In a new analysis released today comparing the conventional military capabilities of the United States and Iran, experts at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation conclude that the current threat posed by Iran is exaggerated by conflating it with Iran's potential, but far from certain, acquisition of a nuclear weapon in the future.
"It is dangerous to allow speculation about what Iran might be able to do in the future to permeate debates about the threat posed by Iran today," said Carah Ong, Iran Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "Conflating future and present threats creates an artificial sense of urgency about what the United States must do to protect itself."
Iran currently presents a number of serious problems for the United States. Iran could attack U.S. forces in Iraq or use its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel. However, by nearly every quantifiable metric, Iran does not presently represent an existential threat to the United States based on its conventional arsenal.
The United States will spend 99 times more on defense than Iran in the upcoming fiscal year. U.S. fighter aircraft outnumber Iranian aircraft 12.4 to 1, and American planes like the F-22 Raptor are far superior to aging Iranian aircraft.
In fact, out of 24 categories included in the comparison, Iran only possesses an advantage over the United States in two: artillery units and patrol and coastal combatant ships. These two advantages, however, would be meaningless in any imaginable conflict scenario.
"A comparison of the United States and Iran's conventional military capabilities demonstrates the overwhelming superiority of the United States," noted John Isaacs, Executive Director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "People need to spend less time hyperventilating about the rhetoric of two unpopular leaders and more time using realistic assessments to formulate smart policies."
A nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran would be dangerous, and the United States must take steps to prevent this development. However, direct diplomatic engagement with Iran on the nuclear issue, without preconditions, is one method that the Bush administration has yet to try.
As the comparison makes clear, the United States would be engaging from a position of strength. A recent Gallup poll showed that 59 percent of Americans believe it would be a good idea for the President of the United States to meet with the President of Iran.
"Pursuing diplomacy with Iran is not going to be easy, and it will not resolve all of the outstanding issues overnight," concluded Ong. "But it is an approach that is worth trying, particularly given the disastrous consequences that would result from a military confrontation between the United States and Iran."