June 06, 2012

Experts Examine U.S. Policy Impact of Middle East Upheaval, Address Risks of Preventive War with Iran in Two CNAS Studies

Washington, June 6, 2012 - With change sweeping the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran rising, the authors of two new reports released today by the Center for a New American Security address the challenges and opportunities in the region for U.S. policymakers and offer recommendations for mitigating the former and taking advantage of the latter.

In Strategic Adaptation: Toward a New U.S. Strategy in the Middle East, Duke University's Dr. Bruce W. Jentleson, CNAS Senior Fellow Dr. Andrew M. Exum, CNAS Visiting Fellow Melissa G. Dalton and CNAS Researcher J. Dana Stuster argue that the United States must "recalibrate its strategies" to address the sweeping changes that have taken place across the Middle East since January 2011. "The real trap for U.S. strategy in the Middle East," they say, "is denialism - an unwillingness to recognize how profoundly the strategic context has changed and the need for strategies that reflect this changed context."  The authors suggest a course of "strategic adaptation" that would focus on near-term crises - such as the Iranian nuclear weapons program, civil wars in Syria and Yemen and fresh tensions between Israel and Egypt. Their approach also calls for a simultaneous response to regional trends - such as the return of politics to the Arab world, reduced U.S. dependency on the Persian Gulf states and fundamental tensions in the U.S. relationship with Israel - that will affect the region, along with U.S. engagement, for decades to come.

Download Strategic Adaptation: Toward a New U.S. Strategy in the Middle East.

Focusing on the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran and the attendant risks of an Israeli-Iranian confrontation, CNAS experts Senior Fellow Colin Kahl, Visiting Fellow Melissa G. Dalton and Research Associate Matthew Irvine state that preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons should remain an urgent priority, but caution against rushing into preventive war, which, in their view, would risk making the threat worse. In Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel and the Bomb, the authors argue that despite the abhorrent threats by some Iranian leaders to "wipe Israel off the map," the actual behavior of the Islamic Republic over the past three decades indicates that the regime "is not suicidal" and is unlikely to deliberately use nuclear weapons, or transfer a nuclear device to terrorists to use, against Israel.  However, they point out that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a much more dangerous adversary, probably increasing its lethal support to proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas and committing more brazen acts of terrorism abroad. "[U]ntil Iran appears poised to weaponize its nuclear capability," the authors recommend that "the emphasis should remain on using economic pressure and diplomacy to convince the Iranians to change course." They conclude that all options, including preventive military action, should remain on the table, but force should be seen as a last resort, should be contemplated only by the United States and should be employed only under stringent conditions.

Download Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel and the Bomb.

Exum and Jentleson will also discuss their report at the CNAS annual conference on Wednesday, June 13 during a session on U.S. Strategy in the Middle East after the Arab Spring. Kahl will speak during a session on National Security Strategy for the Next Decade. Learn more about the conference and register here. The conference will also be webcast live starting at 8:45 a.m. EDT on June 13.

Stay up to date on all CNAS news and events by following @CNASdc on Twitter and visiting us on FacebookStrategic Adaptation and Risk and Rivalry are also available online here in e-reader and Kindle format on June 13.

For all press inquiries, contact Deputy Director of External Relations Sara Conneighton at (202) 457-9429 or sconneighton@cnas.org


The Center for a New American Security(CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.

Press Contacts:

Kay King
Director of External Relations
and Senior Advisor
Email: kking@cnas.org
Ph: (202) 457-9408

Sara Conneighton
Deputy Director of External Relations
Email: sconneighton@cnas.org
Ph: (202) 457-9429