A long-range strategy to counter the possible emergence of a nuclear Iran is in the national security interest of the United States. According to press reports, the Obama Administration is working on such a "protect and defend" strategy. This plan should be a part of a convincing, practical, and effective approach for dissuading Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Some may criticize the decision to develop such a strategy, claiming it signals that the U.S. accepts Iran as a de facto nuclear weapons state. This is a legitimate concern. It is possible that the Obama Administration is accommodating Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions, but this does not have to be the case. Such planning could also become an important element of a strategy to demonstrate that America is prepared to defeat even a nuclear-armed Iran and thereby exert further pressure to dissuade Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
A Dangerous Message
If the United States only has an arms control strategy or a preventive military strike plan to destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure before it obtains a weapon, it will send Iran a dangerous message: that nuclear weapons are the ultimate trump card against the U.S. It is better for the U.S. to remind Iran of the strategy that President Reagan used to counter a Soviet Union armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons--a strategy that defeated the Soviet Union.
This does not mean that Iran will behave in exactly the same way as the Soviet Union. But a "protect and defend" strategy based on missile defenses combined with robust efforts to contain and deter Tehran could reduce the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.
A Broad Strategy
In order to uphold the nonproliferation regime, this protect and defend strategy must include offensive strike options, defensive systems--including ballistic missile defenses--and diplomatic initiatives. Specifically:
Deterrence by Denial
The Obama Administration's strategy must convince Tehran that the U.S. is capable of responding effectively to neutralize the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. Furthermore, this strategy must make it clear that nuclear weapons will not give Iran carte blanche to intimidate its neighbors in the region or the U.S.
Besides a short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missile defense strategy, this protect-and-defend strategy must include a possible preemptive element as well as pressures such as sanctions and other nonproliferation efforts. Such policies will help convince Tehran that it will gain little from a nuclear capability and that any use of nuclear weapons would be disastrous for Iran.
Rather than sending the message that an Iranian nuclear capability will paralyze the U.S., such a long-term strategy sends the message that the U.S. and its allies are fully prepared to defend themselves and, if necessary, inflict severe damage on Iran.
Finding a Way Forward
The Obama Administration should develop a long-range strategy for protecting and defending the U.S. and its allies and establish a robust framework of augmented deterrence to mitigate the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. Strategic planning that assumes a nuclear-armed Iran, even if Iran does not have such weapons at this time, is necessary to develop policies that could help diminish Iran's appetite for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, such a strategy serves to protect and defend the United States and its allies from possible future threats as well.
Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy, and James Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs, in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Erin Sedlacek, a Research Assistant at The Heritage Foundation, contributed to this piece.
Robert Burns, "Analysis: U.S. Making Plans for
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