Friday, 10 October 2008

Scheffer Doubts Iranian Nuclear Programme Can Be Stopped

Will Iran get the bomb? NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer thinks so. Reuters has reported that he told a conference on October 6 that:

Scheffer told a conference in southeast France that NATO did not have a direct role to play in the issue, but said he was worried that the United Nations had failed to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. "It is a major challenge to prevent Iran from continuing to strive to get the bomb," Scheffer told a World Policy Conference organised by France's IFRI foreign affairs think tank. "I am not positive about the world being able to stop Iran from fulfilling its ambitions," he added.

Of course, this raises at least one question. If, as Scheffer is quoted as saying elsewhere in the article, the UN is not really capable of dealing with this problem at the moment, why isn;t NATO engaged? During the Cold War NATO, specifically the North Atlantic Council (NAC), was the premier forum for security consultation and cooperation between Allies. A potential nuclear threat to the Alliance would have been an obvious subject for discussion, especially if that potential threat bordered an Allied nation - as Iran borders Turkey.

Instead of working together through NATO, the US and several European Allies have been pursuing separate tracks of negotiation with Iran. Using the NAC they could present a truly united front. Moreover, with the US and NATO engaged they could offer the kinds of security guarantees to Iran's leadership that are likely to be necessary if Iran is to open up completely and abandon its nuclear weapons programme, or prove once and for all that it doesn't have one.

NATO could also remove the few remaining US free fall nuclear bombs from Europe. This relic of the Cold War is useless for security purposes and could be used as a piece of the puzzle to get arms control progress with Russia and Iran. Such a withdrawal would also do much to lighten the mood in the review process of the NPT.

In current circumstances Scheffer's judgement about Iran is probably right. it is a pity he doesn't look beyond hand wringing to the positive role the Alliance he leads could play in changing the dynamic of the nuclear dispute with Iran.

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