Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Student Risk of War Analysis: US-Iran

As part of my IR 315: Peace and Conflict Course I had students conduct a Risk of War analysis of a dangerous dyad according to the Simple Risk Barometer developed in Steps to War by Paul Senese and John A. Vasquez. In this series I will upload to the blog the ones I felt were the best. The goal is to show that with some training anyone can use Steps to War to get a handle on current events and the likelihood of war. 

United States of America-Iran
Derya Saygili

US-Iran relations were tense especially since the Iranian Revolution. This dyad seems to be worrisome due to the concerns over the nuclear proliferation of Iran by US. And since the Syrian War broke out, the stance of US and Iran in that matter is opposite. All these events could be worrisome, but it does not necessarily mean a war between this dyad is of high chance. We can explain this by looking at simple risk barometer for war and can further explain the context of what has been happening between the two states on recent issues. 

According to Simple Risk Barometer for War, created by Senese and Vasquez, there are four basic steps to war: A presence of a territorial dispute is very important, if countries in question has outside allies, how frequent are MIDs; meaning if it is repetitious within 6 or 20 years and if an arms race is present between the two countries (2008).

If four of these steps are present, then escalation of war is quite likely. Below are the data collected about USA-Iran dyad in order to apply it to the Simple Risk Barometer for War.

Presence in USA-IRAN Case
Prior MIDs
·         Last USA-Iran MID in the data took place in 2009
·         Overall 7 disputes
Mutual Military Buildup
·         Last mutual buildup in 2006
·         Overall 3 directly proportional military buildups in the data
·         No rivalry going on in the data
Strategic Rivalry
·         None observed in the data
Issue Claims                       
·         None observed in the data
Outside Alliances
·         None observed in Alliance Treaty Provisions Project

Overall, it can be observed that this dyad does not completely fulfill all steps to war. There are indeed more than six disputes within six years, and some mutual military buildups are present. The risk level thus is barely two, because military buildups are difficult to explain most of the time. The data available showed no outside alliances, claims over issues and rivalry. 

The Syrian War has many impacts on various states. Iran and US have rather conflicting places within this strife. Very briefly, today US supports moderate rebels and Kurds while fighting with IS/ISIS and seeks a regime change in Syria. In this conflict, US faces many obstacles and they come from external actors: most importantly Russia and Iran. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime and see it as the legitimate power in Syria. 

The alliance between Syria and Iran originate from various reasons. The most evident one is, Iran being a Shiite majority nation and want to see Assad maintain power because of that. But this alone is not enough for Iran to help Syria. The fall of Assad would mean a strategic setback and a limitation of Iran’s Levantine reach. For Iran, Syria is a reliable ally and a strategic partner. The fall of Assad affects Iran more than any other parties involved due to Assad being “primary instrument of deterrence and retaliation against Israel and the US.”  (Hokayem, 2014). Russia’s presence also serves the purpose of Iran. Since they are on the same page about the regime in Syria, Russia does not corner Iran on this matter too much and sometimes even give help. Some rumors include Russia giving Iran the S-300 mobile air defense system (Jenkins, 2016).

All these developments restrain US’s influence over the issue. US in this case probably will stick with same course of action hoping a diplomatic solution would emerge. As for Iran, US’s best hope to implement sanctions in order to isolate Iran and eventually invite for a negotiation for that matter. 

Overall, the war in Syria tense the relationship between US and Iran. But as long as US refrain from direct action against Iran and pursue negotiations, the likelihood of a war between them is low. 

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed in 2015 between the E3+3 and P5+11 and Iran. The nature of the deal is ensuring “Iranian nuclear programme is developed for civilian and non-military purposes by asking Iran to cease its uranium and plutonium enrichment, and to authorize inspections and checks carried out by nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear sites.”  (Viaud, 2016). The proggrame also includes embargos to prevent spread of offensive weapons, but also lifting of US and EU economic sanctions to Iran by January 2016. 

And this year, in January 16th, it had been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has completed necessary steps which ensures Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful (2016). Not all sanctions were lifted and if some complications occur they will put back in place. 

Overall, this deal is incomplete and the change in government in US may affect its implementation. But, at the same time, this shows a growing custom of negotiation between two countries. It can be inferred they may go for a negotiation rather than military conflict in face of a disagreement.

By looking at Simple Risk Barometer for War we can say that there is a low probability for war between US and Iran. The data available showed no rivalry, issue claims or outside alliances between the two states. 
On the other hand, the situation in Syrian War provides a worrisome view since US and Iran stand on different grounds on the issue. But so far US showed more negotiation based attitude on the issue. As an addition, there is a chance that US would focus more on Russia rather than Iran in a crisis situation. 
The Iran Deal, although incomplete, indicates if there is a crisis between two parties, negotiations and sanctions are to be made before an armed conflict. 
Reflecting upon these, it can be said that a war between Iran and US is ,not infeasible, unlikely.

Hokayem, E. (2014). Iran, the Gulf States and the Syrian Civil War. Survival, 59-86.
Jenkins, J. (2016). A tragedy without end: as the civil war rages on, Syria has become a theatre for great-power rivalry, with Russia and Iran turning cynical opportunism into high policy. New Statesman, 23-26.
Senese, P. D., & Vasquez, J. A. (2008). The Steps to War: An Emprical Study. Princeton University Press.
Viaud, A. (2016). The Iran nuclear deal. Egmont - Royal Institute for International Relations.

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