The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: Is Iran Next?
About This Event

Since Iran’s clandestine nuclear portfolio was made public in 2002, the Islamic regime has stood in defiance of international calls to halt its nuclear activities. United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1696 demanded Iran suspend its nuclear program by August 31, 2006, or risk facing possible economic and diplomatic sanctions. Listen to Audio


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The UN deadline came and went, and over a month later little action has been taken. Now the United States and its European allies, divided, must determine how best to punish a noncompliant Iran.

What must the international community do in order to compel compliance from Iran? What economic levers are available, and can they be meaningful? Should the United States work with internal Iranian movements to pressure the regime? And at the end of the day, is there really a military option?

Speakers at this AEI event will include Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Thomas Donnelly, senior advisor in the Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program; Danielle Pletka, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at AEI; and Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at AEI.

Agenda
9:45 a.m.
Registration
10:00
Panelists:
Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Thomas Donnelly, CSIS
Danielle Pletka, AEI
Michael Rubin, AEI
11:30
Adjournment
Event Summary

October 2006

The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: Is Iran Next?

Since Iran’s clandestine nuclear portfolio was made public in 2002, the Islamic regime has stood in defiance of international calls to halt its nuclear activities. United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1696 demanded Iran suspend its nuclear program by August 31, 2006, or risk facing possible economic and diplomatic sanctions. The UN deadline came and went, and over a month later little action has been taken. Now the United States and its European allies, divided, must determine how best to punish a noncompliant Iran.

What must the international community do in order to compel compliance from Iran? What economic levers are available, and can they be meaningful? Should the United States work with internal Iranian movements to pressure the regime? And at the end of the day, is there really a military option?

Michael Rubin
AEI

Following North Korea’s recent nuclear test, the question must be addressed: Is Iran next? The situation concerning Iranian nuclear development remains a consistent problem, plaguing American foreign policy decisions, generating increasing animus from the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and occupying newspaper headlines across the world. This problem will persist through the final years of the current administration, and will continue to trouble U.S. policymakers for the foreseeable future.

Considering the full range of options available to the United States--legislative, economic, and military--one should not discount any of them as a possible deterrent to Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Those who argue against the effectiveness of legislative action or sanctions in curbing Iran’s nuclear program eliminate possible response options, effectively removing an arrow from America’s quiver. No one is hoping for military action, and it remains unlikely that such action could effectively end Iran’s drive towards nuclear weapons. Essential for America’s strategic aims is the establishment of unyielding “red lines.” Thus far, such efforts have been unclear and ineffective.

Danielle Pletka
AEI

Congress has been less activist than is necessary in its efforts to take a legislative approach toward curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has shifted to the backburner of policy priorities in light of the recent nuclear test by North Korea; however, U.S. policy towards Iran remains paramount, considering that country’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons in the near future. Nonetheless, Democrats in the House of Representatives have consistently ignored the growing threat of Iranian nuclear development.

While debate continues over the benefits and shortcomings of past U.S. legislative efforts against the Iranian regime, previous sanctions have clearly had a chilling effect on foreign investment in the country. Nonetheless, these actions have been largely symbolic in nature, and have had little measurable effect. President George W. Bush’s recent efforts to expand sanctions against foreign companies investing in Iran represent a positive step. Even so, it is unlikely that any amount of legislative action will succeed at deterring Iranian ambitions for a nuclear arsenal.

Patrick Clawson
Washington Institute for Near East Policy

There are two common misperceptions when it comes to U.S. efforts to sanction Iran. First, the United States is “sanctioned out” when it comes to Iran. Second sanctions are unlikely to be an effective tool against the Iranian government’s nuclear aspirations. In terms of the first misperception, recent actions taken by the U.S. Treasury against Iran’s banking and credit systems show significant effects. These sanctions impede the regime’s ability to open letters of credit and convert critical oil export payments into funds for the state. Moreover, foreign banks have approached the country with greater and greater levels of caution, reexamining and reconsidering their investment strategies to the detriment of Iranian finances.
 
On the effectiveness of sanctions in general, it seems evident that they present a valuable tool for slowing the progress of Iran’s nuclear development. This is a good thing. Stalling the country’s nuclear build-up buys time for US efforts to depose the Ahmadinejad regime, and may allow for a cooling of tensions in Iran’s western neighbor, Iraq. Sanctions present a useful means for the United States to step up pressure on Iran and retard the country’s nuclear ambitions. Even so, it is unlikely that sanctions can force Iran to entirely discontinue its nuclear program.

Thomas Donnelly
Center for Strategic and International Studies

The military options available to the United States for dealing with Iran range in terms of their level of severity, as well as the response such options may elicit from Iran. At the lowest level, the United States could consider an “Afghan mujahedin” option, centered on covert funding and support of resistance movements within the Iran who stand in opposition to the ayatollahs. Moreover, America could conduct strategic air strikes against Iranian nuclear targets, like the preemptive action taken by Israel against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. Such strikes could be effective at dismantling the Iranian nuclear infrastructure in advance of crisis. More intense is the possibility of a limited or full ground invasion. This option ranges from low-grade engagement with U.S. Special Forces entering the country to a full-scale invasion aimed at halting Iranian development by force. Other options include a limited land grab, such as that planned by the Saddam Hussein regime that kicked off the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Such a grab could enable the United States to secure the oil fields in Kurdistan and use them as leverage with the ayatollahs.
 
Unfortunately the United States has already lost the element of strategic surprise against the nation’s enemy. Still, the likelihood that a military campaign is the “least bad” option is growing. Any actions must take into consideration Iran’s response in the hours and days following even a limited air strike. Thus, such decisions should be made based after a thorough cost-benefit analysis.

AEI intern Benjamin Kramer prepared this summary.

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