Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran: Questions for Strategy, Requirements for Military Forces

(American Enterprise Institute) Thomas Donnelly, Danielle Pletka, and Maseh Zarif - Even without a nuclear weapon, Iran is difficult to deter: its diffuse leadership structures and constant domestic power struggles make it hard to determine which individual leaders, groups of leaders and institutions should be the objects and targets of deterrence. Furthermore, the Iranian approach to military power is a highly asymmetrical strategy that substitutes nuclear weapons, irregulars, proxies, and terrorism for conventional strength. Containing Iran requires effecting the isolation of the Iranian regime, disconnecting it from great power patrons, limiting its ability to peel off neighbors and regional players to serve its agenda, limiting its use of proxies, and more. The keystone of any containment policy is a military strategy of deterrence. An Iran policy of containment must meet the basic Cold War standard of credibility. The deterrent posture depends on an adequate U.S. nuclear arsenal of offensive systems; a substantial investment in forward deployed and reinforcing conventional forces; and the preservation of strong alliances that permit relatively good policy integration, military cooperation, and basing and access for U.S. forces. A credible U.S. offensive deterrent must be "persistent": that is, dedicated forces must be active, available, and "present," at least in the mind of the adversary. In addition, the role of U.S. offensive nuclear forces as the central feature of a "defense umbrella" covering American allies and their interests across the greater Middle East will be critical. Current policies and plans, however, do not reflect such considerations. Though containment and deterrence are possible policies and strategies for the U.S. and others to adopt when faced with a nuclear Iran, we cannot share the widespread enthusiasm entertained in many quarters. Indeed, the broad embrace of containment and deterrence appears to be based primarily on an unwillingness to analyze the risks and costs.

2011-12-07 00:00:00

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