Blogs: Paul Pillar

A Nuclear Standard for Saudi Arabia

The Privatization of U.S. Foreign Policy

The Forgotten Benefits of Deterrence

Paul Pillar

The case of Iran, which presents a much different set of issues, provides probably the best example of coming to believe our own rhetoric about the other guy supposedly being fanatical and not thinking like the rest of us.  Amid much rhetoric designed to stir up worries about Iran, clear logic about deterrence has been lacking.  Some of what has been ensconced in that rhetoric has been self-contradictory, such as in the argument we heard a few years ago for a military attack as a way to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.  The argument contended, on one hand, that Iranian leaders were too fanatical and irrational to be trusted with nuclear weapons, and that their irrationality meant that deterrence could not be trusted to work.  But on the other hand it contended that after getting attacked by a foreign power, the same Iranian leaders would be models of rationality and cool decision-making who would be deterred from striking back by the prospect of further attacks.

Since the nuclear agreement of a couple of years ago took the possibility of an Iranian nuke off the table, the lack of clear thinking about deterrence persists with regard to other activity involving Iran.  Iran’s military inferiority and vulnerability vis-à-vis Israel and in some respects its Gulf Arab rivals would deter it from doing all sorts of undesirable things even if it wanted to do them.  The value of deterrence in the other direction also is too infrequently recognized.  Instead of seeking to disable or disarm every Iranian capability in places such as Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq, we should recognize the role of some such capabilities in deterring rivals of Iran from starting new wars and destabilizing the region further. And we should recognize that in any region, a deterrence-based competition that prevents not only the starting of new wars but also the domination of the region by any of the regional competitors is in the best interests of the United States.

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Needed in Syria: Disengagement

Paul Pillar

The case of Iran, which presents a much different set of issues, provides probably the best example of coming to believe our own rhetoric about the other guy supposedly being fanatical and not thinking like the rest of us.  Amid much rhetoric designed to stir up worries about Iran, clear logic about deterrence has been lacking.  Some of what has been ensconced in that rhetoric has been self-contradictory, such as in the argument we heard a few years ago for a military attack as a way to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.  The argument contended, on one hand, that Iranian leaders were too fanatical and irrational to be trusted with nuclear weapons, and that their irrationality meant that deterrence could not be trusted to work.  But on the other hand it contended that after getting attacked by a foreign power, the same Iranian leaders would be models of rationality and cool decision-making who would be deterred from striking back by the prospect of further attacks.

Since the nuclear agreement of a couple of years ago took the possibility of an Iranian nuke off the table, the lack of clear thinking about deterrence persists with regard to other activity involving Iran.  Iran’s military inferiority and vulnerability vis-à-vis Israel and in some respects its Gulf Arab rivals would deter it from doing all sorts of undesirable things even if it wanted to do them.  The value of deterrence in the other direction also is too infrequently recognized.  Instead of seeking to disable or disarm every Iranian capability in places such as Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq, we should recognize the role of some such capabilities in deterring rivals of Iran from starting new wars and destabilizing the region further. And we should recognize that in any region, a deterrence-based competition that prevents not only the starting of new wars but also the domination of the region by any of the regional competitors is in the best interests of the United States.

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The Security Hole in the White House

Paul Pillar

The case of Iran, which presents a much different set of issues, provides probably the best example of coming to believe our own rhetoric about the other guy supposedly being fanatical and not thinking like the rest of us.  Amid much rhetoric designed to stir up worries about Iran, clear logic about deterrence has been lacking.  Some of what has been ensconced in that rhetoric has been self-contradictory, such as in the argument we heard a few years ago for a military attack as a way to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.  The argument contended, on one hand, that Iranian leaders were too fanatical and irrational to be trusted with nuclear weapons, and that their irrationality meant that deterrence could not be trusted to work.  But on the other hand it contended that after getting attacked by a foreign power, the same Iranian leaders would be models of rationality and cool decision-making who would be deterred from striking back by the prospect of further attacks.

Since the nuclear agreement of a couple of years ago took the possibility of an Iranian nuke off the table, the lack of clear thinking about deterrence persists with regard to other activity involving Iran.  Iran’s military inferiority and vulnerability vis-à-vis Israel and in some respects its Gulf Arab rivals would deter it from doing all sorts of undesirable things even if it wanted to do them.  The value of deterrence in the other direction also is too infrequently recognized.  Instead of seeking to disable or disarm every Iranian capability in places such as Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq, we should recognize the role of some such capabilities in deterring rivals of Iran from starting new wars and destabilizing the region further. And we should recognize that in any region, a deterrence-based competition that prevents not only the starting of new wars but also the domination of the region by any of the regional competitors is in the best interests of the United States.

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