U.S. Missile Umbrella Over the Persian Gulf

[Farspress has interviewed me about the aims and consequences of the U.S. expansion of missile defenses in the Persian Gulf area. Here are my answers to their questions.]

Q. How do you see the U.S. missile defense shield in Persian Gulf?

A. Iran flexed its muscles, demonstrating an ability to launch missiles in a target range that would include a number of states that are U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. This has evoked concern in those nations that they are within reach of any potential nuclear arsenal that Iran might develop. By its deployment of land- and sea-based missiles to a number of allied Gulf states, the United States has demonstrated that it is willing and able to place these countries under its defense umbrella. The sales of anti-missile systems to a number of Gulf states serve the same purpose. The professed intention is to preserve the fragile stability that a scramble for a defensive posture by the endogenous powers might jeopardize. The actual consequences will depend heavily on other developments that are independent of any defense posturing.

Q. What aims do the U.S. pursue?

A. The U.S.  professes to want to avoid the instability associated with a nuclear arms race among the various Muslim states in the region and with any unilateral Israeli preemptive attack on Iran. The theory is that Arab fears of Iranian regional hegemony and Israeli fears of existential threat can be kept from boiling over into regional warfare if America demonstrates that it can be policeman for the region through its missile defense capabilities. Whatever the future may hold, Iran has no nuclear weapons at this time. The implementation of a missile shield now would seem to be premature, unless its aim is to counter missiles with conventional warheads. However, modern Iran, neither the Islamic Republic, nor its predecessor regimes, has ever initiated any war with its neighbors. The strategic impact of the missile defense umbrella goes beyond the superficial purpose of deterring a conventional first-strike by Iran. An American shield could, for example, be used to prevent a retaliatory conventional strike against Israel should it bomb Iran with conventional weapons as it bombed Iraq. The U.S. has made no secret of its opposition to Iran’s support of resistance movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The real danger that concerns the United States and Israel is not an Iranian invasion of its Sunni majority neighbors, but Iran’s involvement in liberation movements in the region. If Iran can be made to feel more vulnerable, by tilting conventional military advantages to rival states, Iran might be more easily intimidated from assisting liberation movements in the future.

Q. What consequences will the missile defense shield have on the region?

A. The actual consequences are difficult to predict and will no doubt depend on independent events, many of which cannot be foreseen. One needs only to recall how the similar planned build-up of missile defenses in Europe were cut back when the Russians responded with threats to buildup their own missile defenses in kind. The START talks have been threatened and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has stated that “it is impossible to talk serious[ly] about the reduction of nuclear capabilities when a nuclear power is working to deploy protective systems against vehicles to deliver nuclear warheads possessed by other countries.” Future developments could have serious consequences. When the U.S. inevitably pulls out of Iraq, will future Iraqi governments view the missile umbrella as enhancing or threatening their security? A recent test failure against the type of weapons Iran might develop raises questions as to their efficacy. If the shift in the balance of power is successful in suppressing Iranian support of liberation movements, will radicalized al-Qaeda-style elements take over the liberation movements? If the Sunni-controlled states in the region choose to interpret the American action as a green light for persecution of their Shia minorities, will the current instability in Yemen spread throughout the region? And what if one of the Gulf states falls to an anti-American regime? Will their possession of these systems embolden them and make their anti-Americanism more militant? While specific predictions of consequences are dangerous, history has shown that foreign interventionism is a risky and costly business that brings about the end of empires.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute






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