancing the military capabilities of regional allies threatened by Iran, deepening bilateral cooperation with these countries, and encouraging multilateral cooperation in the areas of air- and missile-defense and beyond may be the best way to lay the basis for regional collective security. For the near term, however, the U.S. will remain the ‘indispensable nation’ when it comes to formulating a response to the emergence of a nuclear Iran, and achieving security and stability in a proliferated region.
1 Senior fellow and director of the Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The author would like to thank Jeff Cary, Brock Dahl, and Ryan Phillips for their invaluable research assistance in preparing this paper.
2 For the most comprehensive and up-to-date account of what is known about Iran’s nuclear program, see: Report by the Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic or Iran, GOV/2004/83 of November 15, 2004, at: www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2004/gov2004-83_derestrict.pdf .
3 According to public Israeli intelligence estimates, Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2008. Herb Keinon, “Israel Warns of Nuclear Iran by 2008,” The Jerusalem Post, July 7, 2004, 3. By contrast, the U.S. defense intelligence community assesses that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by “early in the next decade.” Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, U.S. Navy, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, Statement for the Record, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 16, 2005 at: http://www.dia.mil/Public/Testimonies/DIA_DR_WWT_20050216U.pdf.
4 Parts of this section are based on Michael Eisenstadt, “Living with a Nuclear Iran?” Survival, vol. 41, no. 3, Autumn 1999, 124-148; and Michael Eisenstadt, “Delay, Deter and Contain, Roll Back: Toward a Strategy for Dealing with Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions,” in Geoffrey Kemp (ed.), Iran's Bomb: American and Iranian Perspectives (Washington, DC: The Nixon Center, 2004), 13-31.
5 Ettela’at, September 24, 1995, 3, in FBIS-NES, October 3, 1995, 75. See also the quote of ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani cited in footnote 12.
6 Interview with Defense Minister Admiral ‘Ali Shamkhani on Tehran IRIB Television Second Program, 30 July 1998, translated in FBIS-NES-98-217, 5 August 1998.
7 Shaul Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 273.
8 David Menashri, Revolution at a Crossroads: Iran’s Domestic Politics and Regional Ambitions (Washington DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1997), 8. Former President ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani recently reaffirmed the enduring relevance of Khomeini’s dispensation allowing for the violation of religious duties when they conflicted with raison d’etat, in an interview in which he stated that “to put the country in jeopardy on the ground that we are acting on an Islamic basis is not at all Islamic.” IRNA, 12 April 2003, at: www.irna.ir/en/tnews/030413151207.etn02.shtml.
9 See the comments by Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to the American-Iranian Council, 15 March, 2002, at: usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/text/0315iran.htm, and to The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2 August, 2002, at: www.washingtoninstitute.org/pubs/speakers/khalilzad.htm.
10 Patrick Bishop, “U.S. Troops Killed as Bremer Accuses Iran,” The Telegraph, 19 September, 2003, at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/09/19/wirq19.xml.
11 Vali Nasr and Ali Gheissari, “Foxes in Iran’s Henhouse,” The New York Times, 13 December, 2004, A27; Marc Champion, “Iran, Flush with Oil Cash, Seems to Cool to Foreign Investments,” Wall Street Journal, 8 February, 2005, 1.
12 Rafsanjani as quoted by Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, December 14, 2001, and translated by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, December 15, 2001.
13 Paula A. DeSutter, Denial and Jeopardy: Deterring Iranian Use of NBC Weapons (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1997).
14 Iran reportedly test-launched a short-range ballistic missile from a barge in the Caspian Sea in early 1998. Basing short-range ballistic missiles on merchant ships could allow Iran to hit targets currently out of missile range (such as the U.S.) while maintaining deniability, since a merchant vessel launch platform might be able to disappear into the great expanses of the open seas after launch and thereby escape detection. See: K. Scott McMahon, “Ship-Based Missiles Surface as Potential Terror Weapon,” Defense News, 15 March 1999, p. 27.
15 For more on “suitcase nukes,” see: David Smigielski, “A Review of the Suitcase Nuclear Bomb Controversy,” RANSAC Policy Update, September 2003, at: www.ransac.org/Documents/suitcasenukes090103.pdf.
16 By contrast, in Hafez al-Asad’s Syria and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, absolute power was concentrated in the hands of the President, making decapitation (e.g., as attempted at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom) a viable strategy.
17 Thus, the half-dozen top members of Iran’s ruling elite hail from different cities in different provinces: Supreme Leader ‘Ali Khamene’i is from Mashhad in Khorasan province, Expediency Committee head ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is from Rafsanjan in Kerman, President Mohammad Khatami is from Ardakan in Yazd, Defense Minister Shamkhani is from Ahwaz in Khuzestan, while Minister of Intelligence ‘Ali Yunesi is from Nahavand in Hamadan. By contrast, in Hafez al-Asad’s Syria and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a disproportionate number of senior officials came from the president’s home village or its environs (Qardaha in Latiqiyah governorate, and Tikrit in Salahadin governorate, respectively), making it possible, in principle, to target the family and tribal networks that underpinned the power structures of these regimes.
18 These figures do not include attacks involving armed Predator unmanned aerial vehicles. Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq (Washington, DC: Human Rights Watch, 2003), 22-23.
19 Jahangir Amuzegar, “Iran’s Underground Economy,” Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), vol. XLVI, no. 36, 8 September 2003, at: http://126.96.36.199/iran/html/article1161.html. For more on the corruption of many senior clerics and the resentment this has engendered, see: Paul Klebnikov, “Millionaire Mullahs,” Forbes, 21 July 2003, at: www.forbes.com/global/2003/0721/024.html.
20 During Operation Allied Force (March-June 1999), NATO airpower engaged in “crony targeting”—bombing the financial assets (factories in particular) of cronies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic—in order to generate pressure on him to accept NATO’s terms for an end to the bombing. It remains unclear what impact the bombing had on the war’s outcome, though it seems that it was not of decisive importance. For more on “crony targeting” during Allied Force, see: Stephen T. Hosmer, The Conflict Over Kosovo: Why Milosevic Decided to Settle When he Did, RAND Publication MR-1351-AF, 2001, 73-76; Benjamin S. Lambeth, NATO’s Air War for Kosovo: A Strategic and Operational Assessment, RAND Publication MR-1365-AF, 2001, 71-72.
21 For more on Iran’s oil industry, see: U.S. Department of Energy, “Iran Country Analysis Brief,” November 2003, at: www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/iran.html. For information on Iran’s commercial ports, see: Farjam Behnam, Karan Behrooz, and Dr. Farhad Shahabi (Eds.), Iran Almanac 2003 (Tehran: www.iranalmanac.com, 2003), 372-373.
22 Anthony H. Cordesman and Abraham R. Wagner, The Lessons of Modern War: The Iran-Iraq War (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990), 485-489.
23 Iran might initially remain silent to avoid censure for violating its nonproliferation treaty obligations, or to avoid compromising ongoing clandestine efforts to procure fissile material or nuclear technology from abroad. In the long-run, however, Iran’s leadership might eventually be tempted to test a nuclear weapon, to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities to its domestic supporters and adversaries, and to the world.
24 For more on post-Saddam security architectures for the Gulf, see: James A. Russell, “Searching for a Post-Saddam Regional Security Architecture,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol. 7, no. 1, March 2003; Andrew Rathmell, Theodore Karasik, and David Gompert, “A New Persian Gulf Security System,” RAND Issue Paper No. 248, 2003; Kenneth M. Pollack, “Securing the Gulf,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2003, 2-16; and Joseph McMillan, Richard Sokolsky, and Andrew C. Winner, “Toward a New Regional Security Architecture?,” The Washington Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 3, 161-175.
25 Michael Knights, “Building a Gulf Security Forum: A Long Job, So Let’s Get Started,” unpublished draft manuscript, March 2004.
26 Admiral Vern Clark, “The United States Navy: Sea Power 21” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October 2002, at: www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/cno/proceedings.html.
27 For more on this, see: Jason Sherman, “A Cargo Ship with a JSF Runway?” Defense News, 15 March 2004, 1, 8; Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Defense Science Board Task Force on Sea Basing, August 2003, 73-77, at: www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/seabasing.pdf.
28 For more on the challenges of detecting nuclear devices or weapons, see: Steve Fetter, Valery A. Frolov, Marvin Miller, Robert Mozley, Oleg F. Prilutsky, Stanislav N. Rodionov, and Roald Z. Sagdeev, “Detecting Nuclear Warheads,” Science & Global Security, 1990, Vol. 1, 225-302; Steve Fetter and Frank von Hippel, “The Black Sea Experiment: Measurements of Radiation from a Soviet Warhead,” Science & Global Security, 1990, Vol. 1, 323-327; S.T. Belyaev, V.I. Lebedev, B.A. Obinyakov, M.V. Zemlyakov, V.A. Ryazantsev, V.M. Armashov, and S.A. Voshchinin, “The Use of Helicopter-borne Neutron Detectors
29 During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy ran a clandestine program in which yachts and pleasure craft were fitted with sensors that could detect radiation emitted by nuclear weapons aboard Soviet warships transiting the Bosphorus in Turkey. The boats, manned by foreign crews in civilian clothes, would draw alongside the Soviet warships as they passed through the strait to allow the sensors to take a reading. See Jeffrey T. Richelson, “Task Force 157: The US Navy’s Secret Intelligence Service, 1966-77,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 11, No. 1 (January 1996), 116-119. Such a capability would be useful for dealing with the possibility of the covert delivery by Iran (or other proliferators) of a nuclear device by sea. Likewise, during the Cold War, U.S. agents in East Germany planted clandestine radiation monitors along railway lines leading to the Soviet Union, to verify the withdrawal of nuclear-tipped missiles from East Germany, in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, signed in December 1987. Milt Bearden and James Risen, The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the CIA (New York: Random House, 2003), 387.
30 Ed Blanche, “Gulf States Take Major Step Toward C3I Update,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 3 December 1997, 5; Michael Sirak, “GCC Commissions Joint Aircraft Tracking System,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 7 March 2001, 41.
31 Beginning in September 2004, the U.S. Navy started the continuous deployment of an Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Sea of Japan, as a long-range surveillance and tracking platform capable of sharing cueing and targeting data with ground based missile defenses; in 2005, it expects to field its first ballistic missile defense capable warship, and by 2006, the navy expects to have 15 destroyers and 3 cruisers configured to conduct ballistic missile defense operations worldwide. Christopher P. Cavas, “U.S. Ships to Begin Detect-and-Track Duties,” Defense News, August 30, 2004, 14.
32 Riad Kahwaji, “Iraq War Stalls GCC Missile Defense Plans,” Defense News, 1 December 2003, 1, 8.
33 CDI has five pillars which include: 1) shared early warning of missile strikes/C4I interoperability to permit a coordinated response to these threats; 2) active defense against theater air and missile threats; 3) passive defense against chemical and biological weapons; 4) medical countermeasures against chemical and biological weapons, and; 5) consequence management to deal with the aftermath of WMD use. For more, see: Cooperative Defense Initiative Against Weapons of Mass Destruction in Southwest Asia, United States Central Command pamphlet, 2002.
34 Richard L. Garwin, “Boost-Phase Intercept: A Better Alternative,” Arms Control Today, September 2000, at www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_09/bpisept00.asp?print.
35 Patrick Clawson, in Washington Institute Special Policy Forum Report No. 743, A View From Tehran: War and Challenges in the Post-Saddam Middle East, April 7, 2003.
36 John J. Lumpkin, “Buildup of Iraqi Security Forces Slowed as Policies Changed and Insurgency Grew,” January 31, 2005, at: http://www.wtnh.com/Global/story.asp?S=2878113; Special Defense Department Briefing on Iraq Security Forces by Lieutenant General David Petraeus, Commander, Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, February 4, 2005, at: http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2005/tr20050204-2083.html.
37 Gary Milhollin and Kelly Motz, “Nukes ‘R’ Us,” New York Times, 4 March 2004, A29.
38 Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991, (Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 560.
39 For more on efforts by the UAE to create a long-range precision-strike capability, see: Michael Knights, The Unfriendly Skies: Procurement and Employment Trends in GCC Air Forces (Hastings: Cross-Border