The Window for an Iran Missile Deal Is Already Closing

April 7, 2021

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile


John Krzyzaniak


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Calls to limit Iran’s missile program have become all the rage in Washington. In early March, a bipartisan group of 140 US lawmakers urged the Biden administration to pursue a more “comprehensive” deal with Iran that goes beyond the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to include not just Iran’s nuclear program but also its ballistic missile program and its support for non-state groups in the Middle East. Despite this and similar appeals, the prospects for even a modest missile deal with Iran are looking slimmer by the day. While the more ambitious proposals were unrealistic to begin with, the most feasible option—to lock in a 2,000-kilometer range limit on Iran’s ballistic missiles—may soon slip out of reach too.

Proposals for a missile agreement. Despite the heightened interest in constraining Iran’s missile capabilities, there have been few concrete proposals to accomplish that goal, and even fewer that are remotely plausible. On the more fanciful side, one proposal involves demanding that Iran give up any and all missiles capable of delivering a 500 kilogram (kg) payload to a range of 300 kilometers (km) or more, on the thesis that such missiles are inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons. After all, the prospect of Iran’s missiles serving as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons (if Iran ever decides to build them) is what most worries Western policymakers. Avner Golov and Emily B. Landau advocate for a deal to eliminate Iranian missiles that exceed the 500 kg–300 km threshold in a February 2018 article in Foreign Policy.

Setting aside that the definition of what constitutes a “nuclear-capable” missile is contested, there are three additional problems that make this proposal unworkable. First, depending on how different systems are counted, Iran has at least eight missile types that would be covered by such an agreement, and it would have to give them all up. Second, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates also have missiles that exceed the 500 kg–300 km threshold, and Iran would demand that those countries adhere to the same arrangement. Third, verification of such a deal would present a Herculean task involving an extensive, on-the-ground inspection presence.


Read the rest of the op-ed at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.