Iran has been stepping up the amount of military hardware it purchases from Russia and China in the weeks since the nuclear accord with world powers, according to a new report that has tracked the Islamic Republic’s procurement of advanced weapons and technology.
As it gears up to receive more than $100 billion in sanctions relief under the deal, Iran has already begun to ink lucrative arms contracts with the Russian and Chinese governments, according to a new report by the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC).
Iran’s defense budget, some $14 billion annually, is set to grow by at least a third as a result of the sanctions relief, which experts worry could also be used to fund the fledgling nuclear programs of other nations.
While the Obama administration has touted the deal’s ability to rein in Tehran’s rogue nuclear work, experts tapped by AFPC continue to express concern that Iran will use its newfound international legitimacy to hide a clandestine nuclear weapons program in a proxy country, such as North Korea.
"In anticipation of the sanctions relief flowing from the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], Iran’s leaders are preparing for a period of sustained strategic expansion," according to the AFPC’s report. "In the Islamic Republic’s Sixth Development Plan, formally unveiled on June 30, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei outlined plans for a number of martial measures."
These priorities include the "expansion of the national defense budget to five percent of GDP, as well as an upgrade of defense capabilities as a hedge against ‘all forms of external threats,’ with a particular emphasis on the strengthening of the Iranian regime’s ballistic missile arsenal," according to the report.
Iran violated international resolutions barring its test of a ballistic missile in just the past few day. Iranian officials have insisted that such behavior, while barred by United Nations resolutions, does not violate the JCPOA.
Iran is most focused on growing its defense budget via lucrative arms deals with the Chinese and Russians, the report found.
"There are indications that the Islamic Republic has already begun to ramp up its defense expenditures," the report states. "In recent weeks, it has initiated major new procurement talks with arms suppliers such as Russia and China and is now poised to acquire new aircraft, air defenses, and components."
Over time, these arms deals will spark "a significant strengthening of Iran’s ability to project power into its immediate periphery, as well as its capacity to threaten and/or challenge its strategic rivals," according to the report. "Even before then, however, the perception of growing Iranian military power will begin to have pronounced effects on the geopolitical balance of power in the greater Middle East."
This is already being seen in countries such as Yemen and Syria, where Iranian-backed militia and military advisers are working to advance Tehran’s strategic interests.
Additionally, "multiple private entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs continue to operate within the People’s Republic of China, and have been estimated to provide as much as 90 percent of the necessary ‘goods and technology’ for both," according to the report, which warns that these relationships are likely to grow as a result of the deal
Perhaps most concerning, according to the AFPC, is Iran’s newfound ability to fund its rogue allies.
"Although it has received comparatively little attention to date, one of the most significant consequences of the economic windfall inherent in the JCPOA will be its impact on the foreign allies and strategic partners of the Islamic Republic," the report states.
Iran will be better placed to finance terror proxy groups and expand its influence to Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Other international pariahs, such as Sudanese warlord Omar al-Bashir, could benefit from increased support by the Iranians.
"Iran will shortly have the ability to strengthen those alliances significantly, with major adverse effects on international security," according to the report.
"By allowing Iran to keep a large enrichment program, the JCPOA increases the risk that Iran could transfer enrichment technology and materials to other states or even non-state actors," it states.