NATO and Iran’s Influence

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam, PhD Student in International Relations

Dimensions and Limitations

Active ImageAs the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been evolving into global NATO by expanding missions, activities and operations beyond Europe following the Cold War era, Iran has gained increasing importance in NATO’s goals and operations.

Bandwagoning efforts aimed at getting Iran aligned with NATO’s strategic missions for fighting terrorism and extremism, whose objective is to strategically contain such big powers as Russia, China and India by NATO, is one of the reasons why Iran is so strategically important to NATO members in their competition with rising powers.

NATO’s missions and security operations are determined on the basis of the organization’s strategic concerns and decisions reached at summit meetings of the organization, including earlier meetings in Washington (1999), Istanbul (2004), Prague (2006), Bucharest (2008), Cologne and Strasburg (2009), and Lisbon (2010). To win more allies in its ongoing struggle against serious international security issues, NATO has opted for a cooperative security approach. Therefore, Iran’s information, mediatory, institutional and supporting capabilities can be of long-term security desirability to NATO’s security goals.

Iran is also of special economic significance to NATO. At present, ISAF* operations in Afghanistan have imposed heavy costs on NATO member states under the current conditions of a crunching global economic crisis. Possible use of Iran’s land, air and sea logistic capacities to facilitate ISAF operations in Afghanistan may remarkably cut down those costs. Iran’s cooperation with NATO will be of great economic advantage for the organization examples of which include ensuring energy security and help with NATO’s stabilization operation.

On the other hand, NATO stands for cultural values of liberal democracy. Iran considers cultural NATO as a strategic foe which is targeting Iran’s domestic and foreign policies as well as national interests. Since NATO’s missions in Iran’s neighborhood pursue transregional cultural goals, the organization has been trying to align Iran with its cultural goals or, at least, make Tehran give in to special aspects of that culture. NATO believes that Iran’s possible cultural cooperation with new operational approaches taken by the organization will help to promote American and European lifestyles as well as global peace and justice.

Although NATO’s strategically needs Iran to increase impact of its transregional and strategic operations, it has thus far failed to take a transparent strategic approach to Iran. In other words, NATO has been unable to choose between bandwagoning and hostile strategies when faced with Iran’s regional activities.

Although, in practice, Iran has been militarily surrounded by NATO, the organization’s position on Iran, for various reasons, has not been unanimous. Iran’s domestic discourse, on the other hand, considers NATO a source of insecurity and a cause of desecuritization for the country’s national interests.

From a security viewpoint, NATO has taken an uncooperative approach to Iran through its new transregional operations. Banking on Iran’s security oversights, NATO has indirectly supported groups that threaten Iran’s national security. This has, in turn, prevented NATO from availing itself of relative security advantages of Iran.

Unfair efforts made to introduce Iran a security problem and a global issue can be explained along the same lines. Roles of such regional actors as Russia, Israel, Pakistan, and some Persian Gulf littoral states cannot be ignored in this regard.

Due to NATO’s strategic and security limitations, the organization has not been able to benefit from direct and indirect economic advantages of cooperation with Iran. Positions taken by the Iranian political elites are also another reason why NATO has not been able to benefit from economic advantages of cooperation with Iran because Iranian politicians are generally opposed to cooperation with NATO at any level considering it to be against foreign policy and Islamic goals of the country.

NATO’s cultural objectives are also in contrast to Iran’s cultural identity.
Misunderstanding of the Islamic culture on the part of NATO has led to many cases of serious confrontation between NATO’s liberal democratic culture and Iran’s Islamic and Shia culture, thus, laying grounds for cultural encounters in order to avert the so-called clash of civilizations. As a result of the above facts, Iran is now a focus of attention for NATO’s operations and strategic goals. Therefore, NATO’s strategic survival, increased engagement and effectiveness, and capabilities are closely interlinked with maximum success of its new missions in the surrounding environment of Iran and Iran’s foreign policy orientation.

*International Security Assistance Force