Monday, July 27, 2009

A Middle Eastern Defense Umbrella

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States would consider setting up a "defense umbrella" in the Middle East to thwart any potential attack emanating from Iran. The supposition is that the Obama administration needs to prove to Iran that it has the willingness to respond militarily. It seems that all the recent turmoil in Iran has somewhat shifted policy towards Iran.

Extended deterrence is an idea that has been a part of US strategy for decades dating back to the Cold War. The US continues to provide a nuclear umbrella to Japan and South Korea, and under NATO protocol in western Europe. But would this be a wise idea in the Middle East? Is a nuclear umbrella even needed?

The threat from Iran has, predictably, been overstated by many in the foreign policy establishment. A nuclear Iran would be balanced by Israel, whose military and economy are far superior to anything Tehran has to offer. Additionally, countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all hostile to the rise of Iran, so why does the United States need to set up a nuclear umbrella? All of those countries mentioned have far greater interests in Iran than the US does. Deterrence works. Why are we to think that deterrence in the Middle East will be any different than it was between the US and Russia, India and Pakistan, and elsewhere?

The desire of Iran to acquire WMD was completely predictable. The Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld wrote that after the US invasion of Iraq, Iran would be foolish not to pursue a nuclear weapons program. Not only are there US troops in Iraq, but there are bases scattered throughout Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and other places in the region. Iran can be contained without an official "defense umbrella" being created.

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