NATO and Iran-Centric Missile Shield

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImageNATO leaders gathered in Lisbon on November 19-20, 2010, and after months of diplomatic deliberations, preparation and lobbies reached an agreement on the deployment of a missile defense shield as prelude to the establishment of a common command meant to protect people and territories of NATO members.

Although no specific country was named as a source of new threat to justify the missile shield throughout negotiations, the diplomatic bustle preceding the agreement as well as months of deliberation in addition to anti-Iranian tone of the French President Sarkozy during the confab, have made experts to conclude that the missile shield is mainly aimed to confront what NATO and the west, in general, perceive as “Iran threat.”

The logic justifying deployment of the missile shield to head off Iran threat is part of the new strategic concept of NATO and its aggressive roadmap for the next 10 years. A new version of the roadmap was approved by the member states in the same conference.

Many critical experts, who have studied the current situation of NATO and its plans to guarantee security of Europe, maintain that NATO is ignoring the real source of threats and challenges in the modern world, especially when it comes to major players in the Middle East and South Asia. A major instance is NATO’s failure during ISAF(1) operations in Afghanistan, some 5,000 km away from the Organization’s headquarters.

Realities on the ground indicate that by considering Iran as the main threat, NATO has been caught in another strategic trap which will ultimately lead to more profound “crisis of meaning” for the Organization following the Cold War era. Here, NATO’s European players will be most affected because by following suit with the American model, they do not guarantee security of Europe, but may even provide grounds for new threats.

Even if the missile shield is established by resorting to Iran threat as excuse, it will lead to increasing domination of the United States over NATO and this will, in turn, lead to more dependence of Europe on Washington, further deepen the existing gap between Russia and Europe, and provide grounds for the establishment of the American version of the new world order in Eurasia. Under the new order, new players (not necessarily Washington or Europe) will be the main winners of the game and early signs of this development are already looming in South Asia in the form of increasing insecurity.

Active ImageThe fact that the new missile shield is being established through a purely security approach using Iran threat as excuse, is nothing new to Iran. Tehran maintains that the new missile shield is continuation of a game initiated by the United States, Israel and certain European and other countries in order to contain Iran at regional and international levels.

Although Iran considers the missile shield a direct threat to its national security, it does not count it a high security threat because Tehran has always announced that its security doctrine is based on defense, rather than offense.

By establishing this Iran-centric missile shield, NATO is trying to guarantee sustainable security on the basis of containment and restraint principles. However, the existing equations show that chances for NATO’s success in establishing the missile shield are, at best, shaky because many variables are at work.

While NATO is facing big problems in its effort to adopt a global identity and start new activities to pursue new strategic goals, it is not clear how increased hostility with Iran can be in line with the realization of maximum degree of member states’ interests. The extent to which member states will continue with their strategic or tactical cooperation with the US policies is also very important.

NATO’s new identity and strategy as well as success of its missile shield depends on accuracy of NATO’s strategic calculations about Iran’s interactions with the west, continued support for NATO from European countries, and persistence of positive reactions from Russia and even China in the near future.

(1)International Security Assistance Force