Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Continuing Evolution of Iran's Military Doctrine

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Continuing Evolution of Iran's Military Doctrine

Article excerpt

Iran's military has tried to develop concepts for warfighting suitable for deterring the United States while dealing with a complex security environment and numerous constraints on its military power. The military's key task has been to align doctrine with service capabilities. This article examines the path of Iran's doctrinal developments and highlights the advantages and problems in Iran's approach and its seeming over-reliance on missile-based deterrence and the threat of unconventional and proxy war.

Spurred by ongoing tensions with the West over its nuclear ambitions and the presence of US forces in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran's un-elected leaders and principal military officials have publicly declared their view that US hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been increasing and would be resisted.1 As a result, Iranian officials have emphasized ongoing efforts to revise their country's military doctrine by applying observations of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom to the development of new strategies and tactics to defeat American forces and to deny the United States critical military and political objectives. In fact, Tehran has been following this path since the early 1990s as it sought to bring its national military doctrine more in line with its Armed Forces' actual capabilities and provide the concepts and guidance for confronting the superior power of the United States. The clear emphasis of these doctrines is on using ballistic missile-based deterrence, unconventional operations, Iran's strategic depth, and popular mobilization for partisan warfare. If it can fulfill its maturing approach to doctrine, Iran will be better positioned to threaten US interests despite many military shortcomings. And, should conflict come, Iran could be much better prepared than recent American adversaries to upset seriously US operations through surprise, unconventional tactics, and worldwide retaliatory responses.


Iran's current approach to military doctrine reflects years of dealing with the complex geopolitical environment that emerged from Iran's revolution, its defeat by Iraq, and its lack of economic and technological strength. Major factors shaping Iran's initial efforts to develop a post-war doctrine included the losses of men and equipment during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq and the success of US efforts to restrict weapons sales to Tehran. Later, poor credit, the demands of a burgeoning population, and economic constraints caused by relatively low oil prices between the mid-1980s and early 1990s similarly constrained approaches to doctrine. When the basic principles of Iranian strategy and doctrine were formalized in 1992, Iran's lack of technological and material capabilities left few options for its defense but to rely on its daunting military geography, manpower reserves, and nationalistic and revolutionary zeal. The residual strength in the early 1990s of the legacy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, insured that ideology would be a keystone for Iran's conception of war and military doctrine.

The principles were established and codified in 1992 in the regulations of the Iranian Armed Forces, which remain an essential starting point for understanding Iran's evolving doctrine.2 The regulations were an attempt by Tehran to build on its wartime experiences, and several sections charge the military with the ongoing missions of obtaining information, evaluating threats from actual and potential enemies, and preparing plans for government approval. Such objectives suggest that doctrinal development is relatively systematic and involves some civilian oversight.3 The regulations also highlight the significant influence that still comes from the ideology of the founders of the Islamic Republic, which can limit the clarity of Iranian doctrine to Westerners despite similar terminology.

The regulations point to an Iranian outlook that is essentially defensive but also zealous about protecting Islam. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.