The United States, Iran and the Continuing Salience of Geography

9 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2011

See all articles by Dylan Kissane

Dylan Kissane

Centre d'Etudes Franco-Americain de Management (CEFAM)

Date Written: October 1, 2011


With recent US political and strategic goals unmet after ineffective diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions, some commentators and foreign policy experts have begun urging American strategists to employ military force to effect change in Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. Presumably inspired by American success in establishing a US-friendly regime in neighbouring Iraq, such commentators suggest that a similar strategy of overwhelming military force could overcome the existing military and political structure of Iran and establish a pro-Western regime in its place. Such notions, however, rely on ignorance of one of the most basic elements of Iran: her geography. This ignorance, in turn, renders all such notions of military invasion not only unimaginable in theory but impossible in practice.

The current paper begins with a short précis of the regime change via invasion rhetoric in the United States with particular focus on the recurring references to US air power despite its lack of historical utility in effecting regime change without associated ground forces. Then, drawing on a broad geopolitical literature from Mackinder in 1904 through to Gray and Friedman in the present, this paper explains how Iran’s geography, while not offering protection from air strikes, does render it largely protected from enemy invasion and occupation. With specific reference to the geographical barriers that are the Zagros and Alborz Mountains and the inhospitable Kavir and Lut Deserts, this paper demonstrates that attempts by enemies of Iran to force regime change through the use of air power alone or a combination of air and land military elements are inevitably bound to fail. In concluding the paper, it is suggested that this inescapable geopolitical reality should encourage US policymakers to consider carefully their positions on Iran and seek non-military means by which to engage with one of Asia’s historical and strategic nations.

Keywords: iran, united states, geopolitics, geography, air power, strategy

Suggested Citation

Kissane, Dylan, The United States, Iran and the Continuing Salience of Geography (October 1, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Dylan Kissane (Contact Author)

Centre d'Etudes Franco-Americain de Management (CEFAM) ( email )

47 rue Sergent Michel Berthet
Lyon, Rhone 69009

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