A Path to Reducing Iran’s Missile Threat and Reconfiguring U.S. Missile Defenses

Publication Date: 
July 2018
Description: 

Arms Control Today

Project: 
Nuclear Past, Present and Future Project
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

President Donald Trump cast his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal as part of his administration’s “efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” Along with having “unacceptable” sunset provisions, he said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “fails to address the regime’s development of ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads.”

If these issues are addressed, Trump indicated that he is “ready, willing, and able” to negotiate a new deal. The U.S. administration, he said, “will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.”

European leaders declared their intent to stay in the deal and placed the onus on the Trump administration to propose “concrete” steps toward an alternative agreement with Iran. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign affairs chief, said that “as long as Iran continues to implement its nuclear-related commitments, as it is doing so far, the European Union will remain committed to the continued, full, and effective implementation of the nuclear deal.” European nations are exploring means of avoiding extraterritorial enforcement of U.S. sanctions, but it will be very difficult to sustain the financial benefits promised to Iran absent U.S. participation and support.

Iran, as it girds for renewed U.S. sanctions, has been cool, even hostile, to the idea of a new arrangement that imposes restrictions beyond those of the JCPOA. Such posturing, however, may be for bargaining purposes rather than a definitive refusal to engage in negotiations. In September 2017, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif argued that if the United States “want[s] to have an addendum, there has to be an addendum on everything,” indicating the possibility of accepting restrictions beyond the JCPOA if proper economic incentives are provided. One prospective topic for negotiations is ballistic missiles. Iranian leaders have recently pledged to limit the range of their missiles to 2,000 kilometers, asserting that their primary national security threats lie within that range.

A new agreement that formalizes this restraint, along with further restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, would have many virtues. In addition to forestalling threats to most of Europe and all of the continental United States, an agreement on missile limitations could render unnecessary the planned U.S. deployment of missile defense interceptors in Poland and the existing deployment in Romania.

The possibility of reducing or eliminating the European Phased Adaptive Approach for missile defense would reduce Russian motivations to deploy new nuclear weapon systems to penetrate or evade U.S. missile defenses, in turn motivating Russia to help persuade Iran to accept restraints on its missile program.

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