Tags: A2/AD, DRPK, Hassan Rowhani, Iran, Kim JĹng-Ĺn, maritime dominance
In the wake of Hassan Rowhaniâs landslide victory as Iran’s new president, some foreign policy mavens now believe that Rowhaniâs presidency may augur a positive shift in Iranâs hitherto hostile policy towards the West. However, despite a glimmer of hope that Rowhaniâs election may translate into moderate policies towards the West,Â others have âadopted a cautious âwait-and-seeâ posture,â citing Rowhaniâs past affiliation with the Ayatollah.
For East Asian experts, Rowhaniâs election warrants attention because it remains to be seen whether Iran will retain its current alliance with Kim JĹng-Ĺn even if it chooses to reconcile with the West. After all, some have alleged thatÂ Iran has played a major role in the DPRKâs successful testing of its ĹŹnha-3 rocket last December. More importantly, Rowhaniâs future stance towards the West deserves attention because it may determine whether or not the United States must revise its strategy to adapt to new geostrategic realities. Indeed, it can be argued that the aforementioned factors are not mutually exclusive but intricately intertwined.
Some foreign policy mavens have construed recent events in the Korean peninsula and Iran as encouraging âgame-changers.â After all, both Koreas have begun talks to ratchet down the ongoing tension. Furthermore, experts on Iran agree that Rowhaniâs victory was prompted by a universal desire for positive change after years of economic hardships and political repression under Ahmedinejad.
However, geostrategic realities on the Korean peninsula and in the Persian Gulf may be more complex than they appear. On the Korean peninsula, the two Korean states evinced deep-seated rancor and mutual distrust in their latest talk held at PâanmunjĹm despite having reached an agreement to reopen the KaesĹng Industrial Complex. As Miha Hribernik and I wrote previously, âShould miscommunication problems and distrust persist, the consequences for the Korean Peninsula and the regional security environment may be dire.â As for Iran, it has recently claimed to have improved the accuracy of its ASBM, the Khalij-e Fars (Persian Gulf). Further, Rowhaniâs election may have little effect on Iranâs existing nuclear policy because ultimately, âit is Khamenei who will make the final decision on the nuclear program.â In other words, both the DPRK and Iran may continue their existing partnership, or even lash out against the United States, if they believe that their collective interests are threatened.
So how can the United States successfully recalibrate its existing strategy in ways that reflect current geostrategic realities in the Persian Gulf and on the Korean peninsula? Dealing with the DPRK and Iran may require a flexible combination of deft diplomacy on one hand, and a show of strength on the other. In simple terms, the United States should âspeak softly and carry a big stickâ when dealing with future threats posed by the DPRK-Iran alliance.
Diplomacy may be the best option that the Obama Administration has to proactively deter the two âoutlierâ states from coalescing. Indeed, Vali Nasr recommends offering sanctions relief to Iran so as âto break the logjam over nuclear negotiations.â Even better, the United States can thaw relations with Iran and the DPRK by granting diplomatic recognition to both countries. In addition to âreducing dangersâ stemming from miscalculations and enabling the United States to gather intelligence on both countries, normalization may prevent the outbreak of a fratricidal war on the Korean peninsula and may hold Rowhani and Kim JĹng-Ĺn accountable to international norms.
Nevertheless, in order for diplomatic endeavors to be sustainable in the long-run, they must be backed up by a credible threat of coercion. While many defense analysts and strategists remain fixated on countering Iran and Chinaâs A2AD tactics, the United States military can no longer afford to operate alone in the face of drastic sequestration cuts. It can, however, exercise firmness by âleading from behindâ by working with allies and proxies. One such example is that of a âproxy strategyâ implemented by General James Mattis whereby Iranâs Sunni neighbors would supposedlyÂ vie for influence in the Persian Gulf region to deter, if not contain, Iranâs rise as a regional power. Another option, as Iâve proposed earlier, would be to form a combined fleet composed of the United States Pacific Fleet (PACFLT), the ROK Navy and the Japanese Self-Defense Maritime Force (JSDMF) to proactively deter future DPRK provocations. Third, given that the United States still faces aggression from afar in the face of improved missile capabilities possessed by Iran and the DPRK, the United States must be prepared to defend itself at home by bolstering its missile defense systems. Last, and perhaps most important, since the world has converged into a smaller community by way of globalization, we must take the fight to our adversaries by ârecogniz[ing] that it takes a network to confront another networkâŚ[and, therefore, must] follow the money [to upend] threat financingâ internationally and at home.
LCDR B. J. Armstrong wrote that there âwould be changes to tactics, and the requisite adjustments to operational planningâ when dealing with adversaries who threaten Americaâs strategic dominance abroad. To this, one should add that flexible strategic responses, whereby the United States readily wields a combination of carrots and sticks to deal with refractory pariah states, may be needed to guarantee Americaâs continued strategic dominance and peace in the Persian Gulf and in East Asia.