- THE NATIONAL INTEREST - Sep 22, 2020 -
It would be unreasonable to completely rule out an attempt by Iran to export its missiles to Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s recent declaration of interest in obtaining Iranian missiles alarmed many of the country’s neighbors and raised questions over the likelihood of this acquisition. On the one hand, there is some plausible reason to believe that this transaction may not go through. Iran-Venezuela military cooperation is not as credible as the two countries claim, with a continuous pattern of declarations and agreements but very little evidence of actual fulfillment. For example, Iran declared in 2018 that it would dispatch a stealth cruiser to Venezuela as part of an expeditionary mission, but this deployment never materialized. On top of this inconsistency, tight U.S. maximum pressure campaigns against both countries could also prevent the delivery of Iranian missiles to the Western Hemisphere.
On the other hand, it would be unreasonable to completely rule out an attempt by Iran to export its missiles to Venezuela. The recent shipments of Iranian oil to the country and the transfer of Venezuelan gold to Tehran via Iranian airliners demonstrate the Islamic Republic’s fervent commitment to its partner despite U.S. sanctions and geographic distance. The expiration of a UN arms embargo on Iran in October could remove a major obstacle to the country’s plans to export missiles to Venezuela. While the United States recently re-imposed UN sanctions to try to extend the embargo, the lack of broad international support for these measures may encourage Tehran to proceed with sales once the embargo reaches its official expiration date. Iran would be tempted to exploit an opportunity to pressure the United States with its missiles and counter what it perceives to be strategic encirclement by Washington and its partners in the Persian Gulf region.
Regardless of whether Venezuela and Iran follow through with this transaction, it would be useful to consider the implications of an Iranian missile deployment in the Western Hemisphere.
While there are reasons for concern related to interstate tensions and weapons proliferation, there is also a broader rationale for concern when it comes to U.S. global defense strategy.