September 04, 2013
JINSA's Gemunder Center Iran Task Force
Co-Chairs Ambassador Eric Edelman and Ambassador Dennis Ross
Three consecutive presidential administrations, of both parties, have declared a nuclear Iran unacceptable. Shortly after his election in 2008, President Barack Obama pledged, like his predecessors, to "use all elements of American power" to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Since then he has made clear, repeatedly, that he is determined to "prevent, not contain," a nuclear Iran and that, in these matters, he "does not bluff." Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spelled out the Administration's position even more clearly during a visit to Israel this spring: "all military options, and every option, must remain on the table in dealing with Iran."
Indeed, stopping a nuclear-capable Iran is the gravest, most pressing national security threat facing the United States today. An Iran with nuclear weapons, which the ideologically fervent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) would control, will trigger severe strategic and economic consequences and create an unstable situation that would likely lead to a regional conflict, possibly with nuclear weapons, almost certainly drawing in the United States. Unlike in the Cold War, it is not clear these consequences could be contained. If they could, it would only be with extreme difficulty and at great cost over a long period of time. This would be a tough order in an era likely to be marked by shrinking defense resources.
We have now arrived at a critical moment in the quest to thwart Tehran's nuclear ambitions. On the one hand, the election of Hassan Rouhani - a supposed moderate who, during the election, spoke of the possibility of a diplomatic agreement on the nuclear issue - as the next president of Iran might end the intransigence that has thus far defined Iran's negotiating position.
The United States and its international partners would be wise to test Rouhani's sincerity immediately and try to make diplomacy work. But it should not do so at the cost of its national security interests. That is because the other dynamic at play is Iran's accelerating approach to an undetectable nuclear weapons capability - the ability to manufacture fissile material for a nuclear device in less time than will be required to detect and respond to such activity.
Designing a strategy that can successfully navigate between these twin imperatives of acknowledging the changing political dynamics in Iran and of not allowing Tehran to cross the nuclear threshold will require more than simply doubling down on the current policy.
While a peaceful, negotiated resolution has always been, and will remain, the best possible outcome, U.S. policymakers must now earnestly pursue other viable solutions to this challenge, as the limited window for diplomacy grows ever smaller. Sanctions, while a welcome means for pressuring the Iranian regime, are insufficient by themselves. Therefore, U.S. policymakers must prepare and develop the other elements of American power that can be brought to bear to prevent a nuclear-capable Iran: a very real military strike capability against Iran's nuclear and other strategic facilities, and an array of opportunities for pursuing political warfare against the Iranian regime.
In rhetoric and in action, President Obama and Congress must convey concretely the will to strike Iranian nuclear facilities as a last resort. We believe that the Iranian leadership, right now, perceives such will to be absent. But a credible military threat would provide an impetus to diplomacy that has heretofore been lacking. If negotiations ultimately fail to yield results, even after such pressure has been applied, U.S. policymakers must be prepared for military action and to consider regime change.
Below, we - a task force of former senior government officials, retired senior military officers and business leaders convened by JINSA's Gemunder Center in Washington, D.C. - examine and seek to provide answers to both the question of what success, if not victory, against Iran will look like, and what policy pathways are available for defusing the Iranian threat. More specifically, this paper: reviews current U.S. objectives toward Iran and the policies being used to achieve them; analyzes recent proposals from the policy community and their implicit assumptions about which policy options are likely to be most productive in stopping a nuclear Iran; argues that shortcomings of the "prevention" approach are impairing U.S. policy; and outlines an acceptable solution and possible tools for stopping a nuclear-capable Iran. This paper will serve as the foundation of reports that we will issue in coming months about the threat posed by a nuclear-capable Iran and how to stop it.