Table of Contents
1. Executive Summary
2. Background of the Problem
2.2 Preferences of the Players
2.2.2 US & EU
2.2.3 Russia & China
2.2.5 Arab States
3. Options and Analysis
3.1 Diplomacy with Sanctions
3.2 Limited Preemptive Air Strike
3.3 Massive Preemptive Strike with Regime Change
In the following policy paper, information and findings from different sources are included. To prevent a biased analysis, research reports from the US administration and Congress as well as liberal (Brookings), central (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, RAND), and conservative (Heritage Foundation) think tanks have been considered and assessed.
1. Executive Summary
The Iranian nuclear program has been one of the major controversies in international affairs in the 21st century. While Iran insists on the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT), the international community fears the secret weaponization of Iran’s program. Neither could Iran convince the international community that it does not (intend to) work on a program for nuclear weapons, nor could the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China + Germany (P5+1 countries) – implement effective measures in the form of diplomacy with sanctions to initially deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
In the following policy paper, the problem will be first introduced by summarizing its history. A presentation of major players in the conflict and their preferences will help to analyze available strategy options for the United States as well as their possible consequences and chances of success. The following three strategies will be discussed:
1) Diplomacy with sanctions: clear, timely limited, and achievable sanctions with immediate and direct costs on Iran’s leaders would be imposed. A multilateral coalition through the United Nations would threaten the Iranian regime with sanctions and would simultaneously offer negotiations in which it clearly outlines possible benefits for Iran if the country meets the requests of the UNSC and IAEA.
2) Limited preemptive air strike: unilaterally or in a coalition with Israel, the US would command an air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities which would disrupt but not completely halt the program. Iran’s protracted, multi-pronged, and fierce reaction could range from accusation (with inaction) to missile attacks against the state of Israel and US bases in the Middle East and increased support for terrorist insurgency groups. Such a deterrent threat could be escalated by attacking other (military, economic, civilian) targets.
3) Massive preemptive strike with regime change: unilaterally benefiting from a surprise attack the US would launch a massive strike against Iran in order to halt the nuclear program and replace the regime. The massive mobilization of military capacities and immediate successes are essential. Although similar to the second strategy option, a massive strike would result in much higher casualties and damages. By credibly tying its hands to this commitment, the US administration – without using military force – might compel Iran from enhancing its weaponization program.
2. Background of the Problem
The Iranian [i] nuclear program started in the 1950s with US support through the Atoms for Peace program. In the following decades until 1979, all elements of a nuclear power program – including research, resources, and production facilities – were implemented, partly with the help of European countries like Germany and France. The Iranian Islamic Revolution by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 and the resulting shift of the Iranian regime – in religious, political, economic, and social terms – led to frictions between Iran and Western countries, especially the US. Furthermore, the war with Iraq during the 1980s resulted in the destruction of parts of Iran’s nuclear facilities. While US pressure hindered the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to support the Iranian regime through its Technical Assistance Program, the Russian Federation helped Iran in the 1990s by forming a joint venture (Persepolis) that brought Russian experts and knowledge into the Iranian nuclear program. Until 2002, the IAEA could not find any evidence that proved that Iran was seeking to include the development of nuclear weapons capability in its current program. However, during the first years of the 21st century, the conflict emerged due to insider information about an extension of the nuclear program and hidden uranium enrichment and production facilities.
The three leading countries of the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany (EU-3), tried to resolve the problem with the help of diplomacy which should have given Iran the opportunity to implement confidence building measures in its program. Eventually, Iran went into cooperation with the IAEA by the 2003 Tehran Declaration, which also included a halt to uranium enrichment and reprocessing as well as the implementation of the Additional Protocol of the NPT. During the course of the year, no evidence was found for a hidden atomic weapons program, but the IAEA made clear in its November 2003 report that Iran did not fulfill the obligations which were outlined in the so called Safeguards Agreement.
The following years saw multiple diplomatic initiatives and IAEA reports. The EU-3 tried to ensure that Iran does not misuse its nuclear program for the development of atomic weapons, but the corresponding Paris Agreement from 2003 was abandoned by Iran two years later. This pattern of the Iranian regime to sign an agreement, promise a halt to uranium enrichment and the provision of complete information about all nuclear facilities, and the eventual withdrawal from such agreements after ignoring these obligations has recurred several times.
In 2006, the IAEA Board of Governors transmitted its report to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) whereby Iran was demanded to suspend its uranium enrichment program (Resolution 1696 of July 31, 2006).[ii] The regime’s refusal resulted in (ongoing) sanctions (Resolution 1737 of December 26, 2006).[iii] Several propositions to find a long-term agreement for an international cooperation for Iran’s nuclear facilities were rejected by the regime. The conflict saw a widening of the sanctions in the spring of 2007 (Resolution 1747 of March 24, 2007).[iv] However, the IAEA report in August 2007 concluded that Iran’s nuclear facilities were not capable of enabling the development of sufficient material for atomic weapons.[v] The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of 2007 even declared that Iran had already abandoned its nuclear weapon program in 2003.[vi]
The IAEA and Iran could find several solutions for outstanding issues, but the February, May, September, and November 2008 reports by the IAEA underlined the ongoing concern about possible (halted) weaponization studies.[vii] The UNSC Resolution 1803 of March 3, 2008 extended the sanctions from nuclear and missile technology to travel restrictions and surveillance of foreign bank transaction of international financial institutions.[viii] Even though the technical capability for the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program was denied in different reports by US governmental institutions and in congressional committees[ix], the continuing enrichment of uranium, plans and production of according facilities, and further revelations about the Iranian nuclear program have increasingly complicated the diplomacy of both the IAEA and the P5+1 countries with the Iranian regime. In November 2009, the Board of Governors of the IAEA expressed its disagreement with Iran defying the UNSC ban on its uranium enrichment. Iran was called to suspend any further constructions immediately. The regime did not restart cooperation with the IAEA in its monitoring efforts and increased its enrichment-related activities to a threshold where experts analyze that the country is now able to develop nuclear weapons.[x] In early 2010, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared his country a ‘nuclear state.’[xi]
For the following analysis one has to keep in mind that:
- reports by the US administration and Congress reaffirm the conclusions of NIE 2007; i.e. that Iran had abandoned its weaponization program in 2003;
- the IAEA could not provide precise conclusions about the complete scope of Iran’s nuclear program – neither confirming nor denying a secret program for the development of nuclear weapons.
2.2 Preferences of the Players
Following the summary of the background of the problem, the key players in this problem are going to be introduced. Since the history of the problem has shown the scope and complexity of the conflict, one should prefer a strong coalition of nations to deal with the problem. Therefore the US administration has to know the preferences of its possible partners and opponents:
If the US administration wants to deal more effectively with the Iranian regime it has to understand Iran’s role in the Middle East. The influence of this country has grown in the last years, and Iran has been a supporter of a nuclear-weapons free zone in the region.[xii] While some analysts think that Iran is planning to produce nuclear weapons, other analysts argue that it would be detrimental for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capability since this would damage Iran’s relations to other Middle Eastern countries (even more).[xiii]
While nuclear weapons are forbidden under the rules of Islam – explicitly expressed through a fatwa issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei[xiv] – the peaceful use of nuclear energy is overwhelmingly supported by Iran’s elite as well as its people.[xv] However, Iranian citizens do not have the same understanding of the nuclear program’s importance as their leaders have. Severe socioeconomic problems and the ongoing regime protests (resulting from the questionable reelection of President Ahmadinejad in 2009) are characterizing the public discourse.[xvi] This point will be important when we take a closer look at the first strategy “Diplomacy with Sanctions.”
Iran has been hit in the last years by export and import sanctions through the UNSC sesolutions. Even though the regime offered limits on its nuclear program, cooperation with other countries, and a return to the table for discussions, Iran’s elite does not trust the international community and insists on its right to use nuclear energy peacefully.[xvii] The country understands the UNSC resolutions as a violation of the NPT regulations and an unfair measure to deny Iran the ‘inalienable right’ of deciding for the peaceful use of nuclear technology as a sovereign nation. Influenced by international, regional, and domestic developments, the actions that will be undertaken by the Iranian regime are hard to predict.
2.2.2 US & EU
In direct contrast to Iran, the US takes up a clear stance. Continuing the policy of the Bush administration, the current administration has emphasized that still ‘all options are on the table’ and that the production of nuclear fuel by Iran would not be tolerated.[xviii] New diplomatic efforts to engage the Iranian regime have not been successful until now (reasons and implications will be analyzed later), but were welcomed by the P5+1 countries as well as the international community.
[i] Jahanpour, Farhang. " Chronology of Iran's Nuclear Programme, 1957-2007." Oxford Research Group. Oxford Research Group. http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/oxford_research_group_chronology_irans_nuclear_programme_1957_2007. March 7, 2010.
[ii] “S-RES-1696(2006) Security Council Resolution 1696 (2006).” UN Democracy. The Public Whip. n.d. http://www.undemocracy.com/S-RES-1696%282006%29. March 7, 2010.
[iii] “S-RES-1737(2006) Security Council Resolution 1737 (2006).” UN Democracy. The Public Whip. n.d. http://www.undemocracy.com/S-RES-1737%282006%29. March 7, 2010.
[iv] “S-RES-1747(2007) Security Council Resolution 1747 (2007).” UN Democracy. The Public Whip. n.d. http://www.undemocracy.com/S-RES-1747%282007%29. March 7, 2010.
[v] “UN nuclear watchdog chief expresses concern about anti-Iran rhetoric from US.” International Herald Tribune. The New York Times. October 28, 2007. http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/10/28/america/NA-GEN-US-Iran.php. March 7, 2010.
“Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007) and 1803 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Report by the Director General No. 38 . IAEA Board of Governor. September 15, 2008. www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2008/gov2008-38.pdf. March 7, 2010.
[vi] “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities.” US National Intelligence Estimate. Intelligence Community. November 2007. www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_release.pdf . March 7, 2010.
[vii] For a list of reports (Nuclear Safety Reviews, Safeguards Implementation Summaries, Nuclear Technology Reviews, Technical Cooperation Reports) of the last years see: “Reports & Reviews.” IAEA. IAEA. n.d. http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Reports/index.html. March 7, 2010.
[viii] “S-RES-1803(2008) Security Council Resolution 1803 (2008).” UN Democracy. The Public Whip. n.d. http://www.undemocracy.com/S-RES-1803%282008%29. March 7, 2010.
[ix] Maloney, Suzanne. “Iran Sanctions: Options, Opportunities and Consequences.” Testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives Hearing, December 15, 2009. Brookings. http://www.brookings.edu/testimony/2009/1215_iran_sanctions_maloney.aspx. March 7, 2010.
Perkovich, George. “Options Available to the United States to Counter a Nuclear Iran.” Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, February 1, 2006. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=17967. March 7, 2010.
Kerr, Paul K. “Iran's Nuclear Program: Status.” Congressional Research Service 7-5700 (RL 34544). December 29, 2009. fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/115890.pdf. March 7, 2010.
[x] Slackman, Michael. “Iran Boasts of Capacity to Make Bomb Fuel.” New York Times Online. New York Times. February 11, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/world/middleeast/12iran.html. March 7, 2010.
[xi] Philp, Catherine. “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Declares Iran a 'Nuclear State'.” Times Online. The Sunday Times. February 11, 2010. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article7023727.ece. March 7, 2010.
[xii] “Iran Call for Nuclear-free Region.” BBC News. BBC. February 27, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4756652.stm. March 7, 2010.
[xiii] Bertram, Christoph. “Rethinking Iran: from Confrontation to Cooperation.” Chaillot Paper 110. European Union Institute for Security Studies. August 2008. http://www.iss.europa.eu/index.php?id=18&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=1099&tx_ttnews[backPid]=1&cHash=85ef6cf6db. March 7, 2010.
[xiv] “Iran's Statement at IAEA Emergency Meeting.” Mehr News Agency. Federation of American Scientists. August 10, 2005. http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iran/nuke/mehr080905.html. March 7, 2010.
[xv] MacFarquhar, Neil. “Nukes a Matter of Pride in Iran.” New York Times News Service. New York Times. May 29, 2005. http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050529/news_1n29iran.html. March 7, 2010.
“Iranians Oppose Producing Nuclear Weapons, Saying It Is Contrary to Islam.” World Public Opinion.org. The Program on International Policy Attitudes. University of Maryland. April 7, 2008. http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/469.php?lb=brme&pnt=469&nid=&id=. March 7, 2010.
[xvi] Sadjadpour, Karim. “Iran: Reality, Options, and Consequences – Iranian People and Attitudes.” Testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives Hearing, October 30, 2007. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. www.carnegieendowment.org/files/2007-10-30_ks_testimony.pdf . March 7, 2010.
[xvii] “Iran Blasts 'Nuclear Apartheid'.” News24.com. News24. November 30, 2005. http://www.news24.com/Content/World/News/1073/48cd6f3b374849c281472e591bc811d4/30-11-2005-09-06/Iran_blasts_nuclear_apartheid. March 7, 2010.
Phillips, James. “An Israeli Preventive Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Sites: Implications for the U.S.” Backgrounder No. 2361. The Heritage Foundation. Heritage Foundation. January 15, 2010. http://www.heritage.org/Research/MiddleEast/bg2361.cfm. March 7, 2010.
[xviii] Sanger, David E. “Clinton Says Nuclear Aim of Iran Is Fruitless.” New York Times Online. New York Times. July 26, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/us/politics/27clinton.html?_r=1. March 7, 2010.
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- Iran USA US National Strategy Security strategy nuclear proliferation council preemptive preventive air strike israel middle east muslim russia china arab states diplomacy sanction regime change un npt iaea unsc resolution