(Air)Strike Against Nuclear Development

In light of the newest developments in Iranian nuclear negotiations and continuing the student guest posts on US policy options in dealing with Iran, here is an overview of the pros and cons considering the airstrike option.


The United States has the ability to substantially reduce the risk of Iran developing weapons of mass destruction and decreasing uranium enrichment by utilizing air strikes on Iranian nuclear plants. Use of air strikes would entail a “premeditated aerial bombardment,” of an Iranian reactor through bombing or missiles (D’Amato, 1983).  Air strikes could be either unmanned drones or manned military planes, and is, in fact, something that Israel has prepared to deploy.   This article in The Atlantic Wire lays out a would-be Israeli attack step by step and provides maps of the four most targeted sites. The article leans heavily on manned military planes, and also a couple submarines. An unmanned air strike, like the one mentioned in this article, Iranian missiles would be taken out by Israel before they even left the ground in Iran.

Possible Israeli airstrike routes (image from the Atlantic Wire)

As stated by James Pollack in his book Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and the American Strategy and in a White Paper by John Owen, there are many advantages and disadvantages of such a policy.  The advantages include:

  • The US military is much stronger and larger than the Iranian military, and military strikes would play this to our advantage.  Specifically, US missile capabilities are somewhat well-suited to penetrating many of Iran’s underground and reinforced facilities.
  • Air strikes would be a lower cost with minimal casualties on both sides when compared to some of the other options.
  • Not only would air strikes set the Iranian nuclear program back anywhere form 2-10 years, but air strikes may also prevent the Iranian nuclear program from every rebuilding because of the devastation it causes their nuclear program.
  • Air strikes would not take much time if they succeeded (citing Col. Sam Gardiner of the US Air Force, Owens discusses how most easily identifiable targets could be removed within 5 days).
  • Air strikes can be efficient if the sites are easily identifiable.
Iran missile locations (from Atlantic Wire)

Disadvantages include:

  • Although air strikes might deter rebuilding of the nuclear program, it is more likely that the Iranians would rebuild their nuclear program.
  • Eliminating all targets becomes more difficult as the number of targets increases; it is highly likely that the US would not be able to eliminate all Iranian facilities.
  • Iran would most likely retaliate in some form to air strikes; any military action would have to take into account Iran’s missile locations…and as this graph from the Atlantic Wire shows, there are a lot of targets in Iran.
  • If Iran did retaliate, the US would be forced to invade Iran.
  • Air strikes would likely deepen anti-American sentiment in the region.

The implementation of air strikes could result in United States consequences for their consumers, allies, and government. If air strikes were used the Iranian people would most likely rally around their government regardless of any previous dissent against the government, and give the Muslim and Anti-American sentiments more reason and leverage in turning citizens against  the United States. Iran could also use the air strikes as reason to hurt the United States’ allies that are within Iran’s current missile distance capability.  American consumers at home would be negatively impacted by air strikes through increased in price of oil. With numerous possible advantages and disadvantages there does not seem to be a clear answer in whether an air strike would be the ideal policy for United States’ involvement in Iran’s nuclear program. 

References

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