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Deter and Contain: Dealing with a Nuclear Iran
Mar 04, 2004
AUTHOR: Michael Eisenstadt
Deter and Contain-Dealing with a Nuclear Iran (PDF) 122.06 KB


Deter and Contain: Dealing with a Nuclear Iran

By Michael Eisenstadt[1]

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 significant progress. Reviewing the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear activities, the clandestine nature of some of its procurement efforts, and the long trail of partial, misleading, and/or untruthful declarations it has provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that these efforts support a clandestine nuclear weapons program.[2]

How close is Iran to obtaining 'the bomb'?  Should Iran obtain fissile material from abroad, it could conceivably build a bomb within a year (assuming it has plans for a viable design, and the special materials and components needed for a device or weapon).  If the reactor at Bushehr is finished in 2005 (as promised by the Russians), Iran could produce enough fissile material for its first bomb within 2-3 years. And if forced to fall back on its gas centrifuge program for fissile material, it might not acquire the bomb for another 5-10 years.[3] More than a decade of experience in Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and Libya, however, has served to highlight the unreliability of such estimates.

Given these uncertainties, U.S. policy makers and military planners can be expected to devote significant attention to the challenges of deterring and containing an Iran that is on the verge of acquiring, or that has already acquired nuclear weapons.  In this context, the focus of

U.S. policy will be dissuading Tehran from engaging in terrorism or employing its conventional military forces under the cover provided by its nuclear umbrella, forestalling its use of nuclear weapons, and preventing Iran from translating its nuclear potential into political and/or military leverage over its neighbors and the United States

Deterring and containing a nuclear Iran will pose major challenges, due to the nature of the regime in Tehran, as well as the regional environment.  The nature of these challenges, and suggested measures for dealing with them, are discussed 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, which have employed such tactics as suicide bombings.[4]

Is Iran "Undeterrable"?

Iranian officials have consciously 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 wrong. Within the context of a relatively activist foreign and defense 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 gauge accurately the balance of power and to identify and circumvent the 'red lines' of its adversaries—a strong indicator of an ability to engage in rational calculation.

Despite the frequent resort to religious imagery in speeches and interviews, Iranian officials usually employ to 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 had a higher threshold for pain than did most other states. 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, and 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'.

In fact, 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. And with respect to its ability to tolerate pain and absorb casualties, 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 or more.  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 their fate 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 in pursuing efforts to export the revolution since the early 1990s).

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 contradict this assertion (including 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 reasons of state, not religious doctrine or ideology.

Challenges for Deterrence

The main problem in deterring a nuclear Iran is thus not the putative 'irrationality' of the regime or its high threshold for pain. Rather, it is the:

  • Impact of factionalism among the regime's clerical leadership on decision-making and policy;


  • Possibility that some Iranian decision-makers might believe that nuclear weapons could increase Iran's latitude to engage in conventional terrorism, conventional military operations, or to pursue an "eliminationist" solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and;


  • Effect of domestic instability and anti-regime violence on the security of Iran's nuclear stockpile and the behavior of hard-line 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, act to subvert their rivals, or press the government to take actions inconsistent with its general policy line. Accordingly, Iranian policy has often embodied contradictory tendencies, and has often been inconsistent and unpredictable.  Such behavior would seriously complicate efforts to establish a stable and predictable deterrent relationship with a nuclear Iran.

This tendency has, however, diminished in recent years, as the conservative faction has fended off challenges by reformist politicians and gradually consolidated control over the levers of power in the Islamic Republic.  Thus, while Iranian policy continues to be characterized by contradictory currents, this is less a manifestation of political pluralism than an acknowledgement by the dominant conservative faction that the détente policies preferred by many reformers win Iran diplomatic points abroad, and provide political cover for the activities of hard-liners in the security services and armed forces.

Recent examples of this tendency can be seen in Iranian policy toward Afghanistan and Iran. 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]

Should the reform movement recover from recent reverses and renew their challenge to their conservative rivals (which at present seems a distant possibility), the latter could engage in terrorism against U.S. personnel or interests, to embarrass and discredit reformist adversaries who seek better relations with the U.S., and perhaps provoke U.S. retaliation, in order to prompt a nationalist backlash against the U.S. and generate domestic support for their hard-line position.[11]

Iran's past successes in obscuring its involvement in terrorism or avoiding retribution, moreover, might lead some Iranian decision-makers to believe that they could commission acts of conventional terrorism with impunity—as they have in the past (e.g., the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing, and 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.

Iranian decision-makers may also believe that the possession of nuclear weapons could provide Tehran with greater latitude to conduct conventional military operations against Iran's neighbors. There are precedents elsewhere for this: Iraq's growing nonconventional arsenal (consisting of chemical and biological weapons) may have emboldened Saddam Hussein to pursue a more aggressive regional policy in 1989-90 and finally to invade Kuwait in 1990. Similarly, the confidence that Pakistan's leadership drew from the demonstration of that country's nuclear capability in a May 1998 weapons test, may have emboldened it to attempt to seize a portion of Kashmir from India in the Kargil Crisis of May-July 1999. It is not clear, however, what kind of limited warfare scenario would make sense to Iran's leadership under current conditions (although civil war in Iraq might generate pressure for Iranian military intervention there).  For now, on the defensive, surrounded by potential enemies and U.S. forces on all sides, it seems more interested in preserving the political and territorial status quo in the Gulf, than on altering it.  That, of course, could change.

A nuclear Iran might also be more inclined to take risks vis-à-vis Israel, in the belief that its nuclear capability would deter major acts of 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-Israel vitriol in the public political discourse of both relatively "liberal" reformers and conservative hard­liners.

Such speculation 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, or it may indicate that, having achieved significant successes by 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. 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.

This, in turn, raises questions concerning the implications of instability and unrest in a nuclear Iran. Should anti-regime violence escalate to the point that it threatens 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 by either side, and to inject an element of predictability into relations between the two.  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, and more likely to act responsibly should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

Operationalizing Deterrence

U.S. efforts to influence a potentially hostile nuclear Iran must incorporate measures to deter by denial as well as by punishment.  Raising doubts in the minds of Iranian decision makers about the country's ability to reliably deliver its nuclear weapons, and encouraging fears that the attempted use of such weapons could threaten their personal survival and that of the Islamic

Republic, could make the use of nuclear weapons prohibitively risky for Tehran, for all but the most dire circumstances.

Deterrence by Denial: Countering Iran's Ability to Project Influence and Deliver Nuclear Weapons

By thwarting Tehran's ability to project influence under the cover of its nuclear umbrella, or to reliably deliver nuclear weapons, the U.S. and its allies can strengthen deterrence, and cast doubts about the utility of nuclear weapons for Iran. 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 clerical regime's strategic culture and general modus operandi. 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 throughout the Middle East and beyond, by aircraft and land-based ballistic missiles, and perhaps by various non-traditional means such as ship-based ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, boats, and terrorists.[13]

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. (It will, however, almost certainly be years before Iran can produce such weapons.) [14]

Iran might 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 an 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 capabilities in several areas, including 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.
  • Though progress has been made in some of these areas, with some of Iran's neighbors, much remains to be done.

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 some of its regional allies) could threaten their survival and that of the regime, 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.

The awesome potential of modern air power—particularly the ability to lay waste to modern industrial and economic infrastructures—was dramatically demonstrated (in some cases inadvertently, in other cases in strikes on dual-use facilities) during Operations Desert Storm (1991), 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 undoubtedly would play a role in 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; 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.[15] 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 its great resilience, and thus might 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).[16]

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, more than 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.[17] Success here will await the development by the U.S. of better human intelligence, and more flexible and responsive precision-strike capabilities and tactics.

If targeting senior officials offers uncertain prospects for success, 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.  This would greatly complicate efforts to target their assets.[18] 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.  And 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.[19]

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 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. Ironically, political tensions in the ranks of these organizations between supporters of reformists and conservatives, might pose a greater threat to the reliability and operational effectiveness of these organizations in a crisis, than would U.S. air 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 85% 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, and these handle about 90% of all imports by tonnage, and its sea lines of communication in the Gulf are vulnerable to interdiction along the length of the Gulf.[20] 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.[21] 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.  Even some of Iran's smaller neighbors in the Gulf could inflict substantial harm on the Iranian economy by hitting key Iranian facilities in the Gulf region. 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, or a terror campaign spanning several continents.

Containing a Nuclear Iran

What impact might the acquisition of nuclear weapons have on Tehran's ability to extend its influence in the region, and on U.S. efforts to organize an international coalition 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 through an announcement or a weapons test.[22] 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 has raised 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.[23 ]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.[24] Politics are highly personalized, and are characterized by distrust and petty rivalries, militating against the creation of truly effective regional organizations that require state members to cede authority to the collective (this is the experience of the GCC and its Peninsula Shield force).

Accordingly, the U.S. should focus on military-technical cooperation with regional friends and allies, deepen existing bilateral security relationships where feasible (with Turkey, the GCC states, and the Central Asian Republics), forge new bilateral security relationships where possible (with Iraq and Afghanistan), and pursue 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 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 principle 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 actual 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 may have the confidence not to yield to Iranian intimidation, and do not feel compelled to proliferate (by acquiring chemical or nuclear weapons) in order 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 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 where extreme Islamists have in the past shown a willingness to work with Iranian intelligence (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 strikes into neighboring countries (and has done so several times in the past decade in Iraq). 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 to the region.

Iran's force of mines, missiles, small boats, and submarines, could temporarily close 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 act they could 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.[25]

Among the concepts under consideration to free the U.S. from reliance on shore-based facilities include Joint Mobile Offshore Bases (JMOBs), and large, semisubmersible platforms, which could deploy to a crisis zone, and serve as large afloat logistics hubs, storage or repair depots, airfields (several JMOBs would be linked together for this purpose), or forward operating bases for combat and support personnel.  Both are floating structures derived from offshore oil drilling platforms. These concepts, if proven viable, could preserve the navy's operational freedom in the Gulf, even if denied access to basing in the region. These options are, however, very expensive, are untried, and suffer from a number of drawbacks which might preclude their eventual deployment.[26 ]Moreover, large floating bases would be vulnerable to an Iranian nuclear strike, vitiating their utility in circumstances in which nuclear escalation is a distinct possibility.

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, preempt their use, and interdict the delivery platform before it arrives on target.

The U.S. and its allies will need to establish the ability to detect the transport of a nuclear weapon by small boats or merchant ships originating in Iranian ports, motor vehicles exiting Iran at designated 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 (a few hundred feet at most for gamma radiation), the early detection of a nuclear weapon being delivered by nontraditional means (such as a boat or truck) will pose formidable challenges.  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 floating buoys clandestinely emplaced at the mouth of Iranian harbors; on unattended ground sensors emplaced along traditional smuggling routes on Iran's border; adjacent to runways at Iranian military airfields, and; at authorized and unofficial border crossing points, in cooperation with neighboring states.[27]

Preventing the seaborne delivery of a nuclear weapon 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, detect and interdict boat-borne nuclear devices, and to monitor traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz.  Detecting the transport of so-called suitcase bombs will require neighboring states to monitor official ports of entry, unofficial border crossing points, and in particular, known smuggling routes. (The sheer number of smuggling paths and routes along Iran's borders, however, might render such a task practically impossible.)

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" (al-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.[28]
  • 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 SPY-1 radar and the deployment of the Standard SM2 Block IV–A missile, which is just now entering operational service.
  • The GCC is expected to undertake a major study of missile defense requirements, though the study has reportedly been delayed by the recent war in Iraq, and financial constraints.[29]
  • The Cooperative Defense Initiative (CDI), which involves the six GCC states plus Egypt and Jordan, and which, as one of its five pillars, has worked to promote cooperation in the area of shared missile defense early warning.[30] More, however, needs to be done to enhance cooperation between 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 + 2, 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 Gulf—Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and 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 would land in Russia, virtually ensuring that deployment of such a system would meet with vociferous opposition from Moscow—for understandable enough reasons.[31]

Though regional allies may have an important role to play in the future in deterring and defending against any 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.  On the other hand, they could have a supporting role in pre-emptive action 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?

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 build­up 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.[32]

For now, however, this 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 New Iraqi Army (NIA) to field three light infantry divisions (with some armor) and 35,000-40,000 men by 2005. There can be no doubt that this is an interim target force level, and that the NIA will eventually expand far beyond these numbers. For the foreseeable future, however, Iraq will lack the funds (and the inventories of equipment) needed to field a large army, and the U.S. will probably not provide the tens of billions of dollars or the equipment necessary to do so. At present, the priority for the U.S. is to prepare Iraq's internal security organizations to assume increased responsibilities for internal security during and after the anticipated transition to Iraqi sovereignty in the summer of 2004.

Accordingly, it will be up to the new Iraqi interim administration, and its successor, to decide on the roles, missions, and force structure of the NIA (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 NIA will be a priority of a new Iraqi government, that a new Iraqi government (in which Iraqi Shi'a and Kurds are likely to play a major role) will see Iran as the primary threat, or that a new Iraqi government will take directions from the U.S. on such matters.

Nor is it in the U.S. interest that Iraq have a large military.  For the coming years, it will be in the U.S. interest to keep the NIA 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 thus facilitate Iraq's political and economic integration into the region. Finally, it is in the U.S. interest that the NIA 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 it with a modest precision-strike capability, sufficient to reach Iran's critical oil facilities in the Gulf, to counter Iran's missile force.

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 produce precursor chemicals for processing at a small, clandestine chemical weapon production facility, in order 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' (perhaps Bahrain and the UAE) and that desire to do something about it to develop a credible independent conventional deterrent, to build confidence in their ability to stand up to Iranian intimidation, and 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 they could disrupt Iranian oil production and exports, interrupt port operations, interdict sea lines of communication, and target elements of Iran's nuclear infrastructure (e.g., the reactor at Bushehr). Emphasis should be placed on helping these allies to acquire relatively short-range precision strike assets capable of hitting high-value Iranian targets in the vicinity of the Gulf, but not much beyond that (for instance, Tehran), not only because the most important Iranian economic targets are in the Gulf region, and because being able to hit leadership or other targets in and around Tehran is of dubious strategic value, but also to ensure that such U.S. efforts to build up Arab capabilities do not conflict with the U.S. goal of preserving 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 be explicitly conditioned on a commitment by these countries to eschew the development or acquisition of WMD.

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, avert tensions among GCC states (fearing that such capabilities will more likely be used against their fellow GCC members, rather than Iran), and 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 have acquitted themselves 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, Iraq's F-1 and Saudi Arabia's F-15 squadrons.[33] 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 PGM-equipped Mirage 2000-9s (30) and F-16 Block 60s (80), show what a small state can do in this regard.[34]


Iran's nuclear program is likely to emerge as the driving force behind efforts to create a new regional security architecture in the Persian Gulf and southwest Asia in the coming years.  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 proliferated region.


1. Senior fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  This paper was prepared for the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) workshop: Contending with a Nuclear-Ready Iran, Washington, DC, 22-24 February 2004. 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 accounts of what is know 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/2003/40 of 6 June 2003, GOV/2003/63 of 26 August 2003, GOV/2003/75 of 10 November 2003, and GOV/2004/11 of 24 February 2004.

3. The estimate of 2-3 years is that of several respected proliferation specialists.  See David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, "Iran, Player or Rogue?"  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2003, 52-58, and "Iran: Breaking Out Without Quite Breaking the Rules?" A Nonproliferation Policy Education Center analysis at <>. By contrast, the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community is that if Iranian efforts to acquire technology to produce fissile material are successful, "Tehran will have a nuclear weapon within the decade."  Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, USN, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, Statement for the Record, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 11, 2003 and Senate Armed Services Committee, February 12, 2003, at:

4. Parts of this section are based on Michael Eisenstadt, "Living with a Nuclear Iran?" Survival, vol. 41, no. 3, Autumn 1999, 132-137; 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).

5. Ettela'at, September 24, 1995, 3, in FBIS-NES, October 3, 1995, 75.

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.

9. See the comments by Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to the American-Iranian Council, 15 March, 2002, at:, and to The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2 August, 2002, at:  

10. Patrick Bishop, "U.S. Troops Killed as Bremer Accuses Iran," The Telegraph, 19 September, 2003, at:

11. Such maneuvers would not be without precedent. In November 1979, militant 'students' stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took embassy personnel hostage, in order to subvert the efforts of moderates in the government trying to reopen lines of communications with Washington.  In November 1986, opponents of a rapprochement with Washington leaked details to a Lebanese newspaper of what was to become known as Irangate, leading to the collapse of the effort. And in February 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning writer Salman Rushdie to death, thereby undercutting months of painstaking efforts to mend relations with Europe by then Parliamentary Speaker 'Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and allies in the Foreign Ministry.

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. 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.

14. For more on "suitcase nukes," see: David Smigielski, "A Review of the Suitcase Nuclear Bomb Controversy," RANSAC Policy Update, September 2003, at:  

15. 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 (as attempted at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom) a viable strategy.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. Jahangir Amuzegar, "Iran's Underground Economy," Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), vol. XLVI, no. 36, 8 September 2003, at: 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:

19. 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.

20. For more on Iran's oil industry, see: U.S. Department of Energy, "Iran Country Analysis Brief," November 2003, at:  For information on Iran's commercial ports, see: Farjam Behnam, Karan Behrooz, and Dr. Farhad Shahabi (Eds.), Iran Almanac 2003 (Tehran:, 2003), 372-373.

21. Anthony H. Cordesman and Abraham R. Wagner, The Lessons of Modern War: The Iran-Iraq War (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990), 485-489.

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. Michael Knights, "Building a Gulf Security Forum: A Long Job, So Let's Get Started," PolicyWatch No. ?, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 3 March 2004.

25. Admiral Vern Clark, "The United States Navy: Sea Power 21" U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October 2002, at:

26. For more on these, see: 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:

27. 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 sensors 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.

28. 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.

29. Riad Kahwaji, "Iraq War Stalls GCC Missile Defense Plans," Defense News, 1 December 2003, 1, 8.

30. The five pillars of CDI 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.

31. Richard L. Garwin, "Boost-Phase Intercept: A Better Alternative," Arms Control Today, September 2000, at

32. 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.

33. Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991, (Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 560.34. 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, unpublished manuscript.

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