Option 3: Containment – Sanctions and/or a blockade on Iran’s energy sector, military buildup & diplomacy
Containing Iran is very flexible employing various of tools of statecraft. Decision makers would choose from and combine the following measures based on Iran’s behavior. Multilateral economic sanctions, outside the UN, against Iran by the US and all or some of Iran’s major trading partners. Iran’s energy sector would also be targeted. One option is blockading its main oil facilities at Kharg island and/or the Strait of Hormuz. A ban onenergy exports from Iran could also be implemented and most importantly, a ban on importing refined energy products. It would also seek to ban all business with Iran’s energy sector. To combat proliferation risks, the US would step up PSI interdictions in concert with allies.
The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act could be amended to forbid all trade with Iran. A travel ban for some or all Iranian officials as well as a ban on international flights to Iran could be initiated. Diplomatically, the U.S. would maintain its current stance that all uranium enrichment must stop as a precondition to negotiations and refuse any concessions before this condition is met. US military forces in the region would also be bolstered by deploying an additional carrier to the region, providing land and sea based missile defense and anti-WMD capabilities to our regional allies and moving long range bombers to Diego Garcia. The US would also increase funding for opposition groups, separatists and American tv and radio broadcasts into Iran.
Firstly, this option is very flexible giving policy makers room to adjust it based on Iranian cooperation or lack thereof. It would also make clear the US is committed to regional security, the NPT and protecting its allies. Containment would also work unilaterally or multilaterally. While dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be best for the strengthening the NPT, demonstrating the high costs of non-compliance and a lack of transparency would continue to dissuade others from following Iran’s path. Increased pressure and focus on Iran would help to minimize the risk of proliferation to and from Iran through increased PSI interdictions, sanctions and a greater likelihood of Iran being caught. This option would also put enormous pressure on Iran’s most vulnerable point, its energy sector, thus being the quickest way to cripple Iran and force its cooperation.
Pressure through containment may not ultimately be enough to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions and would not immediately end its nuclear weapons program. With no ultimate carrot (US-Iran detent) or ultimate stick (military strikes), containment could raise the political and economic costs of nuclear weapons without making the costs unacceptable or unbearable. Policy makers would have to tread carefully keeping the costs as high as possible without crossing the red line for conflict. Containment may also lead Iranians to rally around the flag as sanctions and/or a blockade affect the entire population and turn them against America. A blockade may also be considered an act of war by Iran inadvertently causing war. This option could also raise the price of
energy and destabilize markets, especially a blockade. Another side effect is that the more Iranian oil and gas taken that is taken offline, the more relative power Russia gains. This could also potentially lead Iran to the become so desperate that it lashes out in Iraq or Afghanistan. If it leads Iran to make an irreversible decision to acquire nuclear weapons then no cost would be too high to bear and containment would fail. Lastly, it is unclear whether this policy could deter a unilateral Israeli strike.