Anthony H. Cordesman writes: Much of the criticism of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran has focused on the fact that it would allow conventional arms transfers to Iran in five years if Iran fully complies with all other aspects of the agreement. In practice, this does not obligate any country to sell arms to Iran, nor does it affect U.S. and European constraints on arms sales.
It could, however, lead to significant arms sales on the part of Russia and China, and potentially other states. Iran badly needs to modernize its aging air force, surface-to-air missile defenses, and many other elements of its weapons systems – as well as acquire the technology for a wide range of new sensors, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and other improvement in its war fighting capabilities.
It is important, however, to keep such risks in perspective. Iran is already able to exploit a large network of purchasing offices and cover organizations to buy critical technology, parts, and other military equipment. It takes time to absorb arms transfers even when they come, and Iran faces a massive backlog of obsolescence, worn systems, patchwork improvements, and awkward efforts at systems integration.
In the real world, Iran is anything but the hegemon of the region – as a new CSIS study of the Gulf military balance shows. This study is entitled The Arab-U.S. Strategic Partnership and the Changing Security Balance in the Gulf.
Chapters II and III of this study compare the size of Iranian and Arab Gulf military expenditures and arms transfers. The following chapters analyze the limits to Iran’s conventional forces and the growing strength of Gulf Arab forces. Chapter XII analyzes the scope of the U.S. strategic partnership with the individual Gulf states and the Gulf Arab states as a whole.
The report shows that the Arab Gulf states already have a massive lead over Iran in virtually every aspect of conventional arms, except total military manpower. It also shows that the U.S. strategic partnership has delivered some of the most modern weapons in the world to the Arab Gulf states, and that equally massive new transfers are underway. [Continue reading…]