The Price of War with Iran

by Geoffrey Kempand John Allen Gay Geoffrey Kemp is Director of the Regional Security Program at the Centerfor the National Interest. John Allen Gay is a program assistant for theRegional Security Program at the Center for the National Interest. They areco-authors of the forthcoming book War with Iran: Political, Military, and Economic Consequences 21.12.2012


One of the greatest challenges that US President Barack Obama will face in his second term is Iran’s pursuit of advanced nuclear technologies. While a nuclear Iran would damage America’s strategic position in the Middle East, action aimed at forestalling Iran’s nuclear progress also carries serious strategic and economic consequences.

Armed with nuclear weapons, Iran would be better able to project influence, intimidate its neighbors, and protect itself. As a result, the United States’ allies in the region would need new security guarantees. But an increased American presence could provoke radical groups, while requiring defense resources that are needed to support US interests in East and Southeast Asia. 

Some of Obama’s conservative critics believe that he will allow Iran to develop an advanced nuclear program, provided that it stops short of actually building a bomb. But no American president would want their legacy to include allowing so unfriendly a regime to acquire such a dangerous weapon – even if doing so meant avoiding greater strategic costs.

Indeed, Obama has repeatedly avowed that he will stop Iran from acquiring nuclear-weapons capability, rather than allow the country to develop its nuclear program and then rely on deterrence, as has been done with other nuclear powers. But such tough rhetoric might create a dilemma for Obama


Living with a nuclear Iran would require expensive countermeasures and create significant risks. But going to war to impede Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and containing the subsequent chaos – including oil-price spikes, increased regional volatility, and reduced American strategic flexibility – would be far more costly. If Obama stands behind his first-term declarations, the world will pay a very high price.

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Book Introduction

The East Moves West: India, China, and Asia's Growing Presence in the Middle East by Geoffrey Kemp

During a period when established Western economies are treading water at best, industry and development are exploding in China and India. The world's two most populous nations are the biggest reasons for Asia's growing footprint on other global regions. The impact of that footprint is especially important in the Middle East, given that region's role as an economic and geopolitical linchpin.

In The East Moves West, Geoffrey Kemp details the growing interdependence of the Middle East and Asia and projects the likely ramifications of this evolving relationship. Geoffrey Kemp, a veteran analyst of global security and political economy, compares and contrasts Indian and Chinese involvement in the Middle East, stressing an embedded historical dimension that gives India substantially more familiarity and interest in the region.

Does the emergence of these Asian giants —with their increasingly huge need for energy —strengthen the case for cooperative security, particularly in the maritime arena? After all, safe open sea lanes remain an essential component of mutually beneficial intercontinental trade, making India and China increasingly dependent on safe passage of oil tankers. Or will we see reversion to more traditional competition and even conflict, given that the major Asian powers themselves have so many unresolved problems and that U.S. presence in the area may be on the decline?

In many ways, the growing Asian presence in the Middle East comes as a breath of fresh air in comparison to the bitter historic legacies of European dominance and the contemporary antagonism toward America's hegemonic role. The major Asian players in the Middle East feel no guilt about the past, and they have no emotional stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the one hand, this means they approach the region's many unresolved conflicts with what some would argue is a cynical, laissez-faire attitude. On the other, it means that they have refrained from interfering directly in Middle East politics and therefore enjoy good relations with most states. It is unclear how long they can sustain this "hands off" approach if, by virtue of their economic dominance and their own strategic stakes in the region, they get drawn into the messiness of Middle East politics at a time when the United States becomes disillusioned by the burdens of hegemony. —Geoffrey Kemp in The East Moves West

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