The Iranian regime has invested heavily—much of it from funding derived by the lifting of economic sanctions by the nuclear deal—in its ballistic missile program. It has become as integral to the long-term plans of the mullahs as oil policy has been for economic planning.
Iran’s ballistic missile program gives it the ability to project force far beyond its borders. For most superpowers and nuclear-capable nations, force projection otherwise known as “over-the-horizon” capability distinguishes them from any other nation on Earth.
The U.S., Russia, China, France and Great Britain have long been the pillars of the ability to project force around the world. Historically speaking, Britannia ruled its empire because of its navy, while after World War II, the U.S. established supremacy with carrier battle groups and air power.
In today’s world though, ballistic missiles have become to the tool du jour of force projection for despotic regimes such as North Korea and Iran. They can—on the cheap—threaten neighbors and nations far away as a means of extorting concessions.
Missiles alone though cannot guarantee internal security for these regimes. Missiles are a tool of external terror, but for internal suppression of dissent, both North Korea and Iran rely heavily on cults of personality for their respective leaders and use execution, imprisonment and ample torture as means of population control.
It is striking how similar both regimes are in action and planning. Their respective ideologies, one devout atheist, the other devoutly sectarian, both focus absolute allegiance to the state.
Their use of hostages as negotiating pawns and crackdown of any open dissent makes them more sister-states than one might imagine. In fact, both earn heavy and regular condemnation by human rights groups.
In the case of Iran, Amnesty International has paid special attention to tracking the regime’s efforts to vilify human rights defenders as “enemies of the state” in putting out an updated report on Iran’s brutal human rights crackdown.
“It is a bitter irony that as the Iranian authorities boast about their increased engagement with the UN and the EU, particularly in the aftermath of the nuclear deal, human rights defenders who have made contact with these same institutions are being treated as criminals,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Rather than propagating the dangerous myth that human rights defenders pose a threat to national security, the Iranian authorities should focus on addressing the legitimate concerns they raise. These are people who have risked everything to build a more humane and just society – it is appalling that they are so viciously punished for their bravery,” he added.
The organization is calling on the EU, which announced plans to relaunch a bilateral human rights dialogue with Iran in 2016, to speak out in the strongest terms against the persecution of human rights defenders in the country.
“The international community, and in particular the EU, must not stay silent over the outrageous treatment of human rights defenders in Iran,” said Philip Luther.
“Instead of appeasing Iranian officials, the EU should forcefully call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those jailed for their peaceful human rights activism and for an end to the misuse of the justice system to silence activists.”
The timing of Amnesty International’s report is auspicious in light of new sanctions signed into law by President Donald Trump against Iran and North Korea’s ballistic missile program and a new diplomatic initiative aimed at the United Nations to curb Iran’s “destabilizing effect in the region.”
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in a letter to the UN Security Council on August 2, said the launch of a missile carrying a satellite into space “represents a threatening and provocative step by Iran.”
Her letter, written on behalf of the United States, France, Germany, and Britain, called on the Council to “discuss appropriate responses” against Tehran for its “provocative action.”
U.S. officials said that type of technology is inherently designed to carry a nuclear payload, and the Pentagon said the technology can be used to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
Predictably the Iran lobby’s chief advocate, the National Iranian American Council, condemned the sanctions move by the U.S. and warned of a march to war with these moves, but even the NIAC had to acknowledge the overwhelming bipartisan support sanctions against Iran have in Congress right now.
“The alarm bells should be ringing but instead of restraining Trump’s reckless inclinations on Iran, Congress appears to be actively encouraging him,” said the statement by Jamal Abdi, executive director for NIAC Action, the lobbying arm of the NIAC.
In the letter to the UN though, the four nations called on Iran “to immediately cease all activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” They said Iran’s “long-standing program to develop ballistic missiles continues to be inconsistent with” the UN resolution and has a destabilizing effect in the region, according to Bloomberg.
This new diplomatic effort represents a watershed moment of sorts because it unites the Western partners in the Iran nuclear deal into a unified front to stop Iran’s missile program before it becomes the kind of full-blown headache the world is now experiencing with North Korea.
In many ways, North Korea serves as the clearest warning sign of where Iran will inevitably reach in a short time and represents a defining moment in the close collaboration between the two regimes.
Finally, the world is waking up to the dual threats posed by them.