Prepared Statement by Deputy Secretary of Defense for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Bruce Riedel, Before the House International Relations Committee Hearing: U.S. Policy on Iran

November 9, 1995

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss the threats to U.S. interests posed by Iran and the U.S. Government's strategy for dealing with those threats.

The Persian Gulf is part of a complex area of the world in which the United States has a diverse range of important interests. Successive Presidents over many decades have outlined publicly the importance of the area. The policies of Iran affect these interests not only in the Gulf itself, but also beyond: the security and stability of moderate Arab states and Israel; the achievement of a just, comprehensive, peace between Arabs and Israelis; the protection of American citizens and property; free navigation through the Middle East's air-an,.cl waterways; and, of course, the free now of reasonably-priced oil from the Persian Gulf to world markets.

The U.S. interest in the security of Persian Gulf oil supplies is too well known to require extensive discussion. The dependence of the industrialized world--and, for that matter, of the developing world as well--on petroleum from the Gulf cannot be overstated. Gulf countries are the repositories of 2/3rds of the world's proven oil reserves. Domination of the region's oil fields or the ability to control the flow of petroleum from the region could enable a potential adversary to blackmail the United States and its major trading partners and threaten the health of the global economy. Finally, the financial resources stemming from a hostile state's domination of Gulf oil supplies would provide a vastly expanded capability for it to pursue weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous and destabilizing programs.

Both Iraq and Iran pose direct military threats to the Gulf region individually, and their competition for regional hegemony, especially in the past fifteen years, has made it attractive for each to seek dominance over their other neighbors through extortion and threats. One lesson of the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War, in which some half million soldiers lost their lives, was that neither regional power could hope to gain its objectives through direct confrontation. Any policy that aimed at balancing one with the other, therefore, would merely raise the risks of the rivalry's spilling over into the very areas--the Arabian Peninsula and the waterways of the region--that the United States is most concerned to protect. The danger of such a spillover is heightened by the two countries' quest to obtain weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. In short, the threats posed by Iraq and Iran would be aggravated, not alleviated, by relying entirely on a bipolar regional balance to keep the peace.

This realization, combined with the recognition that both regimes pursue policies hostile to our interests, led this Administration to adopt a strategy of seeking to contain both would-be hegemons. Before addressing the military aspects of this strategy, I would first emphasize that our policy of containing both Iraq and Iran, sometimes referred to as "dual containment," does not mean that we try to deal with both threats with identical means. For example, while there is considerable international consensus on the need to contain Iraq, there is no comparable consensus on Iran. Thus, our strategy toward Iraq is bolstered by clear UN Security Council authority for a number of highly intrusive actions. such as the Special Commission's no- notice WMD inspections. By contrast. actions toward Iran must be more ad hoc and based on extensive bilateral negotiations with our allies and partners which in some ways is more challenging.

We believe that Iran constitutes both a serious immediate and long term threat to security in the Gulf. Iran harbors ambitions of establishing Iranian hegemony over the region and of assuming a leading role throughout the Islamic world. Iran has not hesitated to pursue these twin objectives through every means at its disposal, including subversion and terrorism. We see such tactics applied toward the realization of Iranian ambitions far beyond the Gulf, in places as distant as Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, and even the former Yugoslavia. Teheran has been the most vocal and active opponent of the Middle East peace process and is the sponsor of several of the groups most vehemently and violently opposed to it. Iran is the financier, armorer, trainer, safe haven and inspiration for the Hizballah in Lebanon, and provides strong support to a broad range of other terrorist groups. Iran spends well over a hundred million dollars annually on such support.

While Iran's overall conventional military capability is limited and will remain so throughout the 1990s, recent purchases demonstrate its desire to develop an offensive capability in specific mission areas that endanger U.S. interests. We are especially concerned about the recent sales of Russian KILO submarines and tactical aircraft and Chinese and North Korean missiles to an Iranian government that makes no secret of its desire to dominate maritime traffic in and out of the Persian Gulf. In this regard, we have been closely watching the Iranian military build-up on several islands whose ownership is disputed between Iran and the UAE, Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Whatever the specific Iranian motivation for fortifying 'the islands, the creation by a hostile power of bases sitting astride the western approaches to the Strait of Hormuz is obviously a matter of serious concern for commercial traffic, our own naval presence, and the security of our Arab friends. These actions give Iran the capability to menace merchant ships moving in and out of the Gulf, and allows it to flex its muscles vis h vis its smaller Gulf neighbors.

Of even greater concern in the long run, Iran is also dedicated to developing weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, a prospect that would have serious repercussions for regional stability and perhaps for our ability to protect our interests in the area. In another forum, I would be prepared to discuss the details of these efforts and the complex diplomacy that has gone into trying to curtail the sale by other countries of technologies that could abet Iran's development programs. I would merely note that we learned in Iraq that a country can pursue a clandestine program in violation of its commitments and international norms. This experience makes us skeptical about the ability of normal inspections to detect similar programs in Iran.

It should be clear, then, that U.S. strategy toward Iraq and Iran seeks to contain both, but that it does so in ways tailored to the conditions and the specific threat presented by each. Nevertheless, some aspects of our regional strategy are fully applicable to both countries. This is clearest in our policy of engagement with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman--a policy founded on the understanding that no country alone can defend the Gulf; it must be done collectively.The United States pursues a three-tier cooperative approach with the GCC states, an approach that consists of strengthening local self-defense capabilities, promoting GCC and inter-Arab defense cooperation. and enhancing the ability of U.S. and coalition forces to return and fight effectively alongside local forces in a crisis. As part of the first tier, the Department of Defense works closely with our Gulf partners to help them strike the proper balance between resources and requirements as they modernize their military establishments. We are encouraging them to take first responsibility for their own defense while making sure they avoid overcommitting themselves financially or buying forces they cannot maintain and operate.

In attempting to enhance the GCC states' ability to defend themselves, the United States is fully aware of its responsibility to ensure that any weaponry provided is geared to the legitimate defense needs of responsible recipients. We strongly urge other arms-exporting countries to accept this responsibility as well, and in particular to refrain from providing destabilizing weapons to states with a clear record of irresponsible and aggressive behavior such as Iraq and Iran.

Even as we help the moderate Gulf countries enhance their individual capabilities, we are also working closely with all of them to overcome impediments to improved inter-Arab cooperation in defense of the Gulf. The United States has applauded the GCC's decision to expand its standing multilateral force, known as PENINSULA SHIELD, and to hold more multilateral exercises. We also believe that other, smaller-scale forms of military cooperation should be pursued and will continue to work with the GCC states to develop new approaches to promoting the common defense.The third tier of our strategic approach to Persian Gulf security-enhancing the ability of U.S. and other coalition forces to deploy to the region quickly and fight alongside indigenous forces--has seen the greatest progress but remains one of the most essential. Before DESERT SHIELD, U.S. military forces enjoyed significant prepositioning rights in only one Gulf country. Since the war, we have signed defense cooperation agreements with four other GCC members. These agreements provide the framework for prepositioning, access to facilities, and combined exercises and are the underpinning for both our peacetime presence and our ability to return rapidly in a crisis.

The peacetime forward presence of U.S. naval, air, and land forces in the Gulf is an essential element of being able to return quickly in a crisis. It also provides an initial capability to deal immediately with any direct challenge and serves as the key symbol of our commitment to deter regional aggressors. Because we neither have nor seek permanent military bases in the Gulf or elsewhere in the Middle East, this peacetime presence is based, as it always has been, on a mix of temporarily deployed forces and capabilities, albeit one that is significantly larger than it was before 1990. We presently have approximately 24,000 personnel in the region. Even with a presence above the historic norm, however, forces in the region are not designed by themselves to meet a full-scale attack on our areas of vital interest, which would require the dispatch of substantial additional forces from outside the Gulf. We are therefore pursuing a number of enhancements, in cooperation with our partners in the Middle East, to make us better able to meet the challenge of rapidly deploying a force if necessary. The most recent of these enhancements was the deployment by the USAF of a squadron of 18 F-16 fighter aircraft to Bahrain. This deployment was based upon consultations between the State of Bahrain, the U.S. and other states in the Gulf to cover the gaps after the departure of a U.S. aircraft carrier from the region. The deployment will be temporary and will last no later than December 31, 1995.

The most significant step we have taken is to preposition heavy and bulky equipment so that units can fly in quickly, fall in on equipment already in place, and be ready to fight in days instead of weeks. Today we have equipment for one Army heavy brigade prepositioned ashore in Kuwait, one Army heavy brigade and one Marine Expeditionary Brigade prepositioned afloat, and further equipment ashore and afloat to support other Army, Navy, and Air Force units. The significance of these measures was demonstrated by the rapidity with which the United States was able to deploy substantial forces to the Gulf in October, 1994 in Operation VIGILANT WARRIOR to deter possible Iraqi aggression. Over the next several years, prepositioning in the Gulf region will continue to grow. For example, equipment prepositioned for Army ,forces will grow to a full heavy division, including three brigade sets.

U.S. policy seeks to change Iran's behavior by containing its aggressive actions, and by making it an increasingly costly choice for Iran to continue its rogue policies. We have succeeding in denying Iran access to international credit and financial aid. Moreover, most countries now refuse to sell Iran advanced weapons. Even Russia has agreed to cap its arms sales to Iran and promised to ensure its nuclear reactor sales are for non-weapons purposes. We are pressing Moscow and others for more. Due to U.S. pressure and Iran's economic weakness, Tehran has been forced to substantially reduce military purchases in the last few years.Arms imports have fallen by more than 50% since 1992. This is no small accomplishment.

To summarize, theft, the United States has and will continue to counter Iran's threat to our vital national interests. And while our current military posture in the Gulf is designed primarily to counter the threat posed by Iraq, our forces, in concert with those of coalition partners, are engaged in a carefully constructed regional strategy to ensure that neither Iraq nor Iran can dominate the Gulf, endanger the sovereignty and security of our partners, or control the flow of oil on which the welfare of both producers and consumers depends.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.