Trump Needs to Reestablish Deterrence with Iran

Kaleigh Thomas, Elisa Catalano Ewers

The attack attributed to Iran on Saudi Aramco oil facilities is the latest in a series of Iranian escalations—the May 14 and June 13 tanker attacks, the June 20 downing of a U.S. drone, and July 19 seizure of the Stena Impero, a British oil tanker—in recent months that have been met with relatively minimal response by the U.S. or international community. The attack on Saudi Arabia only resulted in a renewed push for diplomatic engagement with Iran on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly and new U.S. sanctions which will only achieve incremental material economic impact. With no proportional reaction to this serious escalation on the part of Iran, the linear escalation ladder often used to describe U.S.-Iran tensions has been superseded by a new, iterative escalatory pattern. The expected “tit-for-tat” pattern no longer applies to current day circumstances. 

The attack was a serious escalation from Iran’s recent aggressive actions—mostly occurring within the waters surrounding the Strait of Hormuz. The attack involved cruise missiles and UAVs that may have been launched from within Iran’s own territory—a first—and caused millions of barrels of Saudi production capacity to go offline. And yet despite this, the response from the international community was rather mild. In the supposed tit-for-tat escalation pattern, Iran’s largest “tat” to date was met with no meaningful “tit” from the United States, Europe, or Saudi Arabia. This will make it harder for the United States to both deter Iran in the future and eventually re-engage Iran diplomatically, as both the Trump administration and Democrats want to do albeit in different ways. 

What was the international response? 

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