Category Archives: Iran

Thoughts on Iran: A Potential Arms Race and US Policy Recommendations

In response to threats posed by a nuclear-armed Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it is possible that other nations would in turn attempt to develop nuclear weapons of their own. In this way, a nuclear-armed Iran could potentially set off a regional nuclear arms race—which would result in widespread international insecurity. Furthermore, a nuclear-armed Iran would cause Israel to seriously consider ordering an airstrike against Iranian nuclear facilities. An Iranian retaliation against Israel or Gulf states would likely propel the region into war, also potentially drawing the in US and other international powers.

This is not necessarily the case. Iran’s increased regional prestige could influence other nations to adopt policies of accommodation toward Iran, causing the region to stabilize as a whole. This possibility is less likely, but it should still figure heavily into US policy considerations: developing an overly aggressive stance toward Iran overtly or through proxies could eliminate any possible stabilizing regional effects of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Finally, it is unclear how regional proxies including Hizbollah and Hamas would be affected by the creation of an Iranian nuclear bomb. It is possible that their organizations would engage Israel more aggressively than before, knowing they are backed by the support of a nuclear power. While less likely, it is also conceivable that Iran would oppositely cut them loose having achieved its nuclear ambitions. As organizations with legitimate support bases within local populations, such a move from Iran could cause Hizbollah and Hamas to moderate their tactics in an attempt to avoid alienating their local support—on which they would be more directly dependent in the absence of Iranian funding. Either extreme seems improbable; Iran will more likely continue to fund proxies in an attempt to slowly exacerbate the Israel-Palestine conflict from afar.

In the event of a nuclear-armed Iran, the following four policies executed in conjunction will enable the US to attempt to increase the security of the region, while avoiding disrupting any existing stability.

The US needs to work with all regional states to develop multilateral security agreements. These agreements will only be successful if all major parties are included, otherwise there will be gaps in the regional security system. These agreements will work to reconstruct a concept of regional security, while if an Iranian bomb has somehow made the region more secure through accommodation policies, the agreements will be unlikely to disrupt the new balance.

The US must avoid siding with one power or another in an attempt to balance Iranian power. While Saudi Arabia will likely aggressively pursue US support to become the preeminent balancing force against Iran, the US must refuse this possibility. A nuclear-armed or otherwise excessively empowered Saudi Arabia would further exacerbate regional insecurity and alienate other Gulf states. Additionally, it is impossible to predict what Saudi Arabia would do with a bomb further into the future.

The US needs to redouble its efforts to prevent weapons proliferation. Egypt in particular will be susceptible to a strong public drive to develop a weapons program. Regional security crises will be compounded if Egypt becomes nuclear-capable. It is unlikely that the US will be able to perpetually enforce nuclear nonproliferation agreements into the future while tacitly allowing Iran to remain nuclear-capable; at the same time there is little chance anything will be able to convince Iran to disarm. But keeping Egypt—as well as Saudi Arabia—from building bombs will buy time for the US to build up multilateral regional security agreements.

The US must dissuade Israel from using force against Iranian nuclear sites. Iranian retaliation against Israel or Gulf states could result in the outbreak of a regional war, which would potentially draw in the US or other international powers.

Ultimately, the US must avoid shortsighted policies that aggressively ally with one side or another. It is difficult to predict how current allies or adversaries will align themselves in the future; to build a lasting stability, all regional parties must collaborate toward a multilateral security agreement. At the same time, the international community faces the difficult task of discouraging other states from developing weapons programs of their own in response to Iran’s actions.

Photo: adam79

Middle East Regional Reactions to a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Potential regional reactions to a nuclear-armed Iran are unclear, and are further complicated by variables including the transparency and scale of Iran’s weaponization. The possible regional consequences range from a de-escalation in conflict to the outbreak of a nuclear arms race. If the US is not balanced in its response to a nuclear-armed Iran, US influence risks worsening the resultant situation, whether it is one of relative stability or widespread insecurity.

Examining the origins of the current Iranian nuclear situation is useful in attempting to understand Iran’s motives in initiating a nuclear program. That Iran began building its nuclear program in secrecy implies that at the time Iran desired a weapons program as a security deterrent. Following Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, and the international community’s relative silence on the issue, it is understandable that Iran would no longer want to subject itself to such hypocritical international norms. Yet despite Iran’s current lack of existential threats—following the destruction of its two greatest enemies, the Hussein regime and the Taliban—Iran has continued its nuclear program.

Despite assertions from Iranian leaders that Iran seeks a nuclear program solely for energy purposes, Ahmadinejad in particular has exclaimed his desire to use a nuclear bomb to attack Israel. Iranian leaders no doubt are attempting to exploit this ambiguity, though it may backfire and result in an Israeli airstrike. If it were suddenly to emerge that Iran had successfully built a bomb, Iranian intentions would be equally ambiguous, inciting a security crisis in the Middle East. Iranian rulers may build a bomb just to increase their perceived powerfulness or Iran’s regional prestige, yet no one on the outside can know their true intentions. It is this uncertainty that would be the greatest source of Middle East insecurity.

Because of the insecurity created by the development of an Iranian bomb, there is a significantly increased likelihood that other regional actors would also develop nuclear weapons programs. Other states might want to do this for two reasons: because they believe that a nuclear Iran poses a legitimate threat or because they believe that nuclear weapons give Iran an overwhelming regional prestige. Furthermore, Iran’s nuclear weaponization would not only alter the balance of power in the Middle East, but it would also signify the inability of the US and UN to stop Middle East powers from becoming nuclear-armed.

While other regional actors would be tempted to develop nuclear weapons to balance against Iranian regional leadership—or an Iranian security threat—they would be further encouraged by the failure of the international community to stop Iran’s weaponization. If Iran becomes nuclear-armed, it is likely that other regional powers will attempt to do the same, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Facing a potential existential nuclear threat in Iran, Saudi Arabia would likely seek to build a nuclear weapons program in response. Saudis likely fear a retaliatory attack from Iran in the event of a US or Israeli airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. This potentiality justifies Saudi ambitions to build bomb. Further, a bomb would allow Saudi Arabia to more fully guarantee its own security, moving away from reliance on the US Thus a nuclear weapon would increase Saudi regional prestige, as well as its dominance over the other Gulf states.

Egypt would likely attempt to develop a nuclear bomb in response to Iran’s nuclear weaponization in order to attempt to restore its prestige and leadership in the Arab world. Any political constraints keeping Egypt from developing a bomb would be lessened by the presence of a nuclear-armed Iran. The perception that Saudi Arabia would be attempting to develop a bomb in response to Iran’s weapons program would further entice Egypt to consider building a bomb in a competition for prestige.

Photo: hamed

Using the 22 Bahman Uprising in Iran as a Model for Counterinsurgency

In addition to using their Chinese-made riot trucks and gas attacks on the protesters, the Iranian security forces were able to quell much of the 22 Bahman uprising by simply relying on the weakness of the movement’s organizational structure. Letting the enemy defeat itself; very Art of War. The very lack of hierarchy in the green movement was both a blessing and a curse. From Foreign Policy:

Like many of the green movement activists, Sadeghi’s belief in the protests seems related to their “horizontal organization,” the fact that they were structured without hierarchies. This was supposed to be the great strength of the movement, but it is also an abiding weakness. A horizontal organization can’t clearly delineate different roles to different people according to their strengths; it can’t reward those who participate, or sanction those who hesitate. Facebook enabled many young Iranians to forget these points.

Now obviously the Taliban is not organizing via Facebook, but the principle of decentralization is the same. Avoid having a center of gravity, put together your demonstrations (attacks) at the last possible minute; coordinate, execute, and then melt away into the night. But if the Iranian green movement using the same principles was successfully put down, does this offer us a rubric for approaching insurgencies?

The short answer is probably not. The Taliban is not planning its operations through Facebook or tweets. But the reason the Revolutionary Guard so effectively shut down the protests was by blocking access to means of communications; that is to say the internet. No Gmail, no Facebook, no twitter meant that there was no coordination between demonstrators, nor was there a way to quickly spread the word of crackdowns in a particular area. The networks used by the Taliban for communication are more dispersed, making a system-wide shutdown more difficult. Walkie-talkies and satellite phones are the order of the day, and while we can intercept calls, we cannot easily end them. Even if we did, human couriers would merely proliferate further.

Also worth keeping in mind is the psychological element. The pushback given by the Iranian regime was demoralizing and a clear setback for the movement, slowing momentum and further progress. Presumably more than one green movement adherent changed his colors, or at least plans to lay low thanks to the IRG. But when ISAF and the United States attempt to stop the movement (the Taliban), it disperses them without costing the Taliban anything. Most of the Iranian protesters were relatively concentrated – do we need to herd Taliban fighters into a single killing zone? And is the Battle for Marjah a step in that direction?

Graham Jenkins is an American graduate student at the London School of Economics specializing in military history, naval affairs, and fourth-generation war. His forthcoming dissertation is “Aden in the Balance: The RAF and Counterinsurgency in the Aden Emergency, 1964-67.”  He also writes at his blog, Automatic Ballpoint.

Photo: arasmus

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