The Threat of Iran’s Nuclear and ICBM Proliferation
On June 30th Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States + Germany) will reach an agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons development – so it’s supposed. The June 30th deadline is actually not the original deadline for the agreements. Iran and the international community were supposed to finalize a deal on November 24th 2014, which was also an extension. The deal has been highly controversial due to Iran’s unwillingness to dismantle and halt its nuclear development, as well as the reluctance of the West to lift sanctions. However, a big factor that could be detrimental to the deal is Iran’s development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), a large threat to the U.S. and the West as a whole.
Throughout nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1, Iran has been developing more and more ICBMs. ICBMs are missiles constructed to carry nuclear weapons to destinations as far as 5,500 kilometers. It is important to note that ICBMs go hand in hand with nuclear weapons because without the specialized missiles, it would be difficult for Iran to use its nuclear power.
Iran’s ICMB production has been labeled as a security threat by the U.S. congress on numerous occasions. On July 2014, Senators Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte from Florida and New Hampshire, respectively, wrote a letter to President Obama stressing the threat of Iran’s ICBMs. Additionally, senators from 19 other states also signed the letter. Almost a year later on June 10th 2015, in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Hearing, “Iran’s Enduring Ballistic Missile Threat,” Iran’s ICBMs were again the subject of discussion. Chairman of the hearing, Ed Royce, recalled the response of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, when the Obama administration stated that Iran should surrender its ICBM program. Khamenei mocked the American request by saying it was a “stupid and idiotic expectation” and that it is “the main duty of all military officials to mass produce ICBMs.”
Iran’s proliferation of ICBMs is a clear indication of the country’s frivolousness towards reaching an agreement with the international community. Clearly, Tehran is functioning on its own agenda, constantly defying international sanctions. In fact, Iran has repeatedly abused the UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which states that Iran cannot produce ICBMs during nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. Tehran has tried to explain its proliferation of ICBMs before, by stating that they are only using the missiles for peaceful purposes such as space launching research. Nevertheless, as Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, noted in the subcommittee hearing, Iran’s possession of massive stocks of ICBMs create a huge threat to the West, as Iran can now target Israel and southern Europe.
The U.S. tried to establish a mechanism meant to threaten Iran in case they did not respect the negotiations through a “snap back” sanctions mechanism. However, according to Lieutenant General Flynn, the notion of “snap back” is fiction. Currently, Iran is subject to several multilateral sanctions and its economy is better than it was in 2013. Russia has already lifted some sanctions showing that the international sanctions regime has weakened. Iran is not really afraid of the “snap back” threat from the United States and it seems like Tehran is using the nuclear negotiations as leverage.
For example in the Syrian conflict, President Obama has been reluctant to militarily intervene against Assad’s regime, and one of the likely reasons is that he is wary of upsetting Tehran, one of Assad’s most important allies financially and militarily. America is limited to only attacking ISIS in Syria, as if there were an Iranian force field around Assad’s area of control. The U.S. does not want to upset Iran because it knows that America has much more to lose than Iran in the nuclear negotiations. If Iran leaves the negotiations, they would only be subject to harsher American sanctions but maybe not from the already strained international sanctions regime.
Regarding the deal supposed to be finalized on June 30th; America must make sure that any deal incorporates the halting of ICBM production. As Dr. Robert Joseph, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, said in the hearing, “why would Tehran continue to work on a costly weapon system that could never be effectively armed?” The U.S. cannot trust Iran if the country does not stop its ICBM proliferation. If anything, Obama must adopt former President Reagan’s “trust but verify” doctrine for reassurance that Iran stops its mass production of ICBMs. Additionally, Washington must take the advice of Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, of rallying multilateral coalitions to strengthen the international sanctions regime in order to pressure Iran into a nuclear compromise. If the international community backs the U.S., Iran will not have leverage over the nuclear negotiations and it will have to halt its nuclear development along with its ICBM proliferation.