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Containing Iran

Updated: Mar 15

Iran poses a grave geostrategic challenge to the U.S. It has for some time. How should our foreign policy address it?


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Iran is one of the foremost problems that the United States faces in the 21st century. Since the fall of the Shah in 1979, a secular monarchy backed by the U.S., relations with Iran have been turbulent. Following the conclusion of the 1979 revolution and the rise of Iran’s current Islamic fundamentalist regime, the pariah state has been a massive destabilizing force in the Middle East.


By promoting and funding extremist groups in the region such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis, Iran poses a significant threat to the stability and prosperity of longtime American allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other Gulf states. The current status quo upheld by this U.S.-led axis is integral not only to American interests but also to the health and prosperity of the global economy at large. If the free flow of Gulf oil to the rest of the world is to continue and the Middle East rid of state-sponsored terrorist groups, then Iran must be contained.


Of equal concern is Iran’s continual quest for nuclear weapons. Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would likely lead to an arms race in the Middle East, as other regional powers would likely seek to acquire nuclear weapons to counter the perceived threat from Iran. Additionally, a nuclear Iran would undermine the security and stability provided by the global non-proliferation regime. Lastly, a nuclear-armed Iran would undoubtedly use these weapons to threaten the U.S., its regional allies and by extension, global security.


Operative Definitions


  1. Global non-proliferation regime: The global non-proliferation regime refers to a set of international treaties, agreements and norms aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and associated technologies. The primary goal of this international framework is to reduce the risk of nuclear war and promote global security.

  2. “Sunset” clauses: Clauses that existed in the first Iran nuclear deal that allowed for certain limitations on its nuclear program to be lifted after the “sunset” or expiration of the date listed in the clause. 

  3. JCPOA The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, is a landmark agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and several world powers, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. The agreement aimed to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. 


Important facts and statistics


  1. The JCPOA successfully reduced Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium by 98%, and the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium was reduced from 19,000 to 5,060.

  2. The Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018, expressing concerns about Iran's ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist proxies in the region, leading to increased tensions between the two parties and a series of escalating incidents, including attacks on oil tankers and military bases in the region.

  3. Iran has consistently maintained that the development of its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes such as nuclear energy, but there are concerns centered around ulterior motives.

  4. Iran's support for terrorist organizations in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, has contributed greatly to instability in the region and continues to prove a major source of tension between Iran and its neighbors.


Four-Point Plan 


(1) Reestablish the JCPOA that was discarded in 2018 with a more comprehensive scope.

Any draft of a renewed agreement should incorporate a more stringent and comprehensive inspection and monitoring regime to ensure Iran's compliance with the terms of the deal. Under the previous deal, concerns arose over a lack of adequate access to Iran's military sites, which could potentially be used for nuclear weapons development.


(2) Address the issues associated with the "sunset" clauses listed in the first agreement.

Such clauses only aid Iran in the eventual expansion of its nuclear capabilities after the expiration date passes. The new policy should address these concerns by extending the duration of the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program or removing the clauses from the agreement entirely. If expiration dates were pushed further out into the future, at the minimum, it would provide more time for the international community to monitor and verify Iran's compliance with the agreement. 


(3) Negotiate strict parameters on Iran’s conventional ballistic missile program.

Allowing Iran to pursue an arsenal of advanced, long-range ballistic missiles would only provide it with more geopolitical leverage while further destabilizing one of the most tumultuous regions of the globe by affording Iran with the ability to act on its antagonistic impulses within a wider geographical scope. A robust and advanced ballistic missile program could allow Iran to target U.S. military bases in the region, increasing the chances of a wider regional war. In addition, advanced missile technologies can be used to carry nuclear warheads. The implications of allowing the development of such capabilities are destabilizing at best and an almost sure route to conflict at worst. 


(4) Maintain a ready and able military presence in the Persian Gulf to deter Iran from disrupting regional security through the use of its proxies.

A sizable military force capable of delivering swift and thorough blows to Iranian-funded terrorist organizations in the region would act as an effective bulwark in deterring Iran from using its proxies to reshape the balance of power in the Middle East. Given the current levels of turbulence in the region and the implications associated with the successful expansion of Iranian influence, great care should be taken to prioritize the allocation of resources to counter this threat. 


Why This Initiative Is Important


The spread of Iranian influence throughout the Middle East would result in disastrous consequences for both global security and the global economy. A string of Iranian victories, or worse, a nuclear-armed Iran, would increase the likelihood of a large regional war. The potential for increased regional instability, disruption of oil supplies and the subversion of international norms are all causes for concern. Higher oil prices, decreased trade and reduced investment in the region would be a step backward for not only the Middle East, but the global community at large. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


“Explainer: Timing of Key Sunsets in Nuclear Deal.” The Iran Primer, 11 Jan. 2023, iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2023/jan/11/explainer-timing-key-sunsets-nuclear-deal#:~:text=The%20clauses%20cover%20Iran.


Robinson, Kali. “What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?” Council on Foreign Relations, 27 Oct. 2023, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-iran-nuclear-deal.


United Nations. “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) – UNODA.” United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, 2023, disarmament.unoda.org/wmd/nuclear/npt/.

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