by Michael T. Flynn Lieutenant General, USA (Retired)
Delusions abound these days, but anyone who can argue for an ICBM or nuclear capable Iran is more a pyromaniac than pragmatist.
Joint Foreign Affairs and HASC Subcommittees
Michael T. Flynn Lieutenant General, USA (Retired)
Testimony on Iran 10 JUN 2015
Chairman Ros-Lehtinen and Ranking Member Deutch, members of the Joint Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present my views on Iran’s missile capabilities and how they impact regional as well as global issues now and in the future, These will directly and negatively impact U.S. National Security unless we develop a long term, 100 year strategy for our Nation—there is no way around it.
Our closed, 20th Century bureaucratic system appears unable to adapt to the rapid and complex changes and threats we face in the 21st Century, especially those occurring throughout the Middle East and the wider trans?region, including Iran and Central Asia to the East, large parts of North and East Africa to the West, and many parts of Europe to the North.
These problems are exacerbated from an ever?expanding influence by the following;
1. The negative behavior and expanding influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran
2.The increasing complexity in Iraq and Syria—with absolutely no end in sight, no clear U.S. policy, nor do we have sufficient U.S. Whole of Government actions being taken by the United States
3. The new Middle East struggling to be born, and, if we are not careful, the United States will be left out of the growth of this region and our security at home will be placed at further risk (as the revelation of the Khorosan Group makes clear, this process is already well underway).
4. The unfinished revolutions in the Middle East in places such as Yemen and parts of Africa and our ongoing transition in Afghanistan are all being taken advantage of by Iran, ISIS and AQ.
5. The resurgence of Russian and Chinese influence in the region, especially in the energy acquisition and development arenas, weapons proliferation, and economic dominance and interdependence, all clearly impacting the security of the United States. Not only do these impact our security at home, but they also impact our allies and friends in the region, most important, the State of Israel—Israel lives under the threat of total annihilation from Iran and other Islamic radical elements in the region—something the United States must never allow, nor should we deal equally with those who spew this type of hatred and bigotry (we would not stand for it here in this country and we should not stand for it elsewhere in the world where our closest friends are at risk). Specifically focusing on the expanding Iranian missile development program, and failing to acknowledge the frequent warnings from our intelligence community, especially defense intelligence, regarding the hegemonic behaviors of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran’s missile program is growing far stronger. Both our military and our policy?making civilian elite appear to be living in closed systems. Because Second Generation war reduces everything to putting firepower on targets, when we fail against Fourth Generation opponents, our nation’s leaders’ (political and military) only answer is to put more firepower on more targets. Ideas about other ways of waging war are ignored because they do not fit the closed Second Generation paradigm. Meanwhile, Washington cannot consider alternatives to our current foreign policy or grand strategy because anyone who proposes one is immediately exiled from the establishment.
Before I address a few solutions about their missile program, I want to make a short statement of things I know, things I believe, and things I don’t know but suspect.
1.To begin, the nuclear deal, that will likely be concluded this summer, suffers from severe deficiencies.
2. Iran has every intention to build a nuclear weapon. They have stated it many times, they have attempted well over a decade to move rapidly to nuclearizing its capability, and their enrichment to twenty percent and their rapid move to develop a ballistic missile program, are examples of their continued preparedness to weaponize a missile for nuclear delivery.
3. Iran’s stated desire to destroy Israel is very real. Iran has not once (not once) contributed to the greater good of the security of the region. Nor has Iran contributed to the protection of security for the people of the region. Instead, and for decades, they have contributed to the severe insecurity and instability of the region, especially the sub?region of the Levant surrounding Israel (i.e, Southern Lebanon, Gaza, and the Border region along the Golan Heights on the Syrian side of the border).
4. Iran killed or maimed thousands of Americans and Iraqis during our fight in Iraq during the period of 2003 to 2011, and since 2005, they have also provided limited support to the Taleban and the Gholam Yahya Front in Herat. Although the International Coalition of Nations in Iraq defeated AQ in Iraq, and despite Iranian support to AQ and Shia militias’ attempts to disrupt our joint efforts to win the fight in Iraq—this has all now been squandered.
5. There is also the matter of incomplete verification. Iran’s leaders made it clear the furthest they will go is to allow International inspectors (IAEA) only “managed access” to nuclear facilities, and only with significant prior notification. This makes it nearly impossible, as a matter of full transparency, to have real “eyes on” the state of Iranian nuclear development to include their missile program.
6. The notion of “snap back” sanctions is fiction. The Iranian regime is already more economically stable than it was in November of 2013, while the international sanctions coalition that brought Tehran to the table in the first place is showing serious signs of strain. It’s unreasonable to believe that under these conditions we will be able to put the “Regime Sanctions Team” back together again.
7. Iranian rogue state behavior is on the rise and increasing. Parallel to its nuclear dialogue with the west, the Islamic Republic has stepped up its destabilizing activities in its neighborhood. This includes massive support for the Assad Regime in Syria, as well as backing for Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthi rebels, covertly supporting the Taleban in Afghanistan, actively advising, assisting, and accompanying Iraqi Shia militias inside of Iraq, maintaining pressure in Lebanon, and they continue to provide weapons and other arms to Hamas in the Gaza.
8. From the beginning, our friends, partners and allies in the region were left out of the Joint Plan of Action (or P5+1) discussion. They simply wanted to be updated along the path of these talks and they were not (in any sort of coherent or cohesive manner). This latest attempt at a GCC summit was embarrassing for the United States. Obviously, this leaderless turnout with no serious long term, strategic agreement or framework for security coming out of the summit, you get less than acceptable results. Lesson relearned, you don’t bring Arab nations together without the deal already being agreed to.
9. It is clear that the nuclear deal is not a permanent fix but merely a placeholder. The ten year timeframe only makes sense if the Administration truly believes that it is possible for a wider reconciliation with Iran that is likely to occur, which will make the Iranian regime change its’ strategic course. That’s wishful thinking.
10. I believe we have a major trust deficit with all the countries in the region (to include our closest partners, the Israelis).
11. I believe the region will continue to decline, and instability, without strong and direct US leadership and involvement respectively, will only lead to greater conflict.
12. I believe that Iran represents a clear and present danger to the region, and eventually to the world—they are still a U.S. State Department designated Islamic state sponsor of terrorism, they have and they continue to violate international sanctions, and they continue to spew hatred in their rhetoric coming from senior members of their government—to include their top Mullahs.
13. Iran’s nuclear program has significant – and not fully disclosed – military dimensions. The P5+1 dialogue with Iran has glossed over a number of such programs (including warhead miniaturization blueprints) in pursuit of an agreement. However, these factors are important insofar as they signal the true aim of Iran’s program. That aim will doubtless continue in the wake of any negotiated settlement that leaves the Iranian nuclear effort largely intact.
14. Iran’s nuclear program is not a stand?alone program. The perceived acceptance of Iran’s nuclear program is likely to touch off a dangerous domino effect in the region, as other countries, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, look for strategic counterweights to the emerging Iranian bomb, already manifesting in fairly open KSA outreach to Pakistan for nuclear capability.
15. What we don’t know is the full scope of Iran’s nuclear effort itself. The intelligence community does not have complete “eyes on" the totality of the Iranian nuclear program, nor can it guarantee that we have identified all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and processes. Moreover, given the history of the nuclear age, it is prudent to conclude that there are elements of Iran’s nuclear program that still remain hidden from view (Iran has demonstrated in their own actions, they cannot be trusted).
16. The true effects of Iranian nuclearization on the region are unknown and staggering. We can anticipate significant proliferation as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal, but we cannot be certain of its extent or its effects. This enormously complicates America’s existing security arrangements in the Middle East, as well as the political and military guarantees we will need to provide to Iran’s neighbors.
17. I believe that Iran’s overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its civilian goals and give it the ability to build missile?deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so. We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
18. I believe that Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue. However, Iranian implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) has at least temporarily inhibited further progress in its uranium enrichment and plutonium production capabilities and effectively eliminated Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. The agreement has also enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities, mainly through improved International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access and earlier warning of any effort to make material for nuclear weapons using its safeguarded facilities.
19. I believe that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, when it builds them. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles—along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies—provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer?range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
20. Iran possesses a substantial inventory of theater ballistic missiles capable of reaching as far as parts of southeastern Europe. Tehran is developing increasingly sophisticated missiles and improving the range and accuracy of its other missile systems. Iran is also acquiring advanced naval and aerospace capabilities, including naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defense cruise missile batteries, attack craft, anti?ship missiles, and armed unmanned aerial vehicles.
As the Washington Post editorialists have said, regime change in Tehran is the best way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The same applies to their missile arsenal, which is of high quality and growing. Even today, their missiles cover most all of the Middle East, and the next generation will include ICBMs capable of attacking the American homeland.
Just look at the cooperation with North Korea, China and Russia. Connect those dots, and you get the outline of a global alliance aimed at the U.S., our friends, and our allies.
Russian assistance is part of a broader pattern. After all, the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr is Russian?built, the two countries work very closely together in Syria, and Russia is providing Iran with an effective antiaircraft system that could be deployed against any aircraft seeking to destroy the nuclear program.
The North Korean cooperation is also very significant, as the two countries (North Korea and Iran) have long traded expertise, not least regarding nuclear and possibly EMP weapons.
China is also deeply involved in Iran (and the rest of the region). Indeed, significant areas in the oil producing regions of Iran are under direct Chinese control, significant quantities of Iranian money are in Chinese banks, and China is a leading sanctions buster.
And finally, the U.S. intelligence community’s record in tracking clandestine nuclear weapons programs has been decidedly mixed. While it has been very successful in detecting such programs, it has often failed to correctly assess their status, identify proliferation paths (especially when multiple or nontraditional paths have been taken), to locate key facilities, or track the activities of proliferation supplier networks.
1. The United States had suspected for well over a decade that North Korea had a uranium enrichment program but did not learn about its centrifuge plant at Yongbyon until the plant was shown to a delegation of former U.S. officials in 2010.
2. The United States did not learn about the reactor that North Korea was building in Syria until it was close to completion in 2007.
3. The U.S. intelligence community did not become aware until nearly four years later that Iran had apparently suspended its “structured” weaponization program in 2003.
4. The United States did not learn about Iran’s enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow until several years after work on each had commenced—albeit several years before each became operational.
5. Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, the international community was unaware of the full extent and advanced status of Iraq’s nuclear program, which IAEA inspectors uncovered after the war.
6. While South Africa had long been suspected of having a weapons program, the 1993 announcement that it had produced a half? dozen nuclear devices was the first confirmation of this fact for the United States.
7. The A. Q. Khan network operated for more than a decade and assisted Libya, North Korea, Iran, and possibly others before initial steps were taken to disrupt and dismantle the network in 2001.
8. Moreover, a recent Defense Science Board study of nuclear monitoring and verification technologies concluded that “the technologies and processes designed for current treaty verification and inspections are inadequate to future monitoring realities” such as “identifying small or nascent [nuclear] programs.”
This seems to imply that creative missile and nuclear proliferators would enjoy an advantage in the cat and mouse game they are playing with the United States and the international community.
There are a number of things that the international community can do however, to level the playing field with Iran and further reduce the chances of its violating its Nuclear Non?Proliferation treaty obligations.
1. Immediately direct Iran to open up all of its facilities, scientific, military, and current nuclear facilities, for international inspections.
2. The U.S. must take a more active role in the region for what will be a race for “nuclearization” preferring energy development over weaponization.
3. Provide greater authorities to all elements of U.S. National power to defeat the Islamic radicals we now call the Islamic State—put them out of business.
4. Immediately recognize, fully support, help organize, and assist those regional partners create an “Arab NATO?like” structure and framework. Build an Arab Army that is able to secure their regional responsibilities.
5. Clearly define and recognize that we face a very radicalized enemy in the likes of Islamic extremism. The administration’s refusal to state what we can plainly see is beyond being irresponsible and ranges on being dangerous for the long?term security of the United States.
Seek and appoint leaders (regionally, internationally or right here at home), give them the right and appropriate authorities that can actually accomplish the strategic objectives we seek.
So what will the overall threat environment look like with regard to Iran and its expansion of its missile program?
We should expect a far more aggressive Iran as it relates to the Gulf (both overtly and covertly) and one that will remain militarily engaged in the Levant for the foreseeable future even if Assad is overthrown. To the extent that Iranian support to the Huthis is regarded as successful we should expect to see it emulated in Bahrain and possibly eastern Saudi Arabia.
While the sectarian angle is likely to limit Iran's ability to support Sunni proxies and thereby limit their ability to project power, the ISIL crisis has created a significant cadre of Shi'a jihadists that can and will support Iran's policies through means, fair and foul.
If Iran is able to contain and defeat ISIL and subjugate, through proxies, large portions of Iraq's Sunni population, we should expect a whole host of initiatives intended to limit and eliminate Iranian influence by both state and private actors, as is now occurring in Yemen. All of this creates an environment that is rife for conflict.
What does a more proliferated region mean for US security?
Pretty much, what Prime Minister Netanyahu predicted to Congress, which was we would see the end of the Non Proliferation Treaty for all intents and purposes.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the nations of Egypt, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, and Turkey will all attempt their own missile and nuclear programs with varying degrees of success and competence, and the best?case scenario is that we have our current relationship with Pakistan duplicated five fold in a region where we have seen a significant government turnover from at least 2011 to present.
And as I stated above, we, the United States of America must comprehend that evil doesn’t recognize diplomacy and nations such as Iran will still maintain the intent of achieving nuclear weapon status. Despite the preaching of our current leadership—we said many of the same things in 1994 when talking to North Korea about this very same issue—and look at where North Korea is today regarding nuclear weapons proliferation.
We also have to recognize that Russia and China have demonstrated that wherever they can drive a wedge into any alliances or partnerships we have, they will. All you have to do is read the media outlets in the Middle East and see for yourself how much both are already working to get their feet fully on the ground when it comes to nuclear development in the region.
Additionally, the lack of consequences associated with Iranian behavior will also prompt other nations to develop their own proxy forces, none of which we are likely to find in keeping with US interests.
What does this mean for Israel?
The worst?case scenario is a reversion to a pre?Yom Kippur War security environment, except with less restraint. While the sectarian angle may limit impact against Israel in the near?term, they are likely to be targeted by jihadists of either flavor (Sunni or Shia) and any Egyptian WMD efforts have to be of serious concern because the government has changed three times since 2011 and it won't be clear who is going to be on top the next time it occurs (my strongest recommendation is for the U.S. to pick President Al?Sisi as a partner and get on with assisting him fight the Islamic radicals trying to take over Egypt).
As for Israel, it sees its primary ally and patron becoming increasingly distant and a hostile power is rising against it, which may lead Israeli leadership to undertake increasing rash or desperate actions in an effort to secure immediate gains.
It’s difficult to overestimate the risks manifest in an Iran armed with ballistic and / or nuclear weapons. Certainly the ambitions of those who have advocated for this capability for 30 years would be vindicated. That many of the same harbor genuine beliefs which include the responsibility of the faithful to prepare for a return of the Imamate and the end of times, often seen as concurrent with "exporting the revolution” (or the reason for being of the IRGC?QF), all of which should provide us little comfort.
The most dramatic impact would be the virtual elimination of coercion and persuasion; in nuclear deterrence there remains only warfare by proxy and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
Iran’s possession and extended influence over a significant portion of the world’s economically viable petro?chemical resources and / or the shipping lanes they require to reach markets would provide them power OPEC has never quite managed to corral.
Beyond the unbridled use of a full spectrum of surrogate forces, they would have an inordinate and immediate ability to incur deep and sustained economic costs that would alter global alliances with China as penultimate consumer, and Europe as fractured addict. The ripple effects of such control would be felt well before they were exercised, and reshape the balance of power. Confident without repercussions and satisfied behind a nuclear inventory, Iran would flex its newly acquired regional hegemony to extend the buffer well beyond its Arab neighbors and in the process neutralize internal opposition (i.e., Kurds, Ahvazis, Azeris, Baluchs) without regard to international opinion.
Sunni Arab opposition would be reflexive and likely result in an increased reliance on Russia for assistance (perhaps the real winner in the global shift in power as ally to both Iran and the only port for a listing Arab world desperately seeking military assistance). The conflict would expand, but it’s worth noting that we can expect a host of pernicious and unintended consequences as Arab states fund and support any and all opposition to Iran including but not limited to, ISIS and AQ and its Associated Movements (AQAM—yes, these latter groups still exist).
While disconcerting given the expanded ranks and reach of both (exceeded only by our underestimation), the real challenge only comes into view when you consider the GCC’s newest sport; acquiring WMD. North Korea, Libya, South Africa, and others had far thinner wallets and so all previous timelines and estimations are bound to be optimistic and inadequate.
Saudi Arabia has been openly planning on acquiring South Korean, French, and Japanese reactors ostensibly to power desalinization plants. Beyond their well?documented relationship with Pakistan, their options are as diverse as their portfolios. And who can question their will or their reasons?
That leaves Arabs and Persians, Sunni and Shi’a in what can only be described as a struggle of religious and deadly proportions across the spectrum of conflict and in possession of weapons, which cannot be contained, and employing surrogates who accept no boundaries (physically, virtually, geographically, or practically); all this atop half the world’s oil and gas, and astride much of the world’s most vital shipping lanes.
I don’t see how delivery systems (missiles or sophisticated guidance) can be excluded from any “deal”. Reach is as important as force, just as in boxing.
The acquisition of reliable delivery systems is as vulnerable as enrichment and weaponization and cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, it has proven profitable for all too many who feel they don’t bear the consequences and I’d add testing and experimentation.
These days, it takes very unique systems to simulate, and almost certainly, simulations will proceed explosions and launches. The last thing they’d want is to telegraph failure and expose themselves to preemptive destruction.
Lastly, and I think most importantly, it’s easier now to predict hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes within our borders than the trajectory of the Middle East on a good day. Should ambitions be unleashed (or encouraged) while the capability to inflict damage exceeds the ambitions of the most aggressive mullah it would quite predictably result in a regional arms race—including but not limited to WMD—and open conflict for the resources to sustain it.
This would certainly shift the global balance of power, as I’ve described above, but the most deadly result would be entropy on a scale not seen in centuries. We would have no way of anticipating risk, much less managing or containing it. Delusions abound these days, but anyone who can argue for an ICBM or nuclear capable Iran is more a pyromaniac than pragmatist.
Incidentally, even if we didn’t believe this to be the case, our partners in the region do. Until we can reach some accord on the primacy of the Iranian threat we will never approach common ground on the secondary matters including ISIS (which they, in my judgment, view as symptomatic).
Michael T. Flynn Lieutenant General, USA (Retired)
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.