Engaging Iran is both a difficult and complex endeavor. The United States will need to use all the tools at its disposal. One of the advantages the United States possesses in dealing with Iran is its Navy. The Navy provides the U.S. Government with a range of unique potential options that can be employed across the entire diplomatic and conflict spectra. Some of these options derive from the ability of the Navy to deploy a wide range of capabilities from a sovereign base at sea. Others result from the Navy’s continuous presence in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Still others are a reflection of the way the Navy operates every day.
Shaping is the set of continuous, long-term integrated, comprehensive actions with a broad spectrum of government, nongovernmental and international partners that maintains or enhances stability, prevents or mitigates crises, and enables other operations when crises occur. With the end of the Cold War, shaping operations became a more important part of the Navy’s array of activities. Today, U.S. military planners envision shaping as something to be pursued across most of the five phases of future campaigns. These phases are defined as shape, deter, seize the initiative, dominate, stabilize and enable civil authority.
There is no question that in the event of conflict with Iran, the Navy could exert tremendous pressure on Iran. Equally important, the U.S. Navy has many potential opportunities to influence Iran during peacetime and in the event of a crisis. What is particularly important is the number and variety of options available to support early shaping activities.
The Navy can take a leading role in providing means for opening communications with elements of the Iranian military. The development of Confidence Building Measures would both reduce risks inherent in conducting day-to-day operations in the Gulf and provide an opening for improved communications. Enhanced cooperation with allies through cooperative exercises and exchanges would appear to be the most important option in both shaping the region and deterring Iranian aggression.
In the event of conflict with Iran, the Navy will have perhaps the most important strategic role of all U.S. forces. Together with joint and combined forces, the Navy will be required to ensure that the Gulf remains open to traffic and that the movement of oil is not interdicted. The Navy needs to focus on ensuring that it can deal with the most stressing threats to movement in and through the Gulf, specifically sea mines, Iranian submarines and missile-armed patrol craft and nuisance attacks by small, high speed boats including suicide attacks. An additional important role for the Navy is the provision of effective missile defense. The ability to neutralize these threats will contribute significantly to deterrence of Iranian aggression.
This report was written by Dr. Daniel Goure and Dr. Rebecca Grant of the Lexington Institute. Participants in the working group meeting had the opportunity to review and comment on the text.
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