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Middle East , Missile and Space , Foreign Relations

France's Intervention in the Persian Gulf - Why Restricting Iran's Missile Program is Critical for the West to Maintain a Favorable Balance of Power in the Region

November 13th - 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Iran to open negotiations regarding the curbing or even termination of its missile program, threatening sanctions against the country should it fail to comply. While Iran previously agreed to negotiations regarding its nuclear program and has even allowed the Western bloc to monitor its nuclear facilities, the country adamantly refuses to compromise its missile program under Western pressure. While Western Nations lifted sanctions on Iran following the nuclear deal made in 2015, the United States within a week had reapplied sanctions under the pretext of seeking to curb the country's missile program. With the U.S. having steadily increased sanctions against the country, other Western nations are set to follow suit and reapply sanctions against Iran under new pretexts. This comes despite the fact that developing missiles is in no way contrary to international law, and is in fact guaranteed under the UN charter which grants all nations the right to self defense and military development.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry stated in response to the French President's statement: "France is fully aware of our country's firm position that Iran's defense affairs are not negotiable." Iran claimed that Western nations were attempting to alter the nuclear deal two years after its signing to include Iran's missile program, stating: "We have told French officials repeatedly that the nuclear deal is not negotiable and other issues will not be allowed to be added to it." What France and other Western nations' attempts to curb Iran's missile program represent are an attempt to maintain a favorable balance of power in the Middle East. At present Western aligned Arab Gulf States maintain an overwhelming advantage both in the size of their annual military expenditures and in the composition of their air forces. A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies stated that interrogating the relevant data makes a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have an overwhelming advantage over Iran in both military spending and access to modern arms. The combined annual military budgets of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, closely Western aligned Gulf States, amount to well over $100 billion - while Iran's budget amounts to only $9 billion. Comparing the composition of their air forces, Saudi Arabia and the UAE field high end fourth generation fleets - including the most advanced U.S. built heavy fighter ever permitted exported - the F-15SA, and the most advanced U.S. built fourth generation light fighter - the F-16E. Iran by contrast, aside from its small fleet of around 30 operational F-14 air superiority fighters, has a largely unremarkable air force mostly comprised of second and third generation fighters such as the U.S. made Vietnam War era F-5 and F-4 and the domestically manufactured Saeqeh.

Iran's only means of maintaining some form of parity with its hostile and often aggressive neighbors is to invest in asymmetric warfare capabilities. Much like North Korea, the country has focused on developing advanced ballistic, surface to air, and anti ship missiles - and most of its missile designs are in fact based heavily on Korean technology which Iran has obtained as part of the two countries' close military cooperation. Missile capabilities allow the Iranian military to neutralize enemy bases, fighters and ships using systems which cost a fraction of the cost of their targets. A $100 million F-15SA is vulnerable to a barrage of surface to air missiles costing just $1 million, while a warships costing hundreds of millions of dollars are also vulnerable to strikes from just a dozen cruise missiles costing under $1 million each. The ability to strike cities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which would have a devastating effect even if a dozen or so missiles with conventional warheads struck their central business districts and high rises, serves as a highly potent deterrent to aggression.

Without weapons of mass destruction, which are also highly cost effective to develop relative to their battlefield impact, Iran's advanced missile program remains the primary asset which balances the superiority of arms of its Arab rivals. It is therefore strongly in the interests of the West not only to ensure that Iran develops no weapons of mass destruction, but also critically to prevent it from developing its missile program to gain even conventional parity with the Western aligned Gulf States. Should Iran give up its missile program it would to a large extent be at the mercy of the Gulf States, as well as its other Western backed adversary Israel. It is for this reason that France has joined the United States and other Western powers in doing their utmost to stifle Iran's missile program, including sanctions against the country, to ensure a balance of power in the Persian Gulf, and in the wider Middle East, which favors the West's allies. The Western bloc has since Cold War long been described as 'despising notions of parity', and their approach to the Middle East today to disarm any power which is not a Western client is a result of this general need to maintain dominance and supremacy, not only regionally but globally as well.


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