SUMMARY: “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran”
On September 13, a new paper on “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran,” signed by over thirty senior security experts from the ranks of the military, diplomatic service and elected office, was released by The Iran Project. The paper provides a fact-based analysis of the inputs likely to be involved in an American military strike against Iran and its nuclear program, and the results such a campaign might achieve.
The signatories believe that the public discussion so far has been conducted without sufficient attention to the costs and benefits of military action against Iran and its nuclear program. Having identified this gap, the paper seeks to provide an analytical basis for such a serious discussion. It does not present conclusions or recommendations but aims to provide an accessible, fact-based foundation for discussion and debate.
- Military action against Iran can be contemplated across a broad spectrum, with significant differences in what objectives could be achieved depending on resources committed by the United States.
- Iran’s nuclear program could be set back four years by a U.S. action including attacks by air, drones, missiles and through cyber as well as by special operations forces. Israel alone might impose delays for up to two years.
Benefits of US military action with the objective to delay Iran’s nuclear program for up to four years could include:
- Damage or destroy Iran’s major enrichment facilities;
- Damage Iran’s military capabilities and ability to retaliate directly;
- Demonstrate to allies and friends U.S. seriousness and credibility;
- Deter nuclear weapons proliferation elsewhere.
- Broader objectives such as regime change, damage to Iran’s regional influence or capitulation to U.S. demands, would require sustained, continuing and expanded air and sea warfare, if not a land occupation beyond the scope of Iraq and Afghanistan combined. It is crucial to develop greater clarity on Washington’s objectives vis-à-vis Iran.
Costs of U.S. military action could include:
- Direct Iranian retaliation against U.S. and Israeli facilities, military and civilians around the globe;
- Indirect retaliation against Israel by proxies such as Hezbollah with the same objectives;
- Potential for escalation leading to a broad regional war;
- Significant weakening of global support for sanctions and negotiations, reducing pressure on the regime and improving its prospects for rebuilding;
- Increasing the likelihood Iran will build a nuclear weapon;
- Global economic instability provoked by an oil price spike, as well as regional political instability;
- Damage to U.S. reputation and heightened credibility for extremist groups, particularly in the Muslim world;
Abramowitz, Morton, Amb.
Burns, Nicholas, Amb.
Cheney, Stephen A., BrigGen.
Djerejian, Edward, Amb.
Fallon, William, Adm.
Hagel, Chuck, Sen.
Kearney, Frank, LTG
Kurtzer, Daniel, Amb.
Luers, William, Amb.
The Iran Project is a non-governmental organization that seeks to resolve differences between the United States and Iran. Founded in 2002, for nearly a decade the Project has aimed to reduce mistrust and misunderstandings by establishing ongoing informal dialogues with Iranian counterparts, and to inform senior U.S. Government officials and members of Congress on the content and results of the Project’s work.