Soviet Vulnerabilities in Iran and the RDF Deterrent
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i n Iran and the RDF Deterrent II t is difficult to imagine a region at once so vital economical!y and so volatile politically as the Persian Gulf today. To its economic importance, the Arab oil embargo of 1973 was, for many, the first rude awakening. Since then, a stormy sequence of events has underlined its political instability. The Iranian revolution, the fall of the Shah, and the bitter ordeal of the hostages were, for many Americans, a shocking demonstration of that fact; the seizure of the Great Mosque at Mecca and the Iraq-Iran War, part of its grim and continuing confirmation. Concurrent with these stark realizations, the West saw Soviet foreign policy enter a particularly adventurist phase, one in which regional instabilities -in Angola, in Ethiopia, and in South Yemen-were made targets of military opportunity. The possibility that a crumbling order in the Gulf would present the Soviets with even more attractive opportunities was lost on a very few. And when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the West's worst fears suddenly seemed ominously at hand. Jolted by the alarming convergence of events, former Resident Carter threw down the gauntlet, warning in his 1980 State of the Union Address that "an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region-will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." Today, few would deny the claim of former CIA Director, Admiral Stansfield Turner that ". . . the most demanding need for military force in the region would be to oppose a direct thrust by the Soviets into Iran.'r2Indeed, this contingency, under the Carter Doctrine has served as a principal basis for planning of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDF). While the author bears sole responsibility for all views expressed here, he is grateful to William W. Kaufmann, Barry Posen, Steven Miller, and Ted Greenwood for their suggestions. Joshua Epstein is a Reseurch Fellow at Harvard's Center for Science and International Affairs, and a consultant to the Rand Corporation. 1. U.S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, "U.S. Security Interests and Policies in Southwest Asia," Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Ninety-SixthCongress, second session, February-March 1980, p. 350. 2. Admiral Stansfield Turner (USN-Ret.), "Toward a New Defense Strategy," New York Times Magazine, May 10, 1981, p. 16. International Security, Fall 1981 (Vol. 6 ,No.2)0162-2SS9/81/020126-33 $02.50/0 0 1981by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 126 RDF Deterrent in Iran I 127 Given the exceedinglygrave consequences that would attend its successful execution, and the uncertainty surrounding Soviet intentions in .the region, it is a contingency which no responsible analyst can ignore. And, of the numerous Persian Gulf contingencies of interest, a Soviet drive for the oil of Khuzestan is the threat to be examined here. The prevailing view of American deterrent capabilities is frighteningly pessimistic. In peacetime, there are twenty-four Soviet divisions in the region , while the RDF!s ground complement is assumed to number around four division^.^ The Soviets enjoy proximity. They share a border with Iran while the bulk of the U.S. force is thousands of miles away. It is widely assumed in addition that simultaneous contingencies pose far more serious problems for the United States than they do for the Soviets. As a consequence, there is a general consensus that without using nuclear weapons, the United States would stand little chance of handling an all-out invasion of Iran, and that in no event can there be a feasible defense without a dramatic expansion of American basing in the region. Columnist Jack Anderson reports Government testimony to the effect that ”the Rapid Deployment Force would be no more than a ’trip wire’ against the Soviets. The contingencyplan calls for a nuclear strike to stop the Soviets from annihilating the f ~ r c e . ” ~ Defense Secretary Weinberger himself has warned that “the U.S., at present, is incapable of stopping an assault on Western oil supplies,”5 while prominent analysts have gone so far as to say that Iran ”may be inherently indefensible.”6 The military...