NATO and Iran Following Lisbon Summit

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImageOne decade into the 21st century, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) met in their historical Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, on November 19 and 20, to redefine strategic goals of the organization within framework of the new international system.

More “affectivity against new threats” with new capabilities and engagement with new partners are salient features of the road map which has been adopted at Lisbon Summit to delineate the organization’s future goals for the next 10 years to come.

NATO’s role in Afghanistan, relations between Russia and NATO, fighting terrorism and fundamentalism, missile defense, preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, collective crisis management, and NATO reforms were the most important topics on the agenda of NATO Summit.

Western countries (especially the United States and Secretary-General of NATO) had taken various measures since a few months before the Summit to create a link between NATO’s future strategic goals and Iran.

The main goal of those efforts was to introduce Iran as a threat to NATO member states. However, at the end of the meeting, the western alliance failed in its attempt to hypersecuritize Iran.

Insistence of the Turkish government on not mentioning Iran as a threat to NATO in order to justify deployment of a missile defense system on its soil was a reason behind that failure. Even the US President Barack Obama and Secretary-General of NATO did not directly mention Iran as a threat to justify the missile defense system.

The main cause of NATO’s failure to achieve this goal should be sought in the very nature of the organization and ultimate goals of Lisbon Summit. In fact, NATO was originally set up to ensure collective security of its members against the perceived threat of Communism. Therefore, some analysts had reached the conclusion that after collapse of Communism, NATO was dead as there was no further reason for its existence. This is why efforts made at redefinition of the organization’s goals through Washington Summit in 1999 or the recent Lisbon Summit have failed to fully revive it.

The main goal of the Summit, however, was to make important decisions as to fundamental reforms in NATO on the basis of new proposals which aimed to render the organization more effective, more engaged and more efficient. Since introducing Iran as NATO’s enemy and attempts made to prove continuing relevance of this defense-military alliance by show of NATO’s hostility toward Iran could not have helped the Summit’s goals in view of NATO’s ongoing missions in the neighborhood of Iran, this strategy was finally rejected by the majority of member states.

In reality, given NATO’s international goals, it needs more strategic cooperation from Iran and hostility to Tehran cannot help maximum realization of its strategic goals. Even introducing Iran as the archenemy will not lead to revival of the organization at international level.

Under the existing circumstances, Iran considers interaction with NATO as a source of insecurity and a threat to its national and Islamic goals and interests. Although Iran’s foreign policy goals sometimes overlap with that of NATO (e.g. in fighting Al Qaeda extremism and terrorism, ensuring energy supply security and fighting drug trafficking), practical positions taken by these two influential international players on such issues as use of force, militarism, occupationism, aggression, legitimate defense, massacre of civilians… are so profoundly divergent as to obliterate any promising outlook of convergence between Iran and NATO following the Lisbon Summit.

Subsequent to the Lisbon Summit, playing a proactive mediatory role and taking security building measures in certain areas will be more conformant to realities on the ground and strategic needs of these two international players.