Building Blocks for the Con-ops of Extended Deterrence of Iran


Dick Kugler has recently published an interesting examination of the tough question of how one would deter a nuclear-armed Iran.[1] ( He examines this from the standpoint of how the U.S. could spearhead an extended deterrent regime to deal with the emergence of a new nuclear power in the Middle East.

As Kugler poses the problem: “Deterring a nuclear-armed Iran led by a radical government with high ambitions and risk- taking propensities will be difficult. U.S. strategy would need to make tailored use of such classical deterrence methods as denying Iran the benefits of aggression, imposing unacceptable costs on aggression, and giving Iran incentives to exercise restraint so that peace would always be preferable to war with the United States and its allies.”

Kugler then lays out an analytical framework for analyzing the problem.  He argues that they are six logical alternatives to shaping an extended deterrent regime.

The six options are:

1. Political Deterrence would strive to pursue nuclear deterrence and other goals purely through such means as U.S. political leadership and declaratory policy coupled with diplomatic and economic collaboration with partner countries. It would make no concrete U.S. military commitments to the regime.

2. Variable-Geometry Deterrence would include the measures of option 1, but would also provide concrete military commitments in the form of nuclear deterrence coverage (i.e., missile defenses, retaliatory plans, and homeland security) to Europe and Israel. It would strive to protect friendly Arab/Muslim countries through political assurances: e.g., the type of consultative arrangements that, in Europe, are offered to partner countries not invited to join NATO.

3. Regime-Wide Nuclear Deterrence would make concrete nuclear commitments to Europe, Israel, and friendly Arab/Muslim countries, and would strive to protect vulnerable Arab/Muslim countries from conventional aggression and coercion by using security assistance and training to strengthen their own self-defense forces. It envisions a small U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf: less than 25,000 personnel largely composed of air and naval assets.

4. Full-Spectrum Deterrence strengthens option 3 by providing a larger U.S. force presence that likely would top 25,000 personnel and would be designed for new-era deterrence and reassurance missions.

5. Collective Security Deterrence builds on option 4’s military features by striving to create a region-wide collective security architecture that would bond regime members into tighter political-military collaboration and a common strategic mindset.

6. Integrated Multi-Theater Deterrence is the most visionary option: it strives to join Europe/NATO with a Middle Eastern collective security system so that deterrence policies in both regions can be pursued in lockstep.

For the purposes of, the Kugler analysis provides an opportunity to suggest that a core challenge would be shaping a concept of operations to implement the core approaches requiring the use of US military forces directly in the region.

The first key question is how would the Iraq withdrawal be linked to an extended deterrent regime?  To pose the question is to underscore how strategic Iraq is in comparison with Afghanistan to long-term US interests.  How can one craft the withdrawal in ways that could support US concepts of operations in the future in the region?

The second key question is how will the US work with the conservative Arab allies in shaping a collaborative con-ops?  Kugler underscores the salience of air and naval power to any such answer, but focusing on the future of air and naval power has downgraded in the US strategic calculus.  It would hardly be the new Liberty aircraft that would play the core role.  But what would?

The third key question is how will the US work with the Israelis who will push for an assertive approach to deterrence, not a declaratory approach.  How will a US concept of operations working with Israel, in turn, allow the US to work with the Arab allies?

The fourth key question is the overlap between European and American approaches in shaping a NATO concept of operations?  Kugler spends some time in his piece analyzing the challenge of bringing the US and European allies into congruence on an extended deterrent regime.  But the core question is how will the nuclear powers of the Alliance shape a common approach to deterrence?

The fifth key question is the role of missile defense within the mix of forces to provide deterrence?  The Administration’s decision on European missile defense heightens consideration of this problem and ties it directly to a regime to deter Iran.  Which missile defense systems and what role for deterrence of Iran?  How will decision-making be shared?  How will the offensive and defensive systems work together to shape a deterrent regime?

The sixth question is the path to military modernization being taken by the United States and how will this strengthen or weaken an extended deterrent regime?  The acquisition strategy being followed by the US as it acquires new air and naval systems – both offensives and defensive – will be central to allied deterrence and should be read as such.  Acquisition strategy is part of deterrence strategy, and MRAPs will not be a core deterrent force.

The seventh question will be how to deal with the defenses of Iran in denying the capability of the US and its allies to execute a credible extended deterrent regime?  Notable in this regard has been the modernization of Iranian air defenses aided by external powers.  How will the US ensure that its air and naval capabilities can effectively and with acceptable levels of risks manage the challenge of navigating Iranian air defenses?

Kugler underscores the nexus between the acquisition of nuclear weapons with other aspects of Iranian modernization in shaping a new challenging possibility:

Iran might use its nuclear muscle to bully the Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, to dominate the Strait of Hormuz and related Gulf sea lanes, to try to push the United States out of the Gulf, and to control Gulf oil production. Such local political and diplomatic efforts especially might be pursued if Iran, in addition to acquiring nuclear missiles, succeeds in modernizing its air and naval forces so that they can be used for offensive purposes. Today, Iraq possesses an air force of about 300 combatant aircraft and a navy of patrol combatants and surface-to-surface missiles. In recent years, Iran has been increasing its purchases of sophisticated military technologies from Russia and China. This effort could reach fruition about the same time that Iran deploys a nuclear missile arsenal. Iran could then use modernized air and naval forces to close the Strait of Hormuz, and threaten nuclear retaliation against any military effort to reopen the strait.

The Kugler piece provides an opportunity to shape a debate about near-term concepts of operations that the US will need to craft as well as mid-term requirements.  As Kugler warns: The United States will need to forge well-conceived strategic concepts and adeptly blend hard and soft power. Its array of instruments would need to include military power, diplomacy, economic tools, homeland security, information assets, cyber networks, security assistance, partnership-building, and other tools. Its approach to deploying military power would need to be selective, for Middle Eastern politics likely will not permit the kind of weighty forward presences that have marked U.S. deterrence regimes in Europe and Asia. Reliance on offshore forces and swift power projection from CONUS may need to be important instruments of deterrence. Overall, the United States and its partners would need to commit adequate resources to the task, but owing to multiple constraints, the resources available may be scarce. If so, this would further elevate the importance of using resources efficiently.

[1] Richard L. Kugler, An Extended Deterrence Regime to Counter Iranian Nuclear Weapons: Issues and Options (Center for Technology and National Security Policy: National Defense University, September 2009)


***Posted October 18th, 2009