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In Pursuit of a Shield: US, Missile Defence and the Iran Threat

S. Samuel C. Rajiv is Associate Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • IDSA Monograph Series No. 9
    2012

    The US has taken missile defence measures like the ‘Third Site’ plan and the ‘Phased Adaptive Approach’ in Middle East/West Asia and in Europe in order to counter and/or hedge against the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities and concerns generated by its nuclear programme. The US pursuit has had significant strategic consequences as well as repercussions for regional stability. The former include Russia’s unresolved strategic issues and its continuing ‘strategic defiance’ and China’s nuclear force modernisation driven in part by the need to overcome the presumed vulnerability of its ‘limited’ deterrent in the face of US missile defence assets. Among the latter include the complexity of Iran’s relationship with Turkey, enhanced US-Israel missile defence cooperation, and the procurement of sophisticated missile defence assets by countries of the GCC.

    Iran has pursued ballistic missiles development and procurement (as well as its nuclear weapons programmes according to critics) as part of its asymmetric strategy in order to counter the vulnerabilities posed to its strategic well-being on account of US encirclement, and as cost- and militarily-effective instruments to compensate for its shortcomings in force levels vis-à-vis its neighbours and its own resource constraints for building effective conventional forces. The Iranians have been developing these technologies for nearly three decades but they have still not acquired the capability of hitting the US homeland. Its capabilities to effectively target much of Europe are also constrained by the limitations of its current inventory of largely inaccurate and vulnerable liquid-fuelled intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Iran’s growing capabilities in short-range missiles particularly cruise missiles though constitute a ‘tactical nuisance’ for the US and its allies in the region.

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