United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Panetta: New U.S. Strategy to Counter Iran

            On December 18, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta outlined a new U.S. defense strategy that will counter “the continuing threat from Iran.” If Tehran attempts to close the Straits of Hormuz, “we must be capable of being able to respond decisively,” he said. Panetta also warned that the United States needs to monitor Iran’s development of surveillance drones. The following are excerpts from his remarks at the National Press Club, followed by a link to the full transcript.

            North Korea, Iran continue to pose a proliferation threat and are engaged in activities that are destabilizing Northeast Asia and the Middle East.  The conflict in Syria is bringing a violent end to a regime that harbors a large stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, and extremists seek to destabilize a nuclear-armed Pakistan.  Increasing military spending by rising powers in the Asia Pacific region and turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa are altering the strategic landscape. 
            At the same time, the nature of military conflict is changing because of the new technologies, like cyber and the proliferation of missiles and WMD.  We are seeing potential adversaries -- state and non-state actors alike -- acquire more advanced hybrid and high-end capabilities designed to frustrate the conventional advantages of our armed forces.  This means that the military services must remain vigilant, they must remain strong, they must remain prepared to operate in a way that differs significantly from the past…
            The second element of our defense strategy is to maintain our force projection where we need it, in the Middle East and in the Asia Pacific region.  The Asia Pacific region is, obviously, an area of growing importance to our economy and our security.  And the Middle East, obviously, represents continuing threats to our security, as well.  Even after the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, we have maintained a substantial military presence in the Middle East in order to deter aggression, respond to crisis, ensure regional stability in the face of historic unrest and the continuing threat from Iran…
            The fourth element of the new defense strategy is that we must always remain capable of being able to confront and defeat aggression from more than one adversary at a time anywhere, anytime.  That means if we're engaged in a conflict on the Korean Peninsula and Iran attempts to close the Straits of Hormuz, we must be capable of being able to respond decisively to both locations. 
            With the strategy we've developed, we believe we have that capability.  We're maintaining our ability to simultaneously operate in multiple theaters by investing in critical power projection capabilities, our aircraft carrier fleet, our big-deck amphibious fleet, a new afloat forward staging base, and long-range strike capabilities…
            Having said that, we do have to keep track of other countries that decide to get into the UAV business.  And they are.  Iran, other countries in the Middle East are also beginning to develop that capability.  We have got to be able -- as they do -- to be able to track where those UAVs are and take steps to ensure that -- particularly when it comes to surveillance -- that we can do everything possible to try to make sure that they are not capable of surveilling what -- you know, what they're after.  That requires a lot of technology and development, but it is an area that we are focused on in order to protect ourselves in the future… 
            The real question is, how do we continue to bring pressure on Iran not to take that step?  The international community has come together.  It's come together in a very effective effort to bring sanctions, to bring diplomatic pressure, economic pressure on Iran, to penalize it for its efforts to develop a nuclear capability.  
            And the end result of that is to try to push them to the negotiating table, to try to see if we can resolve these issues diplomatically.  Even the prime minister of Israel has said that when it comes to dealing with Iran, that war ought to be the last option, not the first option, and that we ought to try to exhaust every effort at trying to determine whether or not diplomatically and through negotiations we can resolve this issue.  
            We are now in that effort.  And hopefully, that will be the way we resolve it.  But, please, make no mistake:  If we determine that they are -- have made the decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon, the United States considers that to be a red line.  

Click here for the full transcript.


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