Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Nuclear Iran Can Be Contained and Deterred: Report

A report by the Center for a New American Security, a national security think tank close to the Obama administration, argues that the United States has a plethora of viable strategies—including deterrence—to manage the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

While preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is preferable, the United States could successfully contain a nuclear Iran, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security, an influential think tank close to the administration of President Barack Obama.

The report, “If All Else Fails: The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran,” outlines a detailed “containment strategy” designed to deter Tehran’s use of a nuclear bomb or its transfer to non-state actors, and persuade other regional states not to develop their own nuclear arms capabilities.

“The United States should do everything in its power to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and no option should be left off the table,” said Colin Kahl, the lead author of the 80-page report and the Pentagon’s top Middle East policy official during most of Obama’s first term.

“But we also have to consider the possibility that prevention efforts – including the use of force – could fail,” he added in an email to IPS. “In that case, we’d need a strategy for managing and mitigating the threats a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to vital U.S. interests and allies. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

The administration, according to the report, has so firmly committed itself to a prevention policy – including threatening military action if diplomatic efforts and economic pressure fail – that cannot explicitly endorse a different approach “without damaging the very credibility it needs to effectively address the Iranian nuclear challenge,” according to the report.

At the same time, however, Tehran may be able to achieve “an unstoppable breakout capability” or build a weapon in secret before preventive measures have been exhausted. In addition, a U.S. or Israeli military strike may inflict only minimal damage to Iran’s nuclear programme while strengthening hard-liners in the regime who believe a nuclear deterrent is the only way to ensure its survival.

“Under any of these scenarios, Washington would likely be forced to shift toward containment regardless of current preferences,” the report notes, arguing that Washington needs to think through the requirements for an effective strategy.

The new report adds to a growing literature about U.S. options in dealing with Iran, which has itself repeatedly denied that its nuclear programme is designed to develop nuclear weapons.

The U.S. intelligence community has also reported consistently over the last six years that Iran’s leadership has not yet decided to build a weapon, although the increasing sophistication and infrastructure of its nuclear programme will make it possible to build one more quickly if such a decision is made. U.S. intelligence agencies have expressed confidence that they will be able to detect any effort by Iran to achieve a “break-out” capacity.

Since coming to office in 2009, the Obama administration has described its efforts to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapon as a “dual-track” approach involving both diplomatic outreach through the so-called P5+1 process of negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, and economic pressure exerted primarily through the imposition of harsh economic sanctions – some multilateral, most unilateral – designed to “cripple” the Iranian economy.

While the sanctions have clearly damaged Iran’s troubled economy, Tehran has so far rejected far-reaching concessions demanded by the Western members of the P5+1, such as suspending all operations at its underground Fordo enrichment facility and shipping most of its 20-percent enriched-uranium stockpile out of the country.

While there have been some exchanges between the P5+1 and Iran since their last meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan last month, the diplomatic process appears to have been put on hold pending next month’s presidential elections in the Islamic Republic.

The lack of progress on the diplomatic front combined with technological advances in Iran’s nuclear programme – with estimates that Tehran will have likely enough enriched uranium to build a bomb within a very short period by next spring or summer — has provoked a simmering conflict in Washington.

It revolves around pro-Israel and proliferation hawks pushing for yet more draconian sanctions and “credible threats of force” by the administration on the one hand and more dovish forces who are calling for more emphasis on the diplomatic track.

Much of the foreign policy establishment, including former senior military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials, lean to the latter camp; recent reports by blue-ribbon task forces of The Iran Project, the Atlantic Council, the Carnegie Endowment, and the Center for the National Interest have shown a developing elite consensus in favour of greater U.S. flexibility at the negotiating table.

In Congress, where the Israel lobby enjoys its greatest influence, however, the emphasis remains on the pressure track. Measures currently being circulated in both houses of Congress target foreign companies and banks in ways that, if enforced, would impose a virtual trade embargo against Iran.

The new report, the latest in a series by CNAS on Iran policy, does not address either strategy, although Kahl has in the past argued for greater U.S. flexibility in negotiations.  It is likely, however, to fuel the ongoing debates between the hawks and doves on whether Washington can indeed live with a nuclear-armed Iran if its “prevention” strategy fails.

A containment strategy, according Kahl and his two-co-authors, Raj Pattani and Jacob Stokes, would integrate five key components: deterrence, defence, disruption, de-escalation and de-nuclearisation.

Deterrence would involve, among other steps, strengthening Washington’s threat to retaliate in kind if Iran uses nuclear weapons and extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella to other regional states in exchange for their commitment not to pursue independent nuclear capabilities.

Defence would aim to deny Iran any benefit from its nuclear weapons by building up U.S. missile-defence capabilities and naval deployments in the region and increasing security co-operation with Gulf countries and Israel.

Disruption would include “shap(ing) a regional environment resistant to Iranian influence” by, among other steps, building up Egypt and Iraq as strategic counterweights; “promoting evolutionary political reform” in the Gulf; and increasing aid to moderate elements among Syrian rebels and the Lebanese Army as a counter to Hezbollah.

De-escalation would be designed to prevent any Iran-related crisis from spiralling to nuclear war “persuading Israel to eschew preemptive nuclear doctrine and other destabilizing nuclear postures,” creating crisis-communication mechanisms and exploring confidence-building measures with Iran; assuring Tehran that “regime change” is not Washington’s goal, and providing it with “’face-saving’ exit ramps” during crises.

Finally, de-nuclearisation would try to constrain Iran’s nuclear programme and limit broader damage to the non-proliferation regime by maintaining and tightening sanctions against Iran and strengthening interdiction efforts.

The report stressed that such a strategy would entail major costs, including “doubling down on U.S. security commitments to the Middle East,” making the administration’s military “rebalancing” to the Asia/Pacific more difficult; “greatly complicate efforts to promote reform” allied Arab states; and “increase the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy at the very time the Obama administration hopes to move in the opposite direction.”

The CNAS report was immediately assailed by several prominent neo-conservatives who have long been warning that Obama, given his clear reluctance to risk war in another predominantly Muslim country, would himself eschew his prevention strategy in favour of “containment by another name.”

But, as noted by Kahl, the hard-line neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute published a paper 18 months ago that concluded that “containing and deterring” a nuclear-armed Iran could be the “least-bad choice” for U.S. policy if Washington can “demonstrate that it can deter both Iran’s use of nuclear weapons and aggression by Tehran’s network of partners and terrorist proxies.”

Kahl’s position on containment is also expected to be echoed with the anticipated publication by Ken Pollack, a former CIA analyst at the Brookings Institution, of his new book, “Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy’. Pollack’s 2002 book, “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq,” helped persuade many liberals and Democrats to back the invasion.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Update was slow, but still no lag in the editor window, and footnotes are intact.     This has been updated – Bernard Lewis, who passed away in May 2018, was a renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor, Lewis was…


Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


For the past few decades the vast majority of private security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp operating internationally have come from a relatively small number of countries: the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, and Russia. But that seeming monopoly is opening up to new players, like DeWe Group, China Security and Protection Group, and Huaxin Zhongan Group. What they all have in common is that they are from China.


The Trump administration’s massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment.


Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


RightWeb
share