Academic journal article McNair Papers

Deja Vu All over Again? an Assessment of Iran's Military Buildup

Academic journal article McNair Papers

Deja Vu All over Again? an Assessment of Iran's Military Buildup

Article excerpt

   By virtue of geography, military strength, economic potential,
   demographics, and hegemonic aspirations, Iran poses the
   greatest long-term threat to peace and stability throughout (the

   General Joseph P. Hoar,
   U.S. CENTCOM 1993 Posture Statement (2)

   Iran has the potential of becoming the regional superpower, or
   minisuperpower, to replace Iraq in the Persian Gulf. Iran will
   realize that potential if left undisturbed.

   Major General Uri Sagi,
   Director of Israeli Military Intelligence, April 17, 1992 (3)

In 1989, following a costly 8-year war with Iraq, Iran initiated a major military buildup intended to transform it into a regional power and rebuild its ravaged armed forces. Iran's buildup, coupled with indications of increased activism in its foreign policy--including efforts to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process, unilaterally overturn the political and territorial status quo in the Gulf (it is engaged in disputes with Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar), and support subversive and radical Islamic opposition movements in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, and among the Palestinians--raise disturbing questions about Iran's intentions, and the long-term implications of its growing military capabilities.

There are a number of elements to Iran's military buildup: Iran is seeking nonconventional (nuclear, biological, and chemical) weapons and the means to deliver them (missiles, bombers, and strike aircraft) to provide it with regional power status and the means to intimidate its neighbors and deter potential adversaries. Likewise, it is attempting to expand and modernize its conventional forces, with an emphasis on developing the air and naval capabilities needed to dominate the Gulf and defend Iranian airspace. It is doing this in accordance with lessons learned in two Gulf wars. This paper will examine Iran's military buildup in order to ascertain what it indicates about Iran's intentions.

Iran's military intentions and capabilities--like those of any state--are inextricably linked. Although its intentions are often difficult to assess, they may be inferred from patterns of behavior, as well as official and non-official statements, speeches, and interviews. In addition, because its intentions shape its capabilities, intentions may also be inferred by analyzing Iran's military force structure and procurement decisions and military exercise scenarios. Finally, while it is important to understand intentions, it is equally important to understand how Iran's military capabilities create or foreclose policy options for its decisionmakers, and how this affects their likely course of action. Accordingly, we will attempt to piece together a coherent and (hopefully) accurate picture of Iran's intentions and options from an analysis of its capabilities. (4)


Iran's military buildup is motivated by its desire to become a major regional power, as well as its perception that ill the long-run it faces threats from Iraq, the USA, and Israel. This buildup is intended to accomplish several objectives, including:

* Defend against the possibility of a resurgent Iraq.

* Establish a capability to deter the United States from attacking Iran and hinder its ability to project force in the region.

* Dominate the Gulf, press outstanding territorial claims against its Arab Gulf neighbors, and influence oil production levels and prices.

* Have the capability to close the Strait of Hormuz during a crisis (through which about 20% of the world's oil flows) in order to enhance its political leverage. (5)

* Deter Israel from attacking its nuclear infrastructure.

The motivations underlying Iran's military buildup--its ambition to be a major regional power, its defensive concerns, and its perception that it currently is facing a strategic window of opportunity--are critical to understanding Iran's intentions and the potential implications of the buildup; these are analyzed below. …

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