- Since the 1979 revolution, containment has been the default policy of the United States toward Iran. It has never been a policy eagerly embraced by any U.S. administration.
- Containment has had some successes. It has been effective in partially isolating Iran. It has hamstrung Tehran’s efforts to develop a capable military. It has limited Iran’s ability to play an influential role in the geo-politics of southwest Asia. And it has constrained Iran’s economic growth.
- But containment has also had limits. It has not prevented Iran from supporting a wide range of violent extremist groups. Tehran has continued to develop an arsenal of ballistic missiles and a nuclear enrichment program. And the Islamic republic has stoked the instability in several Middle East countries.
- Unless the Iranian regime collapses or evolves into something quite different—or the United States wages a third major war in the Middle East—containment is likely to remain the cornerstone of U.S. policy on Iran for some time.
- Diplomatic efforts to isolate Tehran and enlist as many countries as possible to help the United States in containing Iran.
- Sanctions to prevent Iran from becoming economically or militarily powerful. These have especially focused on preventing or dissuading Iran from acquiring ballistic missiles or weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons.
- Covert action to support various groups inside Iran that have opposed the regime politically and/or militarily.
- “Red Lines,” spelled out either explicitly or implicitly, that would trigger the use of U.S. force if Tehran crossed them.
- Military deployment, such as basing U.S. forces along the Persian Gulf to defend American allies, deter an Iranian attack, and enforce the red lines.
- Many fear that Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear capability could fatally compromise containment. It could eliminate the ultimate deterrent of an American conventional military attack as a restraint on aggressive Iranian efforts to destabilize the Middle East.
- Others believe that making containment work will be more important than ever once Iran achieves a nuclear capability because it will once and for all rule out an American invasion of Iran, but could in turn make Tehran feel more secure in confronting the United States—and therefore less inclined to improve relations.
- A nuclear Iran would create additional challenges for containment by potentially convincing some of Iran’s neighbors to acquire nuclear capabilities of their own.
- It would also create potentially worrisome interactions between Iran and Israel, which might engage in unconventional warfare against each other that would likely provoke dangerous nuclear stand-offs between Jerusalem and Tehran.
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"The Iran Primer"--Book Overview
The world’s most comprehensive website on Iran, “The Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in concise chapters on politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and the nuclear program. It chronicles events under six U.S. presidents. It also has leader bios, timelines, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. Click here for a hardcopy. New articles are added at the top.