March 16, 2016 | Memo

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program and Economic Sanctions

Research Memo

Download the full memo here

Executive Summary

Iran this week engaged in a series of ballistic-missile drills, launching next-generation short-, medium-, and long range missiles from silos and missile bases built deep underground and in mountains. It was the third ballistic missile test since last summer’s nuclear deal.

Indeed, the Islamic Republic has the “largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East,” according to the U.S. government’s February 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment. The United States intelligence community further assesses that Iran “would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD.” The development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead is prohibited by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.

Iran’s ballistic missile program began under the Shah but was expanded after the 1979 revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. Today, the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are responsible for Tehran’s ballistic missile program. Both the United States and European Union have sanctioned these two entities for their roles in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Over the past two decades, the IRGC and MODAFL have expanded their industrial-financial empire. They directly control or indirectly influence many of the largest companies in Iran, especially in those sectors that provide dual-use goods and technology. As explained in this memo, Tehran has used commercial entities as fronts to procure sensitive-technology or to provide goods for military purposes. Today, a wide array of entities and sectors are thus likely involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program. This memo outlines the roles of the metallurgy and mining; chemicals, petrochemicals, and energy; construction; automotive; and electronic, telecommunication, and computer science sectors, as well as that of universities and research institutions.

Countering Tehran’s missile program will require a multipronged, U.S. and international effort utilizing diplomatic, military, cyber, covert, and economic tools. Because the development of ballistic missiles requires a wide range of goods, services, and technology, we recommend economic sanctions against all sectors involved in their development.