Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies

October 9, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

Summary

Iran’s national security policy is the product of many overlapping and sometimes competing factors such as the ideology of Iran’s Islamic revolution; perception of threats to the regime and to the country; long-standing Iranian national interests; and the interaction of the Iranian regime’s factions and constituencies. Iran’s leadership 

  • seeks to deter or thwart U.S. or other efforts to invade or intimidate Iran or to bring about a change of regime.
  • has sought to take advantage of opportunities of regional conflicts to overturn a power structure in the Middle East that it asserts favors the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Muslim Arab regimes.
  • seeks to enhance its international prestige and restore a sense of “greatness” reminiscent of ancient Persian empires.
  • provides material support to allied governments and armed factions such as the Asad regime in Syria, Lebanese Hezbollah, Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iraqi Shiite militias, and Bahraini militant groups. Iranian officials characterize this support as helping the region’s “oppressed” and assert that Saudi Arabia, in particular, is instigating sectarian tensions and trying to exclude Iran from regional affairs.
  • has sought to use sanctions relief provided by the July 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) to emerge as a regional energy and trade hub and to negotiate future weapons buys.
  • sometimes disagrees on tactics and strategies. Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i and key hardline institutions, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), oppose any compromises of Iran’s national security core goals, but support the reintegration into regional and international diplomacy that is advocated by Iran’s elected president, Hassan Rouhani.
  • supports acts of international terrorism, as the “leading” or “most active” state sponsor of terrorism, according to each annual State Department report on international terrorism since the early 1990s.

The Trump Administration has articulated a strategy to counter Iran’s “malign activities” and its behavior more broadly, based primarily on reducing Iran’s financial resources. The Administration argued that the JCPOA failed to address Iran’s regional activities and, partly on these grounds, President Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, and announced that all U.S. sanctions would be reimposed. Additional aspects of Administration strategy for countering Iran’s malign activities—which include working with partner governments and factions in the region—are enumerated in a report submitted to Congress in late August 2018, a report mandated by the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (P.L. 115-44). President Trump and other senior U.S. officials also have indirectly threatened military action against Iranian actions that pose an immediate threat to U.S. regional interests or allies. In late September 2018, the Administration issued a report (“Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities”) broadly indicting Iran’s malign activities as well as a litany of other activities the Administration termed “Iranian regime’s destructive behavior at home and abroad.”

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