Despite Hawks’ Claim of Greatest Threat, Iran is Very Weak

John Glaser, September 27, 2013

The diplomacy with Iran is proceeding slowly in the days following the almost-handshake at the UN earlier this week. While skepticism is warranted, as I’ve written, there is a chorus of right-wing fear-mongers really upset about the prospect of detente with Iran. See, for example, this piece in the Washington Post by the neo-con Charles Krauthammer, whose basic point is that the Iranians are doggedly pursuing nuclear weapons and can never be negotiated with…ever.

For these naysayers, it would therefore seem that the only way forward is economic and/or actual warfare. That’s the only chance we have to eliminate this preeminent existential threat. Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a Washington think-tank last year that he doesn’t “see any greater challenge than Iran.”

It is a peculiar feature of being the world’s military superpower that every bogeyman the national security state and its propagandists can conjure up becomes a dangerous existential threat, no matter how weak that rival is.

Back in July, I wrote a piece for The Washington Times arguing that Iran doesn’t pose a threat to the U.S. America, I wrote, “is a global military superpower that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. Iran, by contrast, is a third-rate military power with an economy that is one forty-fifth the size of the U.S. economy.”

A post at the Center for Strategic International Studies provides more detail into just how comparatively weak Iran is. While Iran “has made major progress in creating naval forces for asymmetric warfare and developing naval missiles,” writes Anthony H. Cordesman,

…it has very limited air-sea  and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (IS&R) capabilities. It lacks modern conventional land, air, air defense and sea power, has fallen far behind the Arab Gulf states in modern aircraft and ships, and its land forces are filled with obsolete and mediocre weapons that lack maneuver capability and sustainability outside Iran. Iran needs nuclear weapons to offset these facts.

Iran also “lacks any real amphibious capability force for entry,” Cordesman adds. “It is able to spend far less on military forces than the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and only a fraction of what they can spend on arms imports.” Iran’s short range rockets and missile forces “lack the accuracy and lethality to pose a major threat to any Gulf state but Kuwait – and Iran is far weaker in every warfighting dimension than a combination of U.S. and GCC forces.”

The CSIS report does argue that this inescapable comparative weakness does heavily incentivize Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but even if it can manage to “assemble some form of nuclear device and test,” which U.S. intelligence sources have said would take more than a year, Iran “will be years” away from having “significant nuclear forces” it has “no immediate prospect of creating missile defenses” to protect itself from attack.

Can you believe this is the country all of these macho tough guys in Washington fear monger about? This weak, impoverished, isolated nation and its pathetically insignificant military capabilities is America’s greatest threat that can only be subdued through war?

“It is a matter of faith among many American politicians that Iran is the greatest danger now facing the country,” writes Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But if that is true, then the United States can breathe easy: Iran is a weak military power.”




8 Responses to “Despite Hawks’ Claim of Greatest Threat, Iran is Very Weak”

  1. “Can you believe this is the country all of these macho tough guys in Washington fear monger about?”

    of course! when was the last time the usa went to war with
    a country that could fight back?

  2. Cordesman is an idiot. Far from Iran "needing" nukes to offset their relatively (compared to the US) conventional military strength, it is clear that having nukes would be almost useless for Iran precisely because a few "dud" nukes undeliverable by anything would never be a deterrent to the US and probably not even to Israel.

    Not to mention that neither the US and especially Israel would allow Iran to acquire those nukes before preemptively attacking Iran.

    Iran's leaders have repeatedly stated that they understand these points and have no interest in trying to compete with Israel, let alone the US, in nuclear armaments.

    Where Iran excels is in its internal defenses. It would be almost impossible for even the US to conquer and occupy Iran as it did Iraq. The country's land area is bigger, the population is bigger and more motivated to resist, as they support the regime much more so than Iraqis supported Hussein, and Iran has a huge militia, the makings of a huge insurgency. Its large missile arsenal, even if not entirely accurate, serves as a deterrent to the countries in its vicinity.

    Iran's military policy is entirely defensive and relies on its technology developments and the support of its people. It doesn't need or want nukes. If Cordesman really knew anything about nuclear weapons policy, he'd know that.

  3. Iran's leaders have repeatedly stated that they understand these points and have no interest in trying to compete with Israel, let alone the US, in nuclear armaments.

  4. If Iran was a true powerhouse, we wouldn't mess with them. Our specialty is figuring out who we can bully and then hyping up the situation so that it looks like we are really doing something.
    It is something that boxing promoters do – matching a star in his prime against a rookie and then promoting the match like the rookie is a dangerous match. Meanwhile avoiding any real challenge. Muhammad Ali made a mistake with Ken Norton and you can bet the promoters of Floyd Mayweather won't make the same mistake. And in this game, Israel is the promoter and we are the palooka.

  5. I have to agree with Richard Hack on these points, including his remark concerning Cordsman's competency.

    Compared to the United States, Iran would be considered a far weaker opponent. However, this has to be looked at in terms of context. In just sheer firepower, the US overwhelms Iran in every sense of the word. But having overwhelming firepower often does not translate into victories on the battlefield as we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    s recent economic reporting has demonstrated, as a result of the continued sanctions Iran has become very self-sufficient in generating the produce for its own needs in both the consumer and military industries. Far from being a pushover, Iran is probably the most sophisticated Mid-East nation in the region as its conventional military sciences and engineering have continued to produce modern, defensive systems that can put any attacker in harm's way.

    The US has not attacked Iran for two simple reasons. One, using nuclear weaponry would not only be a crime against Humanity for which the US would finally be recognized as a "pariah state" much like Israel already is subsequently resulting in a deterioration of international relations to such a point that the nation is completely isolated but would also completely devalue the objective of access to their oil reserves. Two, a conventional military option would be so catastrophic given Iran's modernizing military capabilities that its effectiveness would be completely undermined.

    If none of this were true we would still be not discussing such a possibility so many years later. Of course, there is always the possibility that the lunatics in US leadership are so off the charts in terms of sanity that they would foment another useless, hopeless, and devastating conflict to the detriment of all involved… with the exception of the defense industry itself…

  6. American Foreign Policy is based on 'BBB' style negotiations: Bribing with USAID, Bullying by economic sanctions and Bombing by military forces.

    The United States government has been co-opted by an insidious and malevolent syndicate of warmongers and nationalists bent on imperialistic global dominance. The people must rip out this rot in government and demand peaceful dialogue and statesmanship with other countries. War is never is an option when rational minds turn towards amity and goodwill.

  7. [...] Despite Hawks’ Claim of Greatest Threat, Iran is Very Weak (John Glaser) [...]

  8. Iran is not weak. Cordesman's article was a part in a concerted effort by the Neocons to show how easy their recommended attack on Iran is going to be. (A "cakewalk".)
    Had Iran been weak, it would have been attacked long ago.