General Dunford on Challenge of Iran

September 29, 2017
On September 26, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (United States Marine Corps), appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss his reappointment to the grade of general and reappointment to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When asked about the nature of the threat posed by Iran, Dunford said the Islamic Republic “seeks to reduce U.S. influence and become the dominant regional power in the Middle East.” He said that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, “has delayed Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”The following is a video of the hearing with his written responses to advance policy questions on Iran.


What do you consider to be the most significant challenges you expect to face if you are confirmed again?

In today’s extraordinarily dynamic and complex world, the United States faces simultaneous challenges from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and violent extremist organizations. We have made significant progress against ISIS in Iraq and Syria but much work remains to be done. We are also in the midst of a critical transition in Afghanistan. While dealing with these pressing challenges, we are faced with the need to modernize the Joint Force. Over the last decade, sustained operational commitments, budgetary instability, and advances by our adversaries have threatened our ability to project power and resulted in our loss of advantage in key warfighting areas.

In what ways does the U.S. strategy to defeat ISIS take into account the Syrian regime, Iranian-backed forces, and Russia?

As the Defeat ISIS campaign progresses, we find ourselves converging with the Syrian Regime and the pro-Regime, Iranian-backed, and Russian forces supporting them. Our military mission in Syria remains the defeat of ISIS. We have developed deconfliction procedures with the Russian military forces, who then communicate with and can influence the Regime and pro-Regime forces.

Do you believe that the United States and Russia have the same objectives in Syria?

Russia has worked to de-escalate the civil war through the Astana process with Turkey and Iran. However, U.S. and Russian interests diverge in the military and financial support the Russians provide to the Assad Regime in order to prevent a Western-led regime change, support to other elements fighting on behalf of the Syrian Government, and active targeting of Syrian opposition groups, to include groups supported by the U.S., in order to weaken credible opposition to the Assad Regime.

How does U.S. strategy seek to mitigate Iranian malign influence in Iraq?

A strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Iraq is one of our best tools to mitigate Iranian malign influence in Iraq. This is a whole-of-government effort and clearly goes beyond just security cooperation. Another critical component to mitigating Iranian influence is Iraq’s reintegration in the region, highlighted most recently by diplomatic and economic initiatives between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

What is your understanding of the main pillars of the strategy with regard to other countries in the region, in particular Pakistan, India, China, Russia, and Iran?

The new strategy includes building broad consensus for a stable Afghanistan, de-escalating tensions between regional states, and emphasizing regional integration and cooperation. It is critical that Pakistan and other neighboring countries support the legitimate Afghan Government, the United States and NATO missions, and take positive steps to fight terrorism and achieve stability in the region. The strategy places especial emphasis on influencing Pakistan to change its policies which are detrimental to US, NATO, Afghan, and even Pakistan's own interests.
With regard to Iran, the new strategy seeks to counterbalance Iranian influence in Afghanistan while continuing engagement in regional forums and encouraging Iran to support the Afghan Government and overall stability in Afghanistan.

In your view, what is the nature of the threat posed by Iran?

Iran seeks to reduce U.S. influence and become the dominant regional power in the Middle East. Iran tries to achieve its regional objectives by projecting power using proxy forces, supporting Shi'a movements, and promoting pro-Iranian elements throughout the region. Additionally, Iran attempts to deter U.S. action by developing conventional weapons, including advanced missile systems and a more capable naval presence, could be used to threaten the Arabian Gulf region and Strait of Hormuz in the event of conflict.

What is the role of our Armed Forces in countering Iran’s proxy networks specifically, and Iran’s malign influence more broadly, throughout the Middle East?

The role of our Armed Forces in countering Iran's malign influence throughout the Middle East is to support diplomacy, assure key allies and regional partners, and to build partners' capabilities so they can defend themselves against Iranian destabilizing activities. Throughout the broader Middle East, the U.S. Armed Forces maintain the plans, posture, and preparations to assure our partners and respond to Iranian activities and/or those of its proxy network that threaten the interests of the United States.

In your view, is Iran complying with its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)?

The briefings I have received indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations.

Do you believe that the JCPOA has decreased the nuclear threat from Iran?

Yes, the JCPOA has delayed Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

Since the signing of the JCPOA, do you believe there has been any change in Iran’s malign activities?

No, Iran has not changed its malign activity in the region since JCPOA was signed.

If so, why in your view is Russia the greatest threat compared to China, North Korea, Iran, and ISIS?

What currently makes Russia a more formidable threat is its nuclear capability, cyber capabilities, propensity to demonstrate aggressive behavior, and its willingness to employ military force. While North Korea, Iran, and ISIS pose regional as well as global threats, and clearly demonstrate malign influence, none of these pose an existential threat to our Nation. Russia and China are in a different category. They continue to invest in a full-range of modern capabilities, and are capable of engaging the U.S. across the full spectrum of nuclear and conventional conflict.

Should we increase NATO’s defenses against these new ground-based cruise missiles, as well as Russia’s air and sea-launched cruise missiles? Do you believe NATO will accept such defenses? If so, please specifically describe systems being considered.

Russian investments and demonstrated cruise missile capability in the Syrian conflict highlight the need for the United States and NATO to increase defenses against the cruise missile threat. The U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) is examining all threats—North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia—and will address requirements to meet these threats. Based on the BMDR recommendations for regional missile defense, we will work with our NATO allies to determine the defenses required to address Russia's threat systems in Europe.