The Iranian parliament passed two pieces of legislation this month with wide-reaching repercussions for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The first was the 2017-2018 budget, which allocated $7.4 billion to the IRGC – a 24 percent increase. The second was a new five-year development plan that requires the government to earmark at least 5 percent of the budget to defense, particularly missile production. Taken together, the new laws further cement the IRGC’s control over the Iranian military as well as its growing economic and political clout.
Over the past 15 years, many former IRGC officers have entered parliament and formed a powerful coalition to defend its interests. Thanks to their efforts, the IRGC has increasingly received the lion’s share of the defense budget.
The new budget apportions 53 percent of Iran’s $14 billion defense spending to the IRGC. The defense budget stems from three sources: $12.2 billion in non-discretionary recurring items, $1.3 billion from a sovereign wealth fund built on oil and gas revenue, and $450 million from fees for Iranians who buy their way out of military service. The IRGC received more money, as well as a larger increase in funds over last year’s budget, than any other Iranian military organization.
Iran’s new five-year development plan – the sixth such plan since the 1980s – mandates that military spending stay above 5 percent of the total annual budget through 2022. The plan also emphasizes the importance of developing missile capabilities and strengthening anti-aircraft defenses. Given the IRGC’s control over Tehran’s missile program, this plan is essentially a gift to the IRGC. It also underscores that although Iran has accepted some temporary restrictions on its nuclear program as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, it continues to work on ballistic missile delivery systems.
Accordingly, both laws reinforce the IRGC’s control over the military. And with parliament so dominated by former Guard members, it is unsurprising that it approved President Hassan Rouhani’s budget request without significant changes. This show of unity, just a few months before presidential elections, underscores the government-wide support the IRGC enjoys for its continued dominance over the military. Perhaps more crucially, more money to an IRGC-dominated military means Tehran’s capacity to destabilize the region is gaining steam.
Saeed Ghasseminejad is an Associate Fellow at the Foundation for a Defense of Democracies.