Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction
December 8, 2008
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and missile programs, and their interactions with its growing capabilities for asymmetric warfare, are becoming steadily more critical security issues for the US, Iran’s neighbors, and the international community. The foreign and domestic policy implications for the US will be a major issue that the next administration must address during its first months in office.
Iran’s actions, and the Iraq War, have already made major changes in the military balance in the Gulf and the Middle East. Iran may still be several years to half a decade away from becoming a meaningful nuclear power, but even a potential Iranian nuclear weapon has already led Iran’s neighbors, the US, and Israel to focus on the nuclear threat it can pose and its long-range missile programs.
The CSIS has addressed these policy issues in a number of studies and publications. These include Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. Rodhan, Iran’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: the Real and Potential Threat, CSIS, 2006; and Anthony H. Cordesman and Martin Kleiber, Iran’s Military Forces and Warfighting Capabilities, CSIS, 2007; and Anthony H. Cordesman’s recently released assessment, The US, Israel, the Arab States and a Nuclear Iran, which is available here.
The Burke Chair has prepared a new set of briefs, prepared by Anthony H. Cordesman and Adam C. Seitz, which summarize Iran’s actions, current and potential capabilities, and the possible outcome of a nuclear exchange. This briefing draws on official statements, US intelligence judgments, work by the IAEA, and material provided by a number of other research centers, including the Nuclear Threat Initiative, ISIS, the Federation of American Scientists, Global Security, and the Brooking Institution among others.
The Burke Chair is releasing these documents in a series of working drafts in an effort to obtain outside views, comments, criticisms, and additions. We hope to use such comments to provide a more comprehensive and more accurate picture of Iran’s controversial and destabilizing WMD programs despite the uncertainty surrounding these foreign policy nightmares.
The most current draft is now available here.
This draft is key to understanding the broader strategic context of Iran’s WMD programs.
Iran has found that an overall asymmetric strategy would be most beneficial to maintaining balance of power and expanding its power and influence in the Middle East region. This strategy has also enabled the Iranian government and military to operate more covertly, both in terms of building capabilities for covert, proxy, and indirect warfare, and in developing a possible nuclear weapons program.
Tehran focused its defense efforts on creating a force structure to pursue an asymmetric strategy which focuses more on the use of proxies to create greater regional instability and export its revolution, while at the same time it has pushed the limits in its missile programs, and pursued the research and development of chemical and biological agents as well as a suspect nuclear program; which together have the makings of a very dangerous and WMD program.
This is why any assessment of Iran’s motives and capabilities must look beyond the previous assessments of the military balance. Whatever Iran’s actual motives may be a combination of its emerging strengths in asymmetric warfare and nuclear-armed missile forces that can deter or limit conventional reprisals can do much to compensate for its lack of modern conventional forces.
Iran can exploit a combination of carefully selected precision guided munitions systems, weapons of mass destruction, and the widening use of asymmetrical warfare strategies to make up for shortcomings in conventional warfighting capabilities. Its long-range missiles and WMD programs can both provide a powerful deterrent and support its asymmetric strategies.
This draft covers the broader strategic context of Iran’s WMD real and potential capability. It covers how all of the aspects of Iran’s WMD programs fit into the broader strategic context with Iran’s conventional military forces, the IRGC, use and support of proxies, and ambiguous statements and actions.
The previous drafts in this series are also available via the CSIS Burke Chair web page at www.csis.org/burke/reports, and are as follows:
This first working draft in the series is available here.
It covers the capabilities and uncertainties of Iran’s missile program, as well as other possible means of deliver that Iran could utilize in conjunction with its CBRN programs.
The second working draft in the series is available here.
It covers the capabilities and uncertainties of Iran’s chemical weapons program, as well as the ambiguities of Iran’s CW strategy and intentions, with regards to its participation in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), while possibly maintaining a CW program.
The third working draft in the series is available here.
It covers the capabilities and uncertainties of Iran’s biological weapons program, as well as the problems posed by the ease of access to dual-use technology, and Iran’s ambiguous BW strategy and intentions. It also lays out biological attack scenarios, as well as the obstacles to weaponization of biological agents and possible delivery options for Iran.
The fourth working draft in this series is available here.
This draft covers multiple aspects of Iran’s nuclear programs, including an assessment of Iran’s current nuclear status and possible future nuclear capabilities. In this draft is a history of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the progress in the different sectors of Iran’s nuclear programs, the declared and possible functions of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and issues posed by Iranian ambiguity regarding its nuclear program, among other aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.
Although it is difficult to draw a clear picture of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, capabilities, and intentions – which is also a factor discussed in this section – this draft draws as clear a picture as possible with the open source information that is currently available.
Your criticism, comments, questions, ideas, and additional information on this draft, and those that follow, will be greatly appreciated. You are welcome to contact the CSIS Burke Chair with comments or corrections at ASeitz@csis.org.