US Nuclear Posture Review on Iran

February 5, 2018

On February 2, the U.S. Defense Department released a Nuclear Posture Review at the direction of the Trump administration. The document, a product of a year’s worth of analysis and deliberations across government agencies, describes the roles nuclear weapons play in U.S. national security strategy and gives an assessment of the global security environment. It “reaffirms our commitment to arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, maintains the moratorium on nuclear testing, and commits to improving efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism,” President Trump said. The review highlights Iran as a major proliferation threat and questions “its long-term commitment to foregoing nuclear weapons capability.”

Iranian leaders criticized the characterization of their country’s posture. President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran follows the fatwa (religious decree) of its supreme leader, which states that Islam bans the production and use of weapons of mass destruction. Foreign Minister Zarif said the U.S. review reflected a greater reliance on nuclear weapons “in violation” of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The following are excerpts from the review on Iran with responses from Iranian officials.



Iran, too, poses proliferation threats. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has most recently stated that, “America is the number one enemy of our nation.” While Iran has agreed to constraints on its nuclear program in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), absent extensive international actions many of the agreement’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will end by 2031. In addition, Iran retains the technological capability and much of the capacity necessary to develop a nuclear weapon within one year of a decision to do so. Iran’s development of increasingly long-range ballistic missile capabilities, and its aggressive strategy and activities to destabilize neighboring governments, raises questions about its long-term commitment to foregoing nuclear weapons capability. Were Iran to pursue nuclear weapons after JCPOA restrictions end, pressures on other countries in the region to acquire their own nuclear weapons would increase.

Nuclear terrorism remains a threat to the United States and to international security and stability. Preventing the illicit acquisition of a nuclear weapon, nuclear materials, or related technology and expertise by a violent extremist organization is a significant U.S. national security priority. The more states--particularly rogue states--that possess nuclear weapons or the materials, technology, and knowledge required to make them, the greater the potential risk of terrorist acquisition. Further, given the nature of terrorist ideologies, we must assume that they would employ a nuclear weapon were they to acquire one.


A Tailored Strategy for Iran

Iran views U.S. influence in the Middle East as the foremost threat to Iran’s goal to establish itself as the dominant regional power. Iran is committed to increasing its influence over neighboring countries and countering U.S. influence. This goal directly threatens U.S. allies and partners, and Iran’s defense policy, strategy, and force structure indicate an attempt to create exploitable military advantages.

Iran continues to invest in the largest missile program in the Middle East and could, in the future, threaten or deliver nuclear weapons were Iran to acquire them following expiration of the JCPOA, in violation of the NPT and its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. Iran also is developing other non-nuclear military capabilities, including cruise missile systems and cyber warfare capabilities for offensive operations. It may also continue to invest in chemical and biological weapons. Many of the JCPOA’s key constraints on Iran’s nuclear program end by 2031, shortening the time it would take Iran to produce enough weaponsgrade nuclear material for a nuclear weapon. Iran’s development of increasingly accurate and sophisticated ballistic missiles gives it the capability to threaten U.S. forces, allies, and partners in and outside the region. Were Iran to decide to acquire nuclear weapons, pressures on other countries in the region to acquire their own nuclear weapons would increase.

Our deterrence strategy is designed to ensure that the Iranian leadership understands that any non-nuclear strategic attack against the United States, allies, and partners would be defeated, and that the cost would outweigh any benefits. There is no plausible scenario in which Iran may anticipate benefit from launching a strategic attack. Consequently, U.S deterrence strategy includes the capabilities necessary to defeat Iranian non-nuclear, strategic capabilities, including the U.S. defensive and offensive systems capable of precluding or degrading Tehran’s missile threats. The United States will continue to strengthen these capabilities as necessary to stay ahead of Iranian threats as they grow. Doing so will enhance U.S. security and that of our regional allies and partners.


Non-Proliferation and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

Beyond North Korea looms the challenge of Iran. Although the JCPOA may constrain Tehran’s nuclear program, Iran retains the ability to produce weapons grade uranium for use in a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so. This, combined with Iran’s ongoing missile testing, is a serious concern.

Despite these challenges, the institutions that support the NPT, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, help identify violations, provide evidentiary support for the imposition of multilateral sanctions, and, as is the case with Iran, establish international monitoring and verification capabilities. Perhaps most importantly, strengthening these institutions and the international safeguards system supports verifiable, durable progress on non-proliferation and potentially further negotiations on nuclear reductions if the security environment permits.

Click here for President Trump’s remarks on the review.

Click here for the full review. 

Iranian Response


President Hassan Rouhani


“To strengthen their defense capabilities, the Iranian government and nation have never held and will never hold any talks with any state. On this issue, our stance is resolute and crushing.”

“As said, we press ahead with our defense capabilities only within the fatwa (religious decree) of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution. And we have announced repeatedly that Iran is not after weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because our religion bans us from producing and using such weapons.”

“In a world in which all states are against the WMD, the US officials shamelessly threaten Russia with new nuclear weapons. So, it seems the issue of WMD is still important in the world. Amid such a condition, can anyone talk of peace and coexistence and conclude that we don’t need any defense power? Today, even those countries which condemn WMD as a weapon against humanity are taking these weapons seriously.”

“If we need a special weapon which is not produced inside, we have to purchase it immediately from other states and become so powerful that the enemies would not dare to threaten us. The enemies must realize the fact that any invasion of Iran would have dire consequences for them.”

—Feb 4., 2018 in a speech, according to Iran Front Page News


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi

“With the experience of the eight-year imposed war, Iran will never wait for permission from any country to protect its national security and defend the nation.”

“Iran would never forget the bitter experience of being hit by missiles during the imposed war and the massacre of defenseless people.”

“A powerful Iran is very important not only for the great Iranian nation, but also for peace, stability and security in the region.”

“Undoubtedly, Iran’s ability to foil the conspiracies of global and regional enemies will prevent them from taking any unwise action.”

“In the past hundreds of years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not invaded its neighbors and other countries, and has always been tried to create peace and security in the region.”

—Feb. 4, 2018, in an interview with IRNA, partially translated by Iran Front Page News