Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Iran: A Nato Fix

Stuart Gottlieb, New York Post:
The International Atomic Energy Agency's recent decision to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program is an important step in the international effort to prevent the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism from acquiring atomic weapons. But does the Security Council have the will to impose possible economic or military sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions? Unless the council can build a consensus to act, the move may simply mean a change of scenery from Vienna to New York, where Iran can continue to run out the clock.

Security Council deliberations are set to start this month. The United States, Britain and France are willing to keep all options open. But China and Russia, the other Security Council veto powers, both have significant commercial ties with Iran - and have been far less receptive to anything beyond rhetorical condemnation; at best, they seem to favor carrots for Iran to give up its quest for the bomb - not sticks if Tehran refuses.

Indeed, China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guanya, said last month: "As a matter of principle, China never supports sanctions as a way of exerting pressure." And Russia is doing all it can at this week's IAEA board meeting in Vienna to prevent referral to the Security Council.

If the Security Council won't act, is America left with no choice but unilateral action - or doing nothing? No: Europe's leadership on the Iranian nuclear problem suggests a third option: NATO. READ MORE

Working with its European allies, the United States could refer the issue to the North Atlantic Council, the political and decision-making wing of the 26-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

It's no stretch to view the Iranian nuclear threat through a lens of collective security: A nuclear Iran would likely spark other regional states - including NATO-member Turkey - to seek their own nuclear defenses. More: Iran is near development of long-range missiles capable of striking Western Europe. Plus, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is an issue that unites all NATO countries - and thus an important potential new mission for the organization in the 21st century.

At first, NATO involvement could focus on supporting U.N. efforts. For example, if diplomatic strategies in the Security Council fail to bring Tehran into compliance, and military options are considered, NATO needs to be prepared to lead military operations, as it did on behalf of the U.N. Bosnia mission in the 1990s.

Bringing in Brussels has other important benefits. Parallel deliberations by the Security Council and NATO would serve as a reminder to Russia and China that their long-term interests are best served by solving Iran's nuclear standoff in the United Nations, even if that requires signing on to sanctions or the threat of force.

After all, a NATO decision to act independently - as when the Security Council stalemated over the Kosovo crisis in 1999 - would leave China and Russia on the sidelines, and further weaken the Security Council's credibility to tackle the difficult global challenges of the day.

NATO should stand prepared to act - via collective economic sanctions, or possible military strikes - if the Security Council fails to do so: If Tehran knows this, it's far more likely to seek a deal. (This was the rationale the United States and its allies used for bypassing the United Nations in Kosovo - NATO strikes brought Serbia back to the negotiating table, allowing the U.N. peacekeeping mission to resume).

The best outcome to the international standoff with Iran would be for Tehran to come to its senses and renounce its nuclear ambitions. The Security Council should be afforded ample time to act in this regard. But the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is too great to leave the outcome to chance.

In January, Mohamad ElBaradei, the IAEA director-general and winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, said that, in case Iran is simply buying time to build nuclear weapons, "Diplomacy has to be backed up by pressure and, in extreme cases, by force."

A NATO role will significantly raise the stakes for Tehran in its current game of nuclear chicken, which can only help tip the scales in favor of success.

Stuart Gottlieb, a foreign-policy adviser and speechwriter in the U.S. Senate from 1999-2003, teaches American foreign policy and international security at Columbia University.