By Timothy Stafford
Announcing his decision to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA, President Trump cited the agreement’s failure to address Iran’s development of ballistic missiles. Over the last two years, the issue has been left to fester, gradually becoming a greater and greater threat to international peace and security.
Iran’s development of a ballistic missile arsenal began as a means to match the capabilities used by Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. As a consequence, the scud missiles it imported from Libya and North Korea were battlefield weapons, incapable of posing a threat to other actors in the region.
Yet in the new century, Iran’s acquisition have been more sinister in nature. Its development and perfection of the Shahab-3 puts all of its Gulf State rivals within range, and the nuclear capable nature of the missile casts doubt about the peaceful nature of its enrichment work.
At present, testing, development and proliferation are the key areas of concern. As soon as the nuclear agreement was agreed, Iran immediately resumed regular ballistic missile tests. When doing so, officials in Tehran adopted a hypocritical approach. Though they denied that such activity was prohibited under the terms of the JCPOA, whenever the prospect of international sanctions was raised, the line was always that any new restrictions would constitute a violation of the nuclear agreement itself.
In addition, Tehran used the JCPOA era to update its existing short and medium range missiles, and began experimenting with new platforms. When doing so, it masked the progress it was making by artificially limiting their maximum range to 1,243 miles, or 2,000km.
Lastly, Iran is engaged in substantial proliferation, disrupting the delicate balance of power in the Middle East. It has provided Houthi rebels in Yemen with missiles that are routinely fired into Saudi Arabia. In addition to endowing Hezbollah with one of the Middle East’s most sophisticated arsenals, it is now in the process of constructing missile production factories in Lebanon. Chiefly, its efforts to ship missiles through Syria is what drives increasingly frequent Israeli airstrikes.
New approaches are required. Firstly, specific sanctions should be tied to Iranian development of intermediate range ballistic missiles – those with the capacity to strike Western Europe. In addition, Tehran should be held responsible for the missiles produced within its borders, or manufactured by Iranian entities. Western governments should make clear that any such missile, launched against a third party, will be regarded as a deliberate attack upon that entity by the Islamic Republic. Lastly, efforts should be made to constrain Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the entity that manages the country’s missile arsenal. Progress in all of these areas will be required if the threat posed by Iran is to be neutralised.
Timothy Stafford is a Senior Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society