The New U.S. Maritime Strategy: Taking on China's Rising Military Might

The Buzz

The revised version of the US maritime strategy (A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower - CS-21R), released last month, has been generating excitement in maritime circles. The new document updates concepts and strategies in the original 2007 document (CS-21) to make them more relevant in the current maritime environment. It is especially valuable for clearly identifying Chinese assertiveness as a threat, for making existing strategy more relevant, and for providing specific ways to guide operational thinking in strategic scenarios.

From an Asian perspective, the document's release is timely. Not only has the US been expanding the scope of its operations with Asian littoral states, regional maritime forces have been grappling with a complex set of challenges. To its credit, the new maritime strategy attempts to comprehensively address the entire spectrum of nautical issues, pulling together diverse strands such as nationalistic posturing in the Asia-Pacific, nontraditional security challenges in the broader maritime littorals, new technologies complicating security responses, and even fiscal prudence as a key consideration in planning future maritime operations.

Like its predecessor, the new document underscores maritime cooperation as the foundational principle of effective maritime security. However, departing from the earlier version's articulation of the concept as a kind of doctrinal "end" in itself, CS-21R presents maritime cooperation and transnational partnerships as a strategic imperative in achieving long-term security objectives. This difference, although marginal, is instructive because it implies a greater keenness on the part of the US Navy (USN) to engage and involve partner-navies in its maritime endeavors. Consequently, the new document advocates a more purposeful engagement with allies and partners to achieve greater synergy in security operations.

(RecommendedExposed: China's Super Strategy to Crush America in a War)

The most noticeable aspect of the CS-21R is its clear acknowledgement of China as a key challenge. Unlike its predecessor, the new document candidly recognizes China's maritime expansion and territorial claims as a source of regional unrest. But it stops short of recognizing China's A2/AD challenge, desisting from making the all-important link, even as it pronounces "all-domain access" as a strategic prerequisite to all its global endeavors. Yet, it raises the possibility of nautical strife arising from the military resurgence of another Asia-Pacific power, Russia. Since traditional challenges are only likely to grow, the document projects "forward presence" as the bedrock of the USN's future security undertakings. The authors explain the need for a joint force to gain and sustain security operations, even as they emphasize flexibility, adaptability, scalability and integration in the sea services.

The CS-21R makes clear that while the United States is exporting more energy than it imports, it remains tied to the global economy. Since the latter remains wholly dependent on the uninterrupted supply of oil and gas from the Middle East and Central Asia, the USN would continue to play an important role in securing oil-flows by forward deploying in key theatres. Oddly, however, the emphasis on forward operations isn't borne out by the dim prospects of future growth in naval force levels. According to the authors, the USN's current budget submission provides for just about 300 ships, of which 120 will be forward deployed by 2020. This is a marginal rise from current force levels - leading to some doubts whether the Navy will at all be able to sustain forward presence in critical areas of operations.

(Recommended: Revealed: Why China Would Lose a War against America)

The new maritime strategy, however, offers some pointers in terms of operational imperatives and trends. The emphasis on cyber warfare, electro-magnetic spectrum operations, battle-space awareness and cross-domain synergy is a useful illustration of the evolving needs of contemporary naval engagement. It is also a reminder that even as navies learn to operate in a climate of financial hardship, they must utilize available means innovatively to effectively tackle nontraditional and regular challenges simultaneously.

Equally interesting, from an Asian perspective, is the introduction of the term "Indo-Asia-Pacific" - an integrated region where the "US Rebalance" is meant to play out. While the document announces a new policy aimed at positioning approximately 60 percent of Navy ships and aircraft in the said region, it does not make a case for distributing resources equally in the Western Pacific and broader Indian Ocean. With increased assets in Japan, Guam, Singapore, and Australia, it is clear the thrust of the Navy's operational focus continues to be in the Pacific theatre.

To be sure, the CS-21R's framers devote renewed attention to regions that were neglected in the previous version. But it doesn't appear entirely plausible. For instance, the reappearance of Europe and Middle East as theatres of strategic attention - though well-reasoned, as a contingency occasioned by the USN's need to operate in the Mediterranean, the Levant and Northwest Asia - seems like an exercise in box-checking.  It is unclear how the US intends to provide security around the Eurasian landmass while forward deploying a majority of its operational assets in the Pacific.

(Recommended: Five American Weapons of War China Should Fear)

The document's exposition of naval power projection as a form of "smart power" is noteworthy, particularly the notion that classical naval capabilities can be used in benign missions such as HADR (as demonstrated by the USN during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines). It is also noteworthy that the document expands the US Coast Guard (USCG) role in maritime security. Underlining the USCG's stellar contribution in building partner-state capacity for maritime governance, the authors announce the coast guard as the lead agency responsible for security in the Western hemisphere. The raised profile of the USCG also raises the possibility that the service could support conventional maritime operations in the Eastern Pacific during a conflict with China.

Ironically, the only noticeable gray-area in CS-21R - apart from the issue of squaring budgets with resources - involves China. The PLA-Navy is growing in size and will soon be the largest presence in the Asia-Pacific region. From a strategy of area-denial the Chinese navy might soon move to one of area-dominance (worryingly not just in the Pacific but also in the Indian Ocean). That means that the US will need to counter China's A2/AD strategy in its near-waters and be prepared to defeat PLAN forces in the far-seas. With its existing force levels in the region, however, it seems unlikely the USN will have the capability for both sea-control and active war-fighting.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the South China Sea, where the US and its allies are involved in a power struggle with China. Washington realizes its limitations, which is why the "Air-Sea Battle" concept has been recently recast as the "Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver," presumably in a bid to make it seem less confrontational to China. In fact, the USN has not only toned down rhetoric on countering China's A2/AD complex, it has also been building a closer relationship with the PLAN. Not surprisingly, the new maritime strategy highlights Beijing's efforts to be a responsible maritime player, extolling its support for Somalia counter-piracy operations, the PLAN's HADR missions, and participation in multinational naval exercises, and the signing of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) that has served to reduce suspicion in maritime Asia.

For Asian analysts, there is much to be gleaned from CS-21R. Its characterization of the emerging maritime dynamic in the Asia-Pacific is apt and holds revealing lessons for other navies. But it is Washington's willingness to articulate a strategy that identifies Chinese assertiveness as a threat that is most refreshing, especially since earlier documents sought to tip-toe around the contentious subject. In fact, now that the US has clearly called out the China threat, other Asia-Pacific powers might be encouraged to follow suit in the revision of their own maritime strategies.

In the pursuit of the objectives laid out in the new maritime strategy, the Indian navy (IN) is likely to be a key partner. But New Delhi is aware that Washington's dependence on regional states is growing. There will be a stronger demand by the USN for high-end collaboration with the Indian navy. So far, India has parried US efforts to link IN-USN cooperation to larger issues of global balance of power. But increasingly, there is a sense that India is expected to not just shoulder a larger proportion of the security workload in the Indian Ocean, but also partner with the US in limiting China's freedom of action in the broader Indo-Pacific. The message in the new maritime strategy is clear: "load-sharing" is now the animating ideology of the USN's concept of collaborative operations and it applies to both irregular and traditional forms of security.

The CS-21R is a credible attempt to refine an existing strategy to make it more relevant to the times. It gives practitioners concrete tangibles to guide operational thinking in strategic scenarios. But it honestly acknowledges that the US isn't the sole arbiter of maritime security in the global commons.

Abhijit Singh is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) at New Delhi and specializes in maritime security affairs. This piece first appeared in the CSIS: PACNET Newsletter here.

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

America's Not-So-Ultimate Weapon: Economic Warfare

Paul Pillar

The roots and manifestations of American exceptionalist thinking go way back. One of those manifestations is the use of economic measures as a weapon intended to coerce or deny. The specific thinking involved is that such measures employed by the United States, and even the United States alone, should be enough to induce or force change in other countries. The thinking is solipsistic insofar as it centers narrowly on the idea of American will and the exercise of American power and, as too often has been the case, pays insufficient attention either to the other nation's motivations or to what damage or denial the United States is inflicting on itself.

More than two centuries ago the young American republic made one of its first big attempts at such economic warfare. The Embargo Act of 1807 shut down U.S. overseas trade in an attempt to get the warring European powers Britain and France to respect U.S. neutrality. President Thomas Jefferson's intentions were honorable in that he genuinely sought neutrality in the European war—unlike so many today who, if they see an armed conflict going on somewhere in the world, believe it necessary for the United States to take sides even if there are bad guys on more than one side. Jefferson also saw the embargo as an alternative to war rather than a prelude to it—unlike many today, who are both sanctions hawks and military hawks.

But the embargo was a miserable failure on all counts. Prosecuting war in Europe with all means available was much more important to Britain and France than was anything that the American republic could do to them. The economic damage to the United States was severe, especially in New England, which sank into depression. And the United States would eventually wind up going to war anyway, against Britain in 1812. Realizing the mistake, Jefferson signed a repeal of the embargo in the closing days of his presidency in 1809.

With the American economy and American power having expanded over the subsequent 200 years, the temptation to think in terms of American denial of trade being an all-powerful tool has become all the greater. But the thinking is still erroneous, as demonstrated by the miserable failure of the half-century-old embargo against Cuba. That embargo has caused no favorable change in Cuban policies or politics, and probably has only retarded what change would have been taking place for other reasons. Economically it has not caused another depression in New England, but the fact that it has been a negative for the U.S. economy is reflected in support by U.S. business interests, as represented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for change in policy toward Cuba. President Obama deserves credit for bringing about as much change as it is in his power to effect, but the embargo itself will not come down until the U.S. Congress displays changed thinking too.

The president also deserves similar credit for a redirection of policy on Iran, but there also is a similar solipsistic, sanctions-happy attitude in Congress that applies to Iran. That attitude persists despite the substantial damage to the U .S. economy from those sanctions, the years of a sanctions-centered approach having failed to achieve any positive results until there was also engagement and negotiation, and the self-contradictory nature of the stated purposes for keeping those sanctions in place.

The obsessive persistence of this attitude (besides, to be sure, the malign influence of other factors, such as an oppose-anything-Obama-does mindset) is demonstrated by Republican presidential candidates, including the just-declared Marco Rubio, saying that they would, if elected president, re-impose whatever sanctions had been suspended or lifted in accordance with any agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. The biggest question about such a pledge is why, if Iran had by that time complied for three years with severe restrictions on its program, any U.S. president would want to demolish all those restrictions on the Iranian program (because that's what deal-killing sanctions would do) and allow the Iranians to expand their nuclear activities as fast as they wanted. The further question about the sanctions themselves is how they could be expected to have any effect at all when the United States would be clearly responsible for killing the deal and when the rest of the world, operating under a new United Nations resolution, would have moved on toward doing normal business with Iran. The rest of the world includes our closest European allies—as Britain and France, among others, would help to write another chapter in America's unflattering history of ill-advised economic warfare. The United States would be left as lonely and feckless as it has been with the embargo against Cuba.

If even Thomas Jefferson screwed up on this subject, perhaps it's too much to expect today's politicians to do much better, although they do have a lot more national experience to go on. And Jefferson realized his mistake and corrected it much more quickly than what we've seen happening in Congress on Cuba and Iran.

Oh, and there's that issue about the danger of war. Given the way the Iranian nuclear issue has been playing out, the risk of a war occurring in the wake of a destruction by the United States of the negotiated agreement on the subject is probably even greater than the risk that impressment of seamen and other maritime issues posed leading up to war in 1812.

Image: Flickr.                         

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East Latin America

This Country Is 'Sandwiched' Between America and China

The Buzz

South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se has been defending remarks in a speech to the Korean diplomatic corps that characterized South Korea's position between China and the United States as a "great blessing" and emphasized the "strategic ambiguity" of his government's policies. Washington has been pressing Seoul to consent to deployment of a sophisticated missile defense system on South Korean soil, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), while Beijing has been trying to persuade Seoul to join its project, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as a founding member (Seoul agreed on March 26).

South Korea is sandwiched between these two great powers, but rather than seeing this as a dilemma, Yun sees a great diplomatic and strategic opportunity for Korea, as a middle power with significant autonomy, to affect the policies of the superpowers for the benefit of the whole region. Yun's remarks signal a new and constructive approach, which is welcome. Yet his use of the phrase "great blessing" has provoked a backlash among political and diplomatic commentators because South Korean opinion is polarized about THAAD deployment and about joining the AIIB. Will THAAD work? Is a multiple-interception structure necessary to protect the US and South Korean militaries? Is it worth the diplomatic fallout? Are China's proposals - to rehabilitate its traditional Silk Road routes and integrating them with maritime routes connecting the Korean Peninsula to Europe - timely and plausible?

South Korea's Interests

South Korea should explore new markets and investment opportunities: its factories in China - making cars, phones, and other goods - face rising labor costs so it is natural to look further afield. And of course, South Korea should continue to sustain regional peace and stability through its security alliance with the US, not least to deter North Korean threats, from weapons of mass destruction to cyber-attacks. South Korea has only recently begun to appreciate the leverage it has as a middle power and to implement appropriate policies, for example Trustpolitik, the Eurasia Initiative, and the Korean Peninsula Process known as the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI).

Through such policies, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has made a good, if rather belated, start. She is now pursuing middle-power diplomacy with neighboring countries and with the US. Inevitably, however, Seoul will be pulled in two directions: both China, as the emerging power, and the US, as a relatively declining power, have a strong interest in shaping South Korea as a pliant and predictable actor, but South Korea can and must continue to build its capacity to act autonomously.

A Balanced Foreign Policy

South Korea's greatest long-term strategic challenge is how to maintain the US alliance, with its Cold War origins and legacies, while a second great power emerges as a rival to the US. In attempting to manage this issue, Korean policy-makers must consider the best advice from shrewd and experienced analysts, taking into account national security, economics, and international relations. Recent heated disputes have highlighted the difficulties. If the transition is to be managed through a balanced foreign policy that articulates strategic ambiguity then, so far as possible, each great power should be "ambiguously accommodated." Some have derided this strategy as "premature appeasement" in regard to China but Yun's recent remarks have focused attention on questions that need to be considered in an era of geopolitical transition.

The "great blessing" debate can be distilled to three questions. First, is China's rise real and permanent? Second, does this mean that US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific will become unsustainable? And third, given the expected increase in China's relative power and the unpredictability of tensions between China and the US, is it better for South Korea to stand firm in its strategic position, as Japan is doing, or to hedge its bets by at least partially accommodating China?

Yun has highlighted the position of Park's government. He believes that Seoul's strategic cooperative partnership with Beijing is strong enough to withstand disturbances arising from Seoul's attempts to nurture its security relationship with Washington, so that a dangerous crisis is unlikely. He also assumes that South Korea can and must remain on good terms with both great powers; it should pursue South Korea's own interests, and scrupulously refrain from any partisan alignment. Yun appears to conclude that Seoul has an opportunity to develop more autonomy through the rise in Chinese power and influence. He believes that by not taking a definite position in the struggle between the two superpowers South Korea can avoid ending up on the losing side, though perhaps incurring the displeasure of one or both.

The Burden of Ambiguity

An earlier attempt at balancing China and the US by Roh Moo-hyun was unsuccessful since he was widely regarded as anti-American. Yun's approach is much more plausible, however, and has much to recommend it, though it will not be an easy path to follow. He proposes to escape the strategic dilemma of choosing one of the great powers by playing them against each other. But such a stance must be driven by the issues of the day, and will always be a difficult and unstable burden for South Korea. For example, THAAD deployment could be interpreted as a quid pro quo for South Korea's joining the AIIB; but any attempts to treat China and the US equivalently will always be subject to criticism from both. What concessions are appropriate in any given situation will remain contentious: too little will be judged unsatisfactory, and too much might destabilize the entire region by providing a critical advantage to one great power. Nevertheless, South Korea's current position offers new opportunities: it is a great blessing, not an intractable dilemma.

This piece first appeared in the CSIS: PACNET Newsletter here.

Image: US Government. 

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

The Ultimate Nightmare: A Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East

The Buzz

If the framework announced in Switzerland on April 2 regarding Iran's nuclear program and detailed in a US State Department Fact Sheet is successfully carried forward to an agreed Plan of Action (due to be concluded by June 30), it will be a major achievement.

But it should not be seen as the end of the process. It is a definitive step, but it will need to be followed by a number of concrete actions before we can consider that the Iranian nuclear problem has been resolved.

If the deal is agreed in June, and if it is faithfully implemented, it will give all parties – Iran, its neighbors, and the wider international community – 15 years of breathing space. It is essential to use this time effectively to ensure the deal doesn't just kick the can down the road. During this period decisions need to be made by Iran and others to ensure that the Middle East does not end up in a South Asia-style nuclear arms race.

It is by no means a forgone conclusion that Iran wants nuclear weapons, though Iran no doubt believes that having the capability to produce nuclear weapons within a relatively short time – what is termed nuclear hedging – has major strategic value. It is essential to ensure that the consequences for crossing the threshold remain high enough to deter Iran from doing so. This will require the US to keep a high level of engagement in Middle East affairs for the foreseeable future.

But having Iran maintain “just” a hedging posture cannot be considered a good outcome – we have already seen some of Iran's neighbors wanting to develop nuclear programs that will give them a similar capability. A situation of strategic competition in nuclear capability will be destabilizing for the Middle East.

With the problem of hedging in mind, an objective earlier in these negotiations was to establish the principle that Iran's uranium enrichment capability should be directly linked to its demonstrated nuclear fuel needs. In current circumstances these needs are zero, because Russia is willing to supply fuel for the lifetime of Iran's only power reactor, at Bushehr. For the future, Iran says it plans a number of reactors, both imported (Russia has agreed to build eight, and would supply the fuel) and indigenous.

But there is a dilemma in pushing the capability-not-exceeding-needs argument: the scale of any power generation need is much greater than Iran's existing capability. Enrichment capability is measured in separative work units (SWU). Currently Iran has installed enrichment centrifuges totaling around 20,000 SWU, and is operating centrifuges totaling around 8000 SWU. Iran's main enrichment facility, at Natanz, has room for 50,000 centrifuges – between 40,000 SWU (based on Iran's first generation centrifuges) and perhaps 250,000 SWU if using more advanced models. This compares with the capacity required to produce the annual fuel requirements for just one Bushehr-size reactor, around 120,000 SWU (and three times this to produce the initial fuel load). Only 5000 SWU are required to produce sufficient HEU (highly enriched uranium) for one nuclear weapon.

So, the scale of a “legitimate” enrichment program easily dwarfs Iran's current program. This could be why the capacity/needs principle was dropped from the negotiations. But it is an important principle, and it should never be accepted that nuclear hedging is a legitimate purpose under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for a “peaceful” nuclear program. The last thing anyone – including Iran – would want is a proliferation of enrichment or reprocessing programs. It is essential for the international community to use the 15-year breathing space to address this problem of nuclear hedging.

In this regard the most useful action would be to establish a system of international nuclear fuel supply guarantees so no country can claim it needs an enrichment program to ensure security of supply. Where new enrichment (or reprocessing) programs do proceed, these should not be national programs but controlled on a regional or international basis. Convincing alternatives are needed to show Iran and other prospective newcomers that they have no legitimate reason for pursuing a national program in proliferation-sensitive technologies.

Another essential project to pursue during the breathing space is a Middle East WMD-free zone. Iran must be persuaded that the best way of ensuring its long-term national security is not through nuclear capability but through the establishment of such a zone, a point recently made by Saudi Arabia. If Iran pursues nuclear weapons, or a stronger hedging posture, its current advantage will erode over time as others pursue the same. Eventually Iran will find itself with nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable neighbors, and its strategic circumstances will be substantially worse than anything it can imagine today.

The same challenge confronts Israel. If others in the region become nuclear armed or even just nuclear capable, the strategic advantage Israel now enjoys will disappear. It would be very risky to rely on nuclear deterrence in these circumstances. For Israel as well as Iran, a WMD-free zone offers the best long-term future. This means that eventually Israel will have to divest itself of nuclear weapons. This may seem unthinkable today, but a future where others in the region also have nuclear weapons is even more unthinkable. Others in the region must be realistic; Israel cannot be expected to disarm as a pre-condition for a WMD-free zone. But Israel must be prepared to think in terms of a phased approach, disarming in stages as a WMD-free zone is established and is shown to be effective.

The Iran deal may present a 15-year breathing space, but the negotiating parties (the P5+1) cannot afford to rest on their laurels. To resolve the challenges discussed here will require a program of work every bit as intensive as over the past several years.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsDefense RegionsMiddle East

The Real Iran Nuclear Dilemma No One Is Talking About

The Buzz

In 2003, a “perfect storm” of intersecting developments saw Tehran caught with one hand in the nuclear weapon cookie jar (secretly enriching uranium), despite having joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and given assurances that it would do no such thing. The Iranian regime was humiliated.

India and Pakistan had endured sustained condemnation when they declared their nuclear-armed status via a blizzard of tests in 1998, but they were known proliferation risks and had declined to join the NPT. Even the DPRK—not a state that anyone wants to be compared to—had gone through the formality of withdrawing from the NPT in April 2003, to (redundantly) signal its intent to pursue a nuclear weapon capability.

Iran opted to bluff its way through. Tehran steadfastly denied that it had an obligation to restore confidence in its compliance with the NPT. It insisted that everything the IAEA could discover was consistent with its intention to build a substantial network of nuclear power stations. It maintained that it was also exercising its rights under the NPT to acquire its own capacities to fuel its future reactors with enriched uranium and (potentially) plutonium. For its part, the US insisted that Iran had to get out of the enrichment business.

Twelve years later, on April 2, 2015, negotiators from China, France, Germany, Russian, America and Iran announced agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concerning special arrangements to bolster confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful in intent and that it has no aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons. The JCPOA—details of which can be found here—is commendably comprehensive, addressing both the enriched uranium and plutonium paths to the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

Enrichment capacity will be cut by two-thirds and technological development precluded for 10 years; stocks of low-enriched uranium are set to be reduced to token levels for 15 years; the IAEA will have enhanced visibility of and access to Iranian nuclear facilities to verify compliance with the new agreement.

The central bargain may well have been Iran’s acceptance of the need for “special arrangements” with the US conceding retention of an enrichment capacity, albeit on that’s circumscribed. If one looks at the key players, the regional context over recent decades and the broader global developments on the nuclear weapon front, easily the most surprising thing about this agreement is that it happened at all.

Support for the agreement, generally on arms control grounds, has been qualified while opposition to it has been markedly more absolute and trenchant. The Australian’s Greg Sheridan  called the deal “a dismal outcome for the world” as the restraints on Iran’s nuclear activities are either reversible or expire after 10–15 years while economic sanctions, once lifted, are unlikely to be re-imposed if Iran misbehaves.

Henry Kissinger and George Shultz share Sheridan’s disappointment, contending that the deal won’t stop Iran’s nuclear potential from stoking anxieties in the Arab world that, in the final analysis, Washington will have to deal with. They stress that Iranian–Arab rivalries have been shaped over millennia, making a decade of restraint of little consequence to Arab states.

Coming to a comfortable judgement on the utility of this deal is not easy. But most criticisms fail to consider what alternative courses of action were both feasible and likely to deliver better outcomes. If abandoning enrichment had been made non-negotiable, the options might have been continual intensification of economic sanctions—with the mounting risk that Russia and China would trigger either a break in the ranks—or the use of force.

America still has unique capacities to attract support and make things happen, but it’s relative power and room for maneuver, including on the home front, isn’t what it used to be. Even the use of force could only delay an Iran determined to acquire nuclear weapons. The fact is that the character of the non-proliferation challenge has been transformed.

Acquiring nuclear weapons is not a trivial undertaking but neither is it any longer a massive, complex challenge fraught with uncertainty and the risk of failure. The decision of whether Iran becomes a nuclear-armed state rests entirely in their hands, just as it does for a significant number of other countries around the world, including Australia.

If Iran remains a non-nuclear weapons state indefinitely, it’ll be because that’s its preference. Many factors (and states) will shape the outcome on this question, not just Washington and not just this agreement.

The JCPOA is an interim agreement. Many crucial details—not least concerning the verification arrangements and the lifting of sanctions—still have to be thought through, agreed, and expressed in clear language before June 30, 2015.

Iran’s supreme leader has already tried to pre-empt the process, signaling that he’s prepared to walk away from the deal if any agreement on June 30 doesn’t provide for the immediate and complete lifting of sanctions. But if a deal can be finalized without distorting the integrity of the package, it should make a positive difference. Certainly, it is hard to see how it would make things worse.

This piece first appeared in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) blog The Strategist here

TopicsDefense RegionsMiddle East