The 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels and the Issue of Iran

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Behzad Ahmadi
Senior expert on Europe

The summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was held in Brussels on July 11-12 at a time that transatlantic relations were under tremendous pressure due to US President Donald Trump’s positions while various domestic and foreign challenges have affected internal coherence and external efficiency of NATO. The summit meeting is held biannually in which the conditions and outlook of security threats facing the West are discussed and important decisions are made on them. During recent years, since many issues related to international security have been escalating, the need for a NATO summit was felt more than before. Following the election of Trump and in view of the doubt that he cast on the efficiency of this organization and its Article 5, one can claim that the summit was overshadowed by the Trump phenomenon and the concern about his unpredictable behavior. The failure of the half-day NATO meeting of last May in Brussels (2017) and expectations about the summit meeting between Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, a few days after that in Helsinki, were other reasons for the importance of the Brussels summit.

Since its inception up to the present time, NATO has held more than 40 official and unofficial meetings, but the issue of Iran has been generally mentioned in NATO documents and been a regular clause in its statements due to discussions on the country’s nuclear program since 2009. Nonetheless, the Iran discussion has been very general and despite efforts made by the United States, it has never been an axial theme of NATO meetings. However, following the withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and due to increasing hostility of Washington toward Tehran and measures taken by the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia in the region, Trump, as was expected, brought up various aspects of the Iranian issue, including the country’s missile program, regional security, and the alleged terrorist threat during NATO meeting. On the sidelines of the NATO meeting and in a press conference, Trump claimed that Iran is facing with many problems and its economy is falling apart and will finally contact the United States and ask for a deal and the two sides will reach a deal. As alleged by Trump, under his administration, Iran treats the United States much more respectfully compared to Obama’s tenure. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said in the meeting that he would not give up efforts to isolate and impose sanctions on Iran, asking European allies of Washington to cooperate for re-imposition of economic sanctions on Iran. Pompeo also accused Iran of selling arms in the Middle East in defiance of the United Nations resolution.

Due to this tremendous pressure from the United States, as was expected, the issue of Iran became part of the final NATO statement from various standpoints, as has been the rule during past years. The statement expressed concern about Iran’s missile tests, calling the country’s regional activities as a cause of instability in the Middle East. The statement also asked Iran to avoid any activity that would contravene the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. NATO members have also promised to make sure about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities, blocking the country’s access to nuclear weapons and ensuring its continued cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The statement also condemned Iran’s alleged financial support for “terrorist organizations” asking the country to play a more constructive role in fighting against terrorism and achieving political solutions to promote peace in the region. On the whole, the NATO statement:

  1. asked Iran to stop supporting non-state armed groups;
  2. asked Iran to stop measures in contravention to the Security Council Resolution 2231;
  3. expressed concern about Iran’s missiles tests as well as the range and accuracy of missiles; and
  4. asked Iran to stop providing financial support for terrorism.

Compared to the past, the first item that NATO asked of Iran was new and was mostly about the Shia militiamen in Iraq. In addition to these explicit threats, decisions made in NATO’s latest summit meeting have posed the following threats to Iran as well:

  • NATO’s presence in Iran’s neighboring regions: This presence becomes important in view of NATO’s strategy toward southern regions (which started in 1994 and has been expanding ever since). According to this strategy, NATO seeks to establish a new command to conduct its anti-terror and deterrence operations south of the organization and its new plans in Iraq and Afghanistan are also formulated in accordance with it. NATO’s new operation in Iraq started in 2016 within framework of a training program requested by the Iraqi government, according to which 500 Iraqi officers were trained by the end of 2017 through the program known as “Train the Trainers.”

On February 14, 2018, it was decided in a meeting of NATO defense ministers that the organization should expand its presence in Iraq. In doing this, training 2,000 Iraqi forces per year, focusing on similar programs, establishing a center to deal with improvised explosive devices, establishment of NATO’s military academy in Iraq and increasing NATO’s forces in the country will be put on agenda. NATO’s presence in Afghanistan was through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) up to 2014 and since that time, it has been done through the Resolute Support Mission. Providing financial support for the Afghan army up to 2024 by the United States, NATO and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); increasing the number of countries present in Afghanistan from 39 to 41; increasing NATO forces in the country from 13,000 to 16,000; and more focus on budgeting, as well as organization and arrangement of Afghan forces are among new goals sought by this military organization in Afghanistan.

  • Source of NATO’s threat: NATO’s documents and strategies often mention threats, which are explicitly or implicitly aimed at Iran. For example, the missile threat, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional stability as well as human rights and women’s rights are among those issues, which are raised or mentioned by American officials in a way that they would point to Iran.
  • NATO partnerships: Basically speaking, NATO uses various means such as the cooperative defense, management of international crises, Article 5 of NATO, and the N+29 formula to expand its presence and cooperation with non-member but partner countries. It uses these means to boost partnership, delegate responsibility and divide the costs among all allied countries, including the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council. Among the most important of these partnerships, one can mention the partnership for peace in Caucasus, Mediterranean dialogue in the Mediterranean region, and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) in the Persian Gulf region. Through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, NATO has expanded cooperation with countries in the Persian Gulf region, a NATO center has been opened in Kuwait (2017), NATO’s AWACS planes are present in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have requested to send forces to Afghanistan, NATO’s parliamentary group has visited Saudi Arabia with Saudi king playing host to it, and finally, Qatar has requested official membership in NATO.



The NATO summit in Brussels was held under conditions that this organization is faced with many challenges, especially internal ones. The discussion over allocating 2 percent of each member’s gross domestic product to NATO and Trump’s request to increase the figure to four percent to be allocated to NATO’s defense budget up to 2024 were among controversial points of this meeting. On the other hand, differences between the European members of NATO, on the one hand, and the United States, on the other, over priorities, including differences over how to deal with Russia and scolding Germany for having good economic relations with Russia, overshadowed the meeting. However, it must not be forgotten that Europe has no alternative for NATO in short and medium terms and, therefore, will try to appease Trump as much as possible. This issue can provide Trump with a good opportunity to mount pressure on Europe and take concessions over Iran. The latest positions taken by Trump in the recent NATO meeting and NATO’s emphasis on the alleged threats from Iran in its final statement are good evidence to this issue. Meanwhile, NATO’s demands from Iran are sure to make interaction between Iran and Europe more difficult. Therefore, it seems that although Trump did not achieve much through the recent NATO summit, he and his team have been able to put more pressure than ever before on Europe with regard to Iran and continuation of the JCPOA.

Of course, due to acute internal and external challenges, Iran is not expected to be a focus of attention for NATO in short or medium terms and NATO would not be in a position to play an effective role or carry out military operations in the region and against Iran. However, paying attention to NATO and having a well-developed plan for dealing with it must be among important priorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thwarting the efforts made by the United States and its regional allies to promote perception of threat from Iran and preventing them from making NATO see Iran as the “other” and strengthening this narrative should be among political and defense priorities of Iran in this regard. To do this, in addition to boosting the country’s defense power, using defense diplomacy and taking advantage of the cooperation/warning mechanism with regard to NATO can be effective. Let us not forget that the United States is not the entire NATO and there are many positive opportunities within framework of defense diplomacy for working with the European arm of NATO, especially in the field of promoting regional stability and security, on the issue of immigration, in fighting organized crime and so forth. In addition, Iran can think about more abstract but possible options such as cooperation with Russia, China and India to counteract NATO or consultation with them to come up with common initiatives.


More by Behzad Ahmadi:
*Repercussions of Brexit in Far East: Review of Britain’s Foreign Policy Outlook Following Brexit:
*Iran’s Constructive Role in Relation to European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy:
*Iran, EU Open New Chapter in Bilateral Cooperation :


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*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.