Deter Iran


ImageWashington Times: Why should our enemies be worried? We have elected a new president. To back up deterrence warnings, he will require a compelling infrastructure of sanctions and rewards.

Using carrots and sticks

The Washington Times

Louis Rene Beres, Thomas Mcinerney and Paul E. Vallely

Why should our enemies be worried?

ImageWe have elected a new president. To back up deterrence warnings, he will require a compelling infrastructure of sanctions and rewards. Otherwise, it is likely that this country's state and sub-state adversaries may simply dismiss all U.S. threats as the false bravado of a weak and dying civilization. In the final analysis, President-elect Barack Obama must quickly fashion a broad, coherent and updated strategic doctrine from which effective and credible policy options can be suitably drawn and implemented. Among other refinements, it will be necessary to fully modernize our nuclear arsenal, and to reinvigorate all of our nuclear capabilities.

The U.S. has always drawn operational plans from strategic doctrine. Our new president will face unprecedented vulnerabilities. Should he continue America's near-total reliance upon the logic of deterrence, even when the core assumption of rationality may sometimes be invalid? Continued belief in classical threat-system dynamics could be problematic, even if American planners were to focus on the state sponsors of terrorist proxies. These states, like their surrogates, might value particular religious or ideological preferences more highly than their own lives and freedoms. Ironically, because Mr. Obama will likely support a "Two-State Solution" in the Middle East, one dangerous scenario could involve "Palestine" and al-Qaeda.

At the start of the nuclear age, there was "massive retaliation" and "mutual assured destruction." This gave way to "flexible response" and "nuclear utilization theory." Inter-penetrating these strategic doctrines, first conceived with reference to the USSR, were fierce debates over nuclear targeting options. Mr. Obama will need to examine both "counter value" (counter-city) and "counter force" doctrines, but this time with regard to state and non-state proxies, and to rational and non-rational ones. These very sensitive examinations will be divisive, but the pertinent issues concern America's physical survival.

Any updated U.S. strategic doctrine will still have to include preemption. Inevitably, there will be new perils that may require "anticipatory self-defense." Where rationality cannot be assumed, and where the effectiveness of ballistic missile defense would be low, the only alternative to capable and lawful forms of American preemption could be surrender and defeat.

It is not a simple world. Strategic doctrine is always a complex matter, and any improved U.S. plan will have to be creative as well as comprehensive. If, for any reason, Iran is permitted to "go nuclear," our re-fashioned doctrine will have to identify viable options for coexistence with that country. In turn, these options will require enemy perceptions of persuasive American power and of an American willingness to actually use this power.

How should we deter a nuclear Iran, both from launching direct missile attacks, and from dispersing nuclear assets among terrorist proxies? Should our new president do more to aid and empower the Iranian opposition? And for "Deterrence Against Nuclear Terrorism," how should he compensate for the absence of "fingerprints," and for the limits of satellites and radars? This is significant because Ahmadinejad says that soon there will be a world without the United States and Israel. Coupled with his regular pronouncements to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, this sends nuclear alarm signals that cannot be ignored.

A nuclear threat to American cities could come from cars, trucks and ships. Ballistic missile defense would be of no use against such ground-based attacks. Could we truly convince Tehran and its surrogates that any proxy act of nuclear terrorism would elicit a massive nuclear retaliation against Iran itself? We must, but meaningful policies can emerge only from a carefully re-conceptualized U.S. strategic doctrine.

Enemy state proxies were once limited in the damage they could inflict, and the logic of warfare was traditionally based on reasonable expectations of victory. Today, some terror groups could bring greater disasters to the American homeland than could certain countries. These groups could bring us greater pain than was deliverable by our national enemies in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

As to victory, there may no longer be any formal war-terminating agreements or other identifiable demarcations. In dealing with rational and irrational enemies, both state and sub-state, we will have to adapt to conditions of protracted uncertainty about conflict outcomes. Such an adaptation will be very unpopular in a clarity-driven America that, since Vietnam, has learned to loathe ambiguous wars.

Finally, our new president will have to deal with arguments that Washington should lead the way to a world without nuclear weapons. Perhaps, in the best of all possible worlds, countries could turn back the clock, and impose effective limits on the evolving technologies of destruction. But we do not yet live in such a world, and the obvious incapacity to implement real denuclearization means that we shall still have to reconcile our own national security with expanding nuclear proliferation.

Louis Rene Beres is an author and political professor at Purdue University. Gen. Thomas Mcinerney is retired vice chief of staff of the Air Force and co-author with retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely of "The Endgame: Winning the War on Terror."

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