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The Iranian Ballistic Missile Threat

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The Iranian Ballistic Missile Threat And a "Phased, Adaptive Approach" to Missile Defense for Europe

by John D. Johnson

Download the Full Article: The Iranian Ballistic Missile Threat

Iran's position in the Middle East is unique. Iran is a Persian country surrounded by Arabs and other non-Persian ethnic groups. Iran is a Shia Muslim country surrounded by mostly Sunni Muslims and some Christians. It sees the presence of Western militaries in neighboring countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, Iran perceives an existential threat. Feeling threatened, Iran continues to develop offensive and defensive military capabilities including long-range ballistic missiles and proxy groups, and probably views a nuclear-armed ballistic missile as a credible deterrent against an external attack.

The threats posed by Iran's ballistic missiles and the nexus of Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs are of great concern to the U.S., NATO, and the international community. While Iran claims its missiles are defensive in nature and its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, insufficient cooperation and transparency on Iran's part leaves these claims open to serious debate.

Given Iran's military capabilities and ambiguous intent, the international community has gone to great lengths to engage Iran diplomatically. The U.S., NATO members and Middle Eastern countries have also engaged in threat mitigation activities including non-proliferation efforts, economic sanctions and the deployment of missile defense systems.

In September 2009, President Barack Obama announced a new U.S. missile defense policy for Europe called the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA). The new U.S. approach is largely based upon the growing threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile capability.

At the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, NATO will consider the Iranian ballistic missile threat and decide whether to make missile defense of Alliance territory a NATO mission.

This article examines NATO and U.S. perspectives of the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missiles, reviews missile defense policies, and makes recommendations related to NATO missile defense policy as follows:

- NATO should make missile defense a NATO mission at its November Summit.

- NATO should merge the U.S. PAA capabilities with NATO's Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) capabilities to create one overarching NATO missile defense shield.

- NATO members should agree to provide funding and to make national contributions to the overall missile defense shield (e.g., Aegis-capable ships and the purchase of SM-3 missiles for those ships).

- NATO should increase cooperation with Russia on missile defense, particularly where PAA plans are being laid to place future missile defense infrastructure in Eastern Europe.

- NATO should intensify nuclear and missile nonproliferation strategies vis-í -vis Iran; the U.S. and NATO must engage countries such as Russia, Turkey, China and India to find common ground on the implementation of UNSC sanctions.

This article first looks at perspectives of the Iranian ballistic missile threat, followed by a review of NATO and U.S. missile defense policy for Europe, and concludes with several analytical findings.

Download the Full Article: The Iranian Ballistic Missile Threat

Lieutenant Colonel John D. Johnson is a U.S. Army Senior Fellow assigned to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He holds a B.A. Degree in Business Finance from Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, a M.A. Degree in International Relations from Alliant International University, San Diego, California, and a M.M.A.S. Degree in Strategy from the U.S. Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. LTC Johnson has served in a variety of command and staff positions with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Department of the Army Staff, U.S. Army Europe, Multi-National Forces-Iraq (Baghdad), III Corps, U.S. Division South-Iraq (Basra), 1st Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, and 501st Military Intelligence Brigade.

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John Johnson (not verified)

Tue, 09/21/2010 - 1:44am

A couple comments...

According to the CIA world factbook, Iran is a predominately Persian country, albeit with several minority groups.

RE Israel, these are valid points. However, the range of issues between Iran and Israel probably is deserving of a separate paper entirely. Certainly, Iran presents a greater threat to Israel (and vice vers) than to Bulgaria as noted in the analytical findings.

RE the Iranian MRBM threat to Europe, the paper makes an important distintion between capabilities and intent. The capability is there. Regarding Iranian intent, there is none.

RE ICBMs, it is hard to write off the comments of Gen (Ret.) Craddock and NASIC out of hand. Therefore, they are mentioned in the paper. However, as noted, Iran has many steps to take before achieving an ICBM capablity.

Mark Pyruz

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 2:50pm

Many problems with this brief. Right off the bat, claiming Iran is a "Persian country" ignores the fact that the country possesses relatively large minority populations, such as Azaris, Turkomans, Kurds and even Arabs. Both Iran's Supreme Leader and Head of the Armed Forces General Command Headquarters are actually Azari, not Persian.

In addition, Iran's threat perception goes beyond the presence of Western militaries in Iraq and Afghanistan. It includes nuclear-armed USAF and USN forces based in Qatar and Bahrain, the use of which President Obama has stated could be used against Iran in a first-strike nuclear attack. And Iran's threat perception includes Israel's nuclear arms stockpiles, deliverable by its own MRBM forces. (Why is this not mentioned?)

Contrary to LTC Johnson's assertion the international community "has gone to great lengths to engage Iran diplomatically," the truth of the matter is that the goal posts for Iran's nuclear negotiations have constantly been shifted by their Western interlocutors. Consider the failure of the 2003 Paris Agreement, as well as the more recent 2010 Tehran Declaration, as just two major examples.

Nowhere in this brief are any credible scenarios provided for Iranian MRBM strikes against Greece, Romania, Bulgaria or Turkey. That's because the threat of such simply does not exist.

The notion that Iran could deploy an ICBM capable of striking the US by 2015 is pure fantasy. More than that, it defies logic. True, Iran is developing larger rockets. But nowhere in this brief is an explanation provided for Iran's need at self-sufficiency in hoisting satellites into space (they've been refused such by a number of commercial rocket-equipped countries). For Iran's defense, which is based on deterrence, the region itself is a target-rich environment. Potential retaliatory strikes are available in every direction. It is logical for Iran's military industrial complex to better develop its SRBM and MRBM forces, in order to better deter its real adversaries in the region- the US and Israel- from attacking, than to put massive resources into an ICBM program for targets which don't offer anywhere near a corresponding, congruent deterrence value (not to mention the potential liabilities incurred in fielding such weaponry).

It's actually amazing that LTC Johnson didn't mention Iran's deterrent-based defense strategy or provide any credible Iranian SSM first-strike scenarios. Also, references to Israel's WMD capabilities are brief and almost non-associative to the threat of war involving Iran's SSM forces. Are we really to believe that countries such as Greece and Bulgaria constitute a risk factor or war involving Iran greater than Israel? If so, that would be absurd.