America, Europe, Iran: a view from Tehran

31 July 2001

If the United States goes ahead with its planned deployment of national missile defence (NMD), this could be construed as a declaration of intent to interfere in the affairs of other parts of the world as and when it wishes, leaving other countries without the means to object to such behaviour or to defend themselves.

Many countries abide by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but it is weakened by the US government’s double standards that discriminate in favour of Israel rather than considering the middle east as a whole. Unfortunately, given the lack of protection from international bodies, many states have no option but to obtain weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to defend themselves. It is quite clear that the United States is itself part of the problem of WMD proliferation.

Furthermore, according to a report from the British ministry of defence, it appears that genetic warfare may replace WMD. One might conclude that if “security” is not looked after internationally, then the national interests of all countries are threatened.

A nation's security

My country, Iran, is currently cast in the role of one of a handful of “rogue states” which constitute a growing post-cold-war missile threat whose existence is used to justify NMD.

How do we find ourselves in this position? Iran has good reason to be interested in any measures which strengthen “peace and progress and human dignity” in the world. After all, during the 1980s we endured eight years’ devastating war in which chemical weapons were used. Unfortunately, the United States came down on the side of the country that used chemical weapons. And no international organisation came to the help of Iran.

So we have to look after ourselves. It is our right. A healthy nation cannot live without any security. But security is also an international matter. Iran’s geographical situation condemns us to being stuck between Saddam Hussein on the one hand, and the Taliban on the other. We are living in a region where Pakistan, India and Israel have nuclear power. Iranian capability, as you would expect, is a regional capability. Little needs to be added to fully explain our security needs.

It is true that we want to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Working in full cooperation with the relevant international organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, we have invited all the European companies to come and invest in Iran. We worry that the Russian technology is out of date. But of course, when western countries will not come in to invest, we have to take what we can get. Still, it is hard to see how the international community can ban or prevent any country from enjoying the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran’s new democracy is only twenty years old. We need help to grow, not a fresh round of sanctions.

But it is clearly not enough to restate what has often been stated: that my government has no intention of attacking the United States. Rather, perhaps it is time and appropriate for me as an Iranian, on behalf of my country, to pose some questions: Why is America using Iran as a scapegoat? And what is it that Iran is being used as a scapegoat for?

The US’s real concern

Let us turn our attention to what most concerns the new US administration.

One major concern, for example, is the independence of the European rapid-reaction force. The European Union feels that it is necessary to have an independent force for crisis management. Although it may be complementary to Nato, it should be able to act, particularly when and where the United States of America is unwilling to accept European demands, or to participate in its actions.

But Henry Kissinger has described the European force as a “distinct disruption of Nato”. William Safire, a leading Conservative commentator, has criticised the European defence force plans as “Euro-isolationism… led by French chauvinists and Brussels bureaucrats”.

Senator John McCain, one of the most influential figures in the Republican Party, has said that plans for the European rapid-reaction force were creating “unneeded acrimony” within Nato: “The issues that confront us go to the very core of our existence as an alliance… and… fundamental questions regarding the future of Nato stand before us. I am afraid that our geographical divide is increasingly becoming a functional one – our perspectives are diverging.”

Elsewhere, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, told delegates at a conference in Munich that he was “a little worried about the European rapid-reaction force”. He indicated that the EU plan “injects instability into Nato”.

President George W Bush’s remarks about the European Union’s plan are equally terse and ominous. In his first address to the Nato allies, he said, “We did not prevail together in the Cold War only to go our separate ways, pursuing separate plans with separate technologies.”

Of course, American concern about the rapid-reaction force has not been confined to the new administration. It has been a longstanding concern dating from the Franco-British meeting in St Malo in 1998, where Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac agreed jointly to set up EU force. As ambassador Alexander Vershbow, the US permanent representative to the North Atlantic Council, said in a speech to the Hungarian national assembly in Budapest in 2000: “If the European Union focuses more on building autonomy for its own sake, then the effects could be serious: new frictions within the transatlantic community!”

In the EU summit in Nice, France, in the autumn of 2000, Jacques Chirac used the word “independent” to indicate the nature of the European rapid-reaction forces. The French president also attacked US proposals for NMD as an invitation to arms proliferation: “Throughout history, the sword has always prevailed over the shield”, as he put it.

Herein lies the key to the US’s real concerns behind the national missile defence proposal. From our vantage-point, as a developing country, it seems very clear that the strategic objective of the NMD proposal is to deepen the “technological gap” between the US and Europe in armed warfare so that the European Union remains dependent on the US security umbrella for the foreseeable future.

At his meeting with Tony Blair in Cahors, Jacques Chirac refrained from spelling this out, choosing instead to stress that “the European defence forces would not be in competition with Nato but complementary to it”. But Europe is marching in its own direction, and if the United States fails to preserve its “technological distance” over the Europeans, within a few years the EU will constitute a clear rival to US hegemony not only in Europe, but internationally. Is it any accident that NMD went to the top of the American agenda at the moment when there began to be talk about a European strategic-defence initiative?

Security in a smaller world

There is still room for hope that NMD may not be deployed. Europe wants to secure its role in international affairs, particularly on the European continent. The new American president mildly promised his government’s readiness to consult and cooperate with the European allies, a compromise which could prevent NMD’s installation. “We will cooperate in the work of peace. We will consult early and candidly with our Nato allies. We will expect them to return the same”, George Bush said.

So the problem arises between the Western powers themselves, and the ball is well and truly in the European court. The US plan for a strategic defence initiative in the 1980s never saw the light of day. If Europe plays this right, the world may never have to face the “son of Star Wars”.

We would only say this: there is no doubt that the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty belongs to the old days of the cold war. It was a treaty concluded between two superpowers in the 20th century, whereas the world has entered a new millennium. But even if the treaty needs upgrading, we need new arrangements for preserving international peace and security.

With the advent of new forms of technology and communication, the world is becoming smaller every day, and it is ever more important that global security becomes a matter for international consensus between states. Individual states and international communities need to look after “global interests”, rather than those of individual states or particular regions.

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