Center for Strategic Communication

“The Iranian nuclear program poses one of the most pressing national security challenges confronting the United States today,” writes Stephen Hadley in a new piece for Foreign Policy.

“The purpose of this article,” Hadley notes, “is not to advocate for a particular course of action, but to contribute to the public debate by setting out the full range of plausible approaches to resolving the confrontation between the international community and the Iranian regime over its nuclear program.”

Given Hadley’s previous job as National Security Advisor to former President George W. Bush, his military and diplomatic policy options paper on Iran is well worth the long read.  Hadley’s timely report comes amidst increasing tensions in the Middle East and in the wake of a recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.

Throughout his analysis, Hadley methodically constructs eight policy options which the United States and international community may employ in the standoff with Iran. Rather than diametric opposites however, the policies presented by Hadley are “nested” along a gradated scale of coercion and may be used either as alternatives or in conjunction with one another.

On diplomatic options, Hadley presents several pathways to a negotiated settlement with Iran. These include seeking interim agreements which hold Iran’s nuclear program in relative stasis while substantive discussions continue, as well as a larger diplomatic overture by the international community, forgoing interim steps to achieve a final agreement.

Conversely, Hadley acknowledges that in certain circumstances a military option may be the most prudent course of action. Such circumstances include the failure of negotiations to yield tangible results; the desire to enforce established redlines for Iran; or intelligence indicating an Iranian dash to a bomb.

Military strikes may be limited and covert, targeting only Iranian nuclear facilities, or more overt and expansive, including not only nuclear facilities but also Iranian air defenses and military installations. Through his analysis however, Hadley offers a sobering acknowledgment of the costs associated with military strike, which include: the erosion of international consensus on the current Iran policy, an increase in the popularity of the Iranian regime, and the threat of a wider regional conflagration.

These arguments echo similar assessments of the potential ramifications of a military strike on Iran, including a recent report published by the Iran Project which ASP Nuclear Policy Analyst Mary Kaszynski has analyzed.

In addition to the bipolar extremes of negotiation or military action, Hadley also notes that there are intermediate options. These include setting clear redlines around Iran’s nuclear program, holding it in stasis and communicating expected punishments for Iranian violation of these boundaries; maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran in an attempt to force it to the negotiating table; and accepting a nuclear Iran capable of potentially producing a weapon.

Each of these options however, carries with them conspicuous costs and makes achieving a permanent solution to the standoff increasingly elusive.

Overall, Hadley’s clear and dispassionate analysis of the options available to the United States is a constructive contribution to a debate often skewed by partisan rhetoric and oversimplification.