Of course this was going to happen (h/t: “Reza Khalili”). The whole point of having theater missiles, for Iran, is being able to engage in deterrence. What Iran will protect under the missile umbrella is not peace, harmony, and light, but the nation-torturing activities of the paramilitary Qods Force and Iranian-backed terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas.
This move puts Iran in the aspiring-nuclear-power category of the former USSR and China – not that of Britain, France, India, Pakistan, or North Korea. Iran is still in the “aspiring” stage, but has already revealed the scope of her ambitions for deterrence. The radical Islamic regime has no intention of merely deterring a single neighbor, maintaining its independence inside a foundational alliance, or even just brooding dementedly inside its borders. Revolutionary Iran aims to achieve regional dominance, and sees deterring the West as the first step.
Just to be clear, when Iran offers a missile umbrella to the Muslim nations of the Middle East, she means she can, and under certain circumstances will, launch missiles at the non-Muslim nations she can reach with her arsenal, which right now include Israel, Southeastern Europe, and Russia. When the joint missile base in Venezuela is completed, Iran will be able to reach the territory of the United States with her missiles. A secondary meaning is that Iran can threaten with missiles those Muslim nations that collaborate with the West (e.g., by hosting military forces), like Bahrain, Kuwait, and UAE.
The missile umbrella propounded by Larijani is precisely the form of deterrence employed by the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The Soviet deterrent – to which the Russians still, to this day, refer as their “strategic deterrent” – was used as an umbrella to give cover to the Soviet oppression of Eastern Europe, and to Soviet support of Marxist insurrections further abroad. It was a very successful deterrent, because it changed the most fundamental calculations of the United States about what was possible.
We took off the table, with NSC-68 in 1950, the possibility of doing anything so effective against Communist incursions abroad that it might incur a Soviet nuclear response. We constrained ourselves instead to accept losses of territory, half-measures, and unfinished business that we would not have thought necessary in the absence of a Soviet strategic deterrent. (I wrote more about this in February 2009, precisely apropos of Iran’s prospects for a nuclear deterrent.)
Our strategic deterrent did not deter the Soviets from supporting and fomenting Marxist insurgencies and civil wars in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Soviets’ strategic deterrent did deter us, until the Reagan presidency, from pushing back decisively against those insurgent efforts. The latter is the lesson learned by Iran’s current leadership. Iran has revolutionary cadre making trouble abroad already; it’s the deterrent umbrella she has lacked. The Larijani statement has been made before the Iranian missile umbrella becomes a nuclear one – but that will come soon enough. We can’t say we didn’t see it coming.
*UPDATE* Daled Amos steps into the fray with an interesting twist.