Dropping the DIME on Iran:  A Unified Approach to Prevention Strategy

October 06, 2010

By Todd Copeland - The art of balancing diplomatic, information, military and economic (DIME) efforts to create a synergistic effect toward a clearly defined objective is not a new concept.  In the last few years, such efforts have slowed Iran's progress toward acquiring nuclear weapons, but it will need a renewed effort to significantly delay or even halt Iran from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold. For now the preponderance of effort should be on the diplomatic and economic fronts with information playing its always critical supporting role.  The possibility of military action, while not in the forefront at this time remains a large contributor. 

Activities by a variety of U.S. Government agencies and many additional nations, must be integrated in order to dissuade Iran from advancing its nuclear capabilities, to reassure regional partners and allies, and to affirm the United States' resolve.  This integrated approach must be closely coordinated, much like the Department of Defense's Unified Command approach to theater military operations, which, in the early phases, deterrence and information actions dominate.  These stability operations mold perceptions and influence behaviors of both adversaries and allies and, if accomplished properly, such activities can prevent the need for conducting offensive and defensive strikes, or what most people think of as actual warfare.

While the State Department leads the diplomatic efforts - both those with other nations directly and those accomplished through the United Nations - the coordination of these efforts with other interagency partners, such as the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Treasury, to say nothing of the intelligence community, must be strengthened to maintain a unified approach. 

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stated that plans are already on the shelf for military strikes aimed at disrupting and delaying Iran's nuclear capabilities.  If direct military action is necessary, one has to ask, "Then what?"  While the US currently possesses the capability to strike a wide range of targets in Iran, the second and third order effects of such an attack must be analyzed, and a detailed strategy developed to deal with the consequences; no doubt this is close to the top of U.S. Central Command's current "to do" list. 

A pin-point strike aimed only at Iran's known nuclear facilities might be an attractive option on the surface, but could lead to a protracted conflict and, in that case, would not be in the best interest of U.S. regional partners in the Gulf, or of the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain.  In view of this possibility, if a strike were determined to be necessary, it must be a massive disarming strike, not only against Iran's nuclear facilities, but also against Iran's means of retaliating against U.S. forces and American assets in the region, as well as against regional allies and partners.  Unless the U.S. is prepared to conduct such a wide-ranging strike, "poking the hornets' nest," by just hitting nuclear facilities, is not the best option.  However, if the options are striking a non-nuclear Iran or striking a nuclear Iran, the former is obviously much preferred. 

The most effective components of a prevention strategy at this time are the economic and financial penalties and sanctions that are being imposed upon Iran by the United Nations, the U.S., the European Union, Japan, and other nations.  Iran does not currently possess a self-sustaining capability to produce weapons-grade fissile material.  Its current gas-centrifuge based approach to uranium enrichment relies on foreign suppliers for critical components, as does its limited organic manufacturing capabilities to build centrifuges. 

Sanctions compound these problems, making it more and more difficult for Iran to acquire such equipment, except on the black market.  Additional economic sanctions, such as prohibitions on insuring Iranian-flagged merchant ships, force Iran to utilize foreign-flagged transportation, making it easier to inspect and interdict illicit shipments.  Conceivably, this latter step could have the unintended consequence of causing Iran to inspect U.S. or allied ships in the Gulf in retaliation, thereby escalating the situation. 

Financial sanctions are beginning to show their effects as well.  Entities all over the world are becoming increasingly unwilling to invest in Iran, especially in its oil and gas sector, either because they are prohibited expressly from doing so by their national government, or because they risk losing access to U.S. and European financial markets.  Iranian oil production is declining and plans to develop new oil and gas fields, or to exploit existing fields, have been put on hold.  Iran has mitigated these effects to an extent via front companies, and other subterfuges, and by dealing with a few countries still willing to accommodate their needs, such as Turkey, which brokered a $30 billion deal covering the next five years.  China also continues to invest in Iranian oil and gas development, but it does not have the technology that could be supplied by Western oil companies and the Chinese projects have stalled. 

The actions described above all could be undertaken unilaterally by the U.S.; however, DIME techniques, to be most effective, should be integrated, sometimes covertly, with other nations in order to achieve the desired results.  That, however, is a discussion reserved for another article. 


Photo Credit: "Pakistan Dust." SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE. (2001)