Iran’s NATO Strategy

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImageNorth Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the sole internationally dominant defense, military, and security organization to have survived the Cold War era.

Although some prominent international analysts like Stephen Walt maintain that “NATO doesn’t have much of a future,” it is still a global reality whose measures leave their mark on countries like Iran for various reasons.

Before the end of the Cold War, Iran did not feel any specific threat from NATO as there were limited grounds for interaction between these two international players.
Following termination of the Cold War and eastward expansion of NATO, Iran has showed gradually aggressive reactions to nature, goals, functions and missions of this organization.

The main reason behind Iran’s heated reactions to NATO from that time onward should be sought in the classic philosophy of NATO and its definition of new international goals.

After the first NATO meeting following the Cold War in November 1991, the organization gradually reoriented its operations in line with decisions made at various summit meetings of member states to focus more on controlling international crises which resulted from spread of terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and energy security challenges.

Under new circumstances, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 terror attacks, Iran’s official strategy has been to condemn most NATO missions, goals and operations, especially in Afghanistan. As a result of that strategic stance, Iran has refrained from cooperation with NATO due to problems it finds with the organization’s international operations.

In fact, Iran’s strategy toward international operations and missions of NATO stems from internal discourse of the Iranian political elites.

Based on current views held by the Iranian political elites, NATO’s international operations and Iran's reaction to them are closely related to security matters in the Iranian foreign policy. In fact, they maintain that Iran’s reactions to NATO missions and operations should be assessed in terms of securitization (whether they benefit Iran’s interests and national security) and desecuritization (when they are in conflict with the country’s interests and national security).

In this perspective, most Iranian political elites believe that presence of NATO in sensitive parts of the Middle East, Central Asia, Caucasus, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and the Mediterranean will have direct impacts on Iran’s security and foreign policy goals.

Most Iranian foreign policy elites maintain that as a result of recent operations by NATO in immediate neighborhood of Iran, the country’ geopolitical position has experienced major changes.

Therefore, most of them underline the need for securitization in Iran’s strategy toward NATO. Decision-making process as well as foreign policy goals of Iran, on the one hand, and NATO’s missions and operations in the neighborhood of Iran, on the other hand, are the main reasons supporting this consensual view. Iranian foreign policy elites seem to hold that Iran’s strategies and tactics in the face of international players, including NATO, are based on collective wisdom and national interests of Iran.

Continuation of Iran’s NATO strategy in the coming years will be a major determinant of Tehran’s political interactions with regional countries, big powers and international organizations. However, it is undeniable that presence of NATO, as an organization defending western liberalism, in certain regions which are part of Iran’s sphere of influence, including Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, Pakistan, Russia, and Israel will entail security restrictions for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy.

NATO officials’ efforts for resurgence of NATO by redefining its strategic goals during Lisbon Summit on November 19-20, 2010, their attempt to align Russia with NATO’s position against Iran, and deployment of NATO’s new 200-million-euro missile defense shield in Europe to head off the so-called Iran threat are examples of perceived security restrictions for Iran.

All told, analysis of the regional presence of NATO and its impact on security aspects of the Iranian foreign policy should take into account that “themes,” “concepts,” and “geographical domains” will be the most important arenas for future confrontation between these important international players, in which case, both will face limitations and challenges for achieving their international goals.

Link for Further Reading:

NATO’s Iran Strategy: