In an interview with the conservative Iranian daily Siasat-e Rouz in February 2003, Iranian Defense Minister 'Ali Shamkhani spoke of Iran's defense doctrine. According to 'Ali Shamkhani, Iran was forced to develop weapons against "a broad spectrum of threats," including "foreign aggression, war, border incidents, espionage, sabotage, regional crises derived from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, and state terrorism." Shamkhani also emphasized Iran's ability to develop its own conventional weapons, including helicopters, submarines, warships, and Shihab missiles. The following the main points of the interview:
Iran's Defense Strategy
Siasat-e Rouz: "What are Iran's 'strategic defensive' foundations [during] this sensitive period?"
Shamkhani: "There are turning points in the defense policy of countries in the Middle East. This stems from changed circumstances and changed defense structures. The regional and the international environment are also worthy of attention. Thus, in order to assure national security in a changing international environment, it is necessary to incorporate changes in Iran's defense structure."
"The years following the victory of the  Islamic Revolution saw extensive changes in the environment of Iran and on its fronts. This can be understood as a result of the uniqueness of Iran's security environment… During this process, we encountered threats, some of which have internal structural roots, and some of which originate from regional and international influence."
"In order to cope effectively with these types of threats, Iran's defense structure and defense future are based on a foundation of 'strategic deterrent defense.' This [strategy] does not in any way contradict the patterns of reliance on diplomatic relations, but must be understood as 'complementary programs' in a process of creating bilateral and multilateral links [among its various elements]."
"Deterrent defense means that in no way will Iran take an offensive measure. We are in struggle to sustain the enemy's first strike. The first strike will not lead to surrender, but it should be seen as a warning. Under these conditions, if there is the [capability] to sustain a first strike, there is a basis for [Iranian] secondary resistance against the threats. Thus, Iran's objectives are of a defensive nature."
"However, defense from 'surprise threats' means adopting a means of deterrence. Defensive deterrence causes the enemy to relinquish the threats. Because under such circumstances every country must [take into consideration] the risk it runs if it takes offensive measures against Iran."
Siaset-e Rouz: "Can you clarify Iran's defense capabilities in the face of a possible attack?"
Shamkhani: "There can be no deterrent defense without military means. After the war [with Iraq], for years we struggled to increase our own defense capabilities, to lower to a minimum the enemy's motivation to attack Iran. Thus, an efficient plan to reduce the elements likely to tempt countries in the region and superpowers [to attack Iran] was devised."
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"One of the ways of Iran's defense and national security must be reflected in manufacturing new armaments so as to achieve deterrence. This process began after the war that Iraq forced upon Iran and continued in the 1990s. In the second half of the 1990s, and in the new decade, an effective and long-awaited result was achieved. Thus, the main goal of Iranian defense must [now] be manifested in the consolidation of an effective national [strategy]…"
"Due to the need for 'self-reliance,' a basis for the production of armaments made by the Iranian defense [industry] was created. [This is because] classical weapons alone cannot fully meet the state's defense needs. Some of the research and development by Iran's defense industry is important, because through it, defense needs can be guaranteed."
Siaset-e Rouz: "What is your analysis of Iran's future defense doctrine?"
Shamkhani:"The trend of regional and international insecurity is rising. The countries in the region suffer from chronic insecurity. Conditions of insecurity lead to the appearance of new conflicts among the powers. This is the basis for the appearance of new instability and activity by extremist forces."
"Under such conditions, we must build Iran's national security doctrine so that it can deal with the new insecurity and with a broad spectrum of threats to Iran's national security, among them foreign aggression, war, border incidents, espionage, sabotage, regional crises derived from the proliferation of WMD, state terrorism, and discrimination in manufacturing and storing WMD. All the above shows that the UN is powerless. Therefore, Iran has set 'confronting and neutralizing the threats' [at the heart] of its defense and security doctrine. Military power is important for us, and serves as the basis for our security..."
"For this reason, Iran's national security doctrine is based on three elements: The first includes the 'security environment.' The second and third are 'hard [security] means' and 'soft security means.' Since the security environment of Iran is based on surprise and hostility, the 'hard means' of the security doctrine must be the enhancing of defense and security capabilities. The soft means of the national defense doctrine include strategic principles, political legitimacy, and influence over the elements of [the populace's] faith. Therefore, an emphasis is placed on the principle of self-reliance, constant training, and mobility [of forces], enabling all the elements to materialize. This will make the confrontation with new threats easier."
Additional Elements in Iran's Defense Policy
Iran attaches great importance to the Persian Gulf region and views it as vital to its security. The increased American presence in the Gulf is perceived as a direct threat to it. Also, securing the safe flow of Iranian oil through the Persian Gulf is essential to Iran's economy, and is perceived as a national interest.
At a conference on the Gulf region recently held in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that "security in the Persian Gulf has always been the 'No. 1 priority' for Iran." Kharrazi called for the adoption of collective measures by Persian Gulf countries to ensure the security of the region, in light of the expansion of the American presence in the Gulf even prior to the war in Iraq.
Defense Minister 'Ali Shamkhani also stressed the importance of the Gulf for the security of Iran in an interview with the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, in which he said that Iranian defense policy was diligently focused on developing defense cooperation with all the Gulf states. He said that Iran was capable of "finding a new pattern in the areas of [regional] defense and security."
Recently, Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi revealed another strategic element in Iran's security policy which the Foreign Ministry is attempting to promote; an attempt to create a regional defense system in the Caucasus, to include all Caucasian countries (Azerbijan, Armenia, and Georgia) as well as Iran, Russia, and Turkey. To this end, he offered Iran's services in resolving the Nagorno-Karabach dispute between Armenia and Azerbijan, and claimed that, "stability in Armenia is in line with [Iran's] national interests." Kharrazi defined security and defense in the Caucasus as "an integral part of Iran's regional interests."
It should be noted that mid and long-range Iranian-made missiles such as the Shihab 3 and Shihab 4 are not considered conventional weapons by the West, but strategic WMD.
Siasat-e Rouz, February 18, 2003.
IRNA, February 18, 2003.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 14, 2003.
IRNA, May 1, 2003.