Listen to Defense Leaders on Iran

On the radar: A serious conversation on Iran; The danger of saber-rattling; Budget triggers and nuclear cuts; Beyond Cold War thinking; Containing Iran; CMRR expensive and unnecessary; China's nuclear forces; Misreading Iran; and "nuclear turkeys."

November 15, 2011 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Mary Kaszynski

Toughness ≠ wisdom - GOP presidential hopefuls were quick to support using the military option against Iran. “The problem with these arguments is that they flatly ignore or reject outright the best advice of America’s national security leadership,” writes Brigadier General John Johns (USA, ret.).

--”Defense leaders agree that the military option would likely result in serious unintended consequences,” writes Brig. Gen. Johns. “Political candidates should curb their jingoistic, chauvinistic emotions and temper their world view with a little reflective, rational thought.”

--Rational thought would answer these questions: “How would [GOP presidential candidates] contain a larger regional war? Would they commit to a ground invasion? How would they pay for it? What is their view on the implications of another major deployment for the U.S. military? And why are they ignoring the advice of some of America’s most experienced military leaders?”

The danger of saber-rattling - “By stepping up the level of military threats, any future president could shackle himself to a decision for war as an early test of his credibility,” argue Amb. William Luers, Amb. Thomas Pickering and Jim Walsh in Politico.

--Saber-rattling isn’t just dangerous, it’s also ineffective. “For increasingly grave warnings and hostile language are unlikely to change the policies of Tehran’s nuclear program — but could bring the U.S. closer to military conflict.”

--”A new president who is a bold leader could show his courage and toughness by working tirelessly, on the track of statesmanship and diplomacy, to close the gap of mutual distrust with Iran. This option of reducing barriers is still viable, while the military option is irresponsible and calamitous.”

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Correction - Yesterday we inaccurately reported the author of the article, “Iran's Nuclear Program and the Legal Mandate of the IAEA.” It was Professor Dan Joyner of the University of Alabama Law School who authored the article - not James Joyner, of the Atlantic Council, as we reported.

Panetta on budget cuts - Sec. Leon Panetta doesn’t want his budget cut. In a letter to Senators McCain and Graham, Panetta argued that the budget cuts that might result if the supercommittee fails to come up savings plan could force cuts to the nuclear arsenal. The letter flags the ICBM force and the new Air Force bomber for cutting, putting into question the affordability of the nuclear triad. From ABC News.

Move beyond Cold War thinking - “Further reductions in nuclear weapons beyond those agreed to in the New START agreement with Russia are being discussed within the Obama administration as part of the Defense Department review of future spending,” writes Walter Pincus. Current plans call for 1,550 deployed warheads under New START, costing some $213 billion simply to upgrade existing systems. “Those numbers represent Cold War thinking,” writes Pincus.

--”This country does not need 1,000 or more of them. Nor do we need all of the 12 new $4 billion strategic nuclear submarines, each with 16 missiles,” argues Pincus. Even with a smaller submarine fleet [as is being considered], “do we still need up to 400 new land-based ICBMs? And why have any strategic bombers fitted to carry nuclear weapons?”

Triad’s days are numbered - The nuclear triad “was overkill during the Cold War, and its value-added utility today is marginal.” Now, it’s only a matter of time before the triad becomes a dyad. “Far better that the Pentagon choose to scale back the triad instead of having it forced down its missile tubes by some fiscal calamity,” writes Battleland’s Mark Thompson.

Contain and Constrain - “The United States and Israel [have] room for effective action, so long as they resist a rash military strike. The aim should be to increase Iran’s internal divisions, not unite it in furious resolve,” writes Roger Cohen. “What is needed is a contain-and-constrain policy.“

--The “contain” part involves beefing up Israeli and Gulf defenses. The “constrain” part involves covert action to undermine Iran’s program and imposing sanctions. Curiously, Cohen argues for a Cuban missile crisis-style “quarantine” as a “last resort.”

Rising costs and diminished need for CMRR - “Rather than looking for ways to save money in this budget-conscious time, the National Nuclear Security Administration is asking for even more money to build one of its most unnecessary projects yet: a second big plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory,” writes Greg Mello in The New York Times.

--”The laboratory needs fewer grand ambitions, not more space...the case for building more nuclear weapons, at a time when the United States’ arsenal is already by far the most sophisticated and most expensive in the world is growing harder to make.”

Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2011 - China has a total inventory of approximately 240 nuclear warheads, according to the authoritative work of Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris. Read the full report for details on China’s land- and sea-based missile arsenals as well as an outlook on their modernization. (pdf)

The Iranian-American Game of Chicken -”Both Iran and the United States are playing an extremely dangerous game based on misperceptions,” writes Reza Marashi in The National Interest. “Each side seems to be misreading the strength and resolve of the other. In this game of chicken, small errors in judgment can result in military confrontation.”

--“These misperceptions and miscalculations will likely prevent the Iranian government from backing down in the current standoff because it believes that, if Iran does not give up, geopolitical realities will cause America to change course at some point in the foreseeable future.”

Nuclear turkeys - “The Pentagon's budget is too geared toward hardware once thought necessary to defeat the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” Kingston Reif looks at the “misplaced priorities” in the nuclear budget, from the plan to spend $88 billion refurbishing nuclear warheads to the plan for 12 new nuclear subs at the expense of 56 conventional ships.

--”We should spend scarce resources on the weapons we need for current threats, and not on weapons to combat threats that no longer exist.”