As the West and the Islamic Republic of Iran inch ever closer to open warfare, the debate over whether containment represents a better alternative to all-out confrontation and other options is once again taking center stage in Western capitals. In the United States, the containment debate, once confined to august foreign policy journals, is now becoming the subject of congressional resolutions and a mainstay of cable news punditry. Yet this renewed focus on the Cold War doctrine has not been accompanied by greater clarity regarding its pertinence to the Iranian context. Commentators frequently conflate nuclear deterrence (whether the Islamic Republic can be dissuaded from deploying its emerging arsenal by the threat of nuclear annihilation) with containment (whether the Iranian regime can be prevented from exerting its influence in the MENA region and beyond through violent and non-violent means).
This briefing offers a comprehensive survey of the costs of establishing and maintaining a containment regime on Iran. The briefing first surveys the Iranian regime’s strategic capabilities, including conventional assets, forces, and weapons of mass destruction. The briefing then assesses Iran’s ability to project power and political influence across the Middle East and beyond, and concludes by considering the implications of Iranian messianism on the viability of a containment regime.