Belfer Center Home > Experts > Ken Weinstein > Military Elements in a Strategy to Deal with Iran's Nuclear Program

EmailEmail   PrintPrint Bookmark and Share

Military Elements in a Strategy to Deal with Iran's Nuclear Program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (center) visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, April 8, 2008.
AP Photo

Military Elements in a Strategy to Deal with Iran's Nuclear Program


June 2008

Author: Ashton B. Carter, Former Co-Director, Preventive Defense Project, Harvard & Stanford Universities

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Preventive Defense Project



Iran: U.S. Strategic Options

Dealing with Iran will be a key challenge for the United States in the coming years. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is therefore hosting a series of four discussions on alternative strategies for dealing with Iran's nuclear program called Iran: U.S. Strategic Options.

CNAS convened about 30 high-level national security, foreign policy, Iran, and Middle East experts, as well as select members of the press and representatives from Capitol Hill and the presidential campaigns, to launch this program on January 31, 2008, with an event focused on intensified diplomacy. Other discussions in the Iran: U.S. Strategic Options series will focus on military strike options and their ramifications, a U.S. policy of living with a nuclear Iran, and possible Iranian reactions to a U.S. diplomatic strategy. For the final event, the group of experts will also discuss proposed findings and outreach recommendations.

CNAS commissioned experts to draft short reports and guide the dialogues for each of these topics, including Dennis Ross, Vali Nasr, Ashton Carter, Richard Haass, and Suzanne Maloney. At the conclusion of this series, CNAS scholars will recommend a path forward for the United States on Iran.


In the third paper for the CNAS series on Iran, Carter notes that "Military action must be viewed as a component of a comprehensive strategy rather than a stand-alone option for dealing with Iran's nuclear program. But it is an element of any true option. A true option is a complete strategy integrating political, economic, and military elements and seeing the matter through to a defined and achievable end. For any military element, the sequel to action must be part of the strategy because the military action by itself will not finish the problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions once and for all. Airstrikes on the Iranian nuclear program or other targets could conceivably reset the diplomatic table in pursuit of a negotiated end to the nuclear program, but they could also easily overturn the diplomatic table. The alternative to the diplomatic table, broadly speaking, is a strategy of containment and punishment of an Iran that ultimately proceeds with its nuclear program. A variety of military measures - air assault, blockade, encirclement, deterrence - could be elements of such a containment strategy."

Read more about the CNAS paper series here.

The full text of Dr. Carter's paper is available through the attached document and link below.


Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Carter, Ashton B. "Military Elements in a Strategy to Deal with Iran's Nuclear Program." Paper, June 2008.

Bookmark and Share

Plan B for Iran: What if Nuclear Diplomacy Fails?
By Ashton B. Carter and Dr. William J. Perry

Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America
By Ashton B. Carter and Dr. William J. Perry

How to Counter WMD
By Ashton B. Carter

Preventive Defense Project

The Preventive Defense Project (PDP) is a Harvard-Stanford research collaboration, co-directed by Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry.

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Ashton B. Carter

In February 2015, Ashton B. Carter became Secretary of Defense for the United States.

Dr. Carter is former director of the Belfer Center's Preventive Defense Project and former director of what is now the Belfer Center. He is on leave.


Ashton Carter's bio >

Ashton Carter's publications >

Go to Preventive Defense Project >