There was a general recognition in the US that the shah’s perception of threat was real and diverse. The monarch’s interpretation of Iran’s security issues coincided with those concerns which the United States understood to be critical in the Cold War environment. As the staff report concluded :
It is . . . not difficult for the Shah to make a rational case for high levels of investment in US equipment, and the Executive branch to respond positively, if the threat analysis is regarded as the primary determinant of procurement policy. In short, it is difficult to criticize Iran’s perception that it needs a modern military force. What is more debatable . . . is the suitability of and problems with the particular defense programs in which Iran has chosen to invest its resources . . . .
Shahram Cubin, on the other hand, justifies the shah’s weapons purchases, arguing:
It should be emphasized that Iran’s search for security, its arms procurement programs, and its diplomacy cannot be separated from its perception of international politics. Iran was invaded in two world wars; was the object of a de facto partition between two great powers in 1907; was subjected to constant intervention and dictation throughout this century; was the target of externally abetted separatist movements in the 1940s; was threatened and penetrated in the 1950s; was vulnerable to Arab nationalist shoestring imperialism in the 1960s; and is vulnerable to proxy-wars today. Its armaments buildup in the 1970s, therefore, can scarcely be considered anomalous or anachronistic except when viewed from a comfortable distance.
Like Kemp, Chubin predicates the defense buildup on several assumptions: the sensitive and strategic nature of the Persian Gulf region; a power vacuum in the Indian Ocean; the tenuous nature of bilateral alliances; the “lightening quick” nature of modern wars which requires a “high level of preparedness and substantial indigenous resources;” the need for deterrence forces vis-a-vis the Soviet Union.
All in all, Chubin contends that — given Iran’s perception of threat — its pattern of weapons acquisition is understandable. He then goes on to discuss the suitability of the weapons selected for Iran’s defense needs, addressing particulary the shah’s demand “to adopt tomorrow’s system, not today’s.” In this regard he concludes:
In short, Iran’s procurement policy has been to buy advanced weapons for the airforce chiefly from a single source, and to diversify its weapons for other services, while not ignoring the advantages of new technologies. The acquisition of advanced technologies is undoubtedly advantageous: it postpones obsolescence, enhances prestige, and probably has deterrent value. The increased expense of buying early (when higher unit costs often include R&D expenses) has to be balanced against the mounting expense of the system (given inflation) if bought later.
Regarding the shah’s purchase of the F-14, Chubin agrees that the decision was the correct one, especially in light of the Soviet overflights of Iran’s territory discussed earlier.
Assuming that the above evaluation is accurate, why were the shah’s procurement decisions so controversial? Did the monarch maximize the opportunity structure available to him? If so, did he consider the internal consequences of his decisions? Or did unforeseen spillover lead to unpredicted outcomes? In order to answer these questions, it is first necessary to look at whether the shah did indeed maximize the opportunities available to him
Any assessment of whether or not the shah maximized his opportunities must, at most, be mixed. It is clear that, in the Cold War environment (and given Iran’s history), an alliance with the United States was preferable to one with the Soviet Union. It is also obvious that the shah believed that he could have both guns and butter. In fact, he believed that militarization was a precondition for social and economic development. Moreover, because of Iran’s oil reserves and its strategic geographic locale, he initially expected that American loans and grants would finance his project. That was not to be the case.