BASIC/ACA/PISM Warsaw roundtable on NATO’s nuclear posture, 5-6 July
As part of our joint project funded by the Hewlett Foundation, we held a two-day roundtable at the beginning of July discussing Alliance cohesion and assurance in central and eastern Europe, in the context of global moves towards nuclear disarmament, and the need for a genuine re-set in relations with Russia. Officials from around the region met with high profile politicians and officials from Western Europe for a forthright conversation about the way forward and what it means to build sustainable European security. Our purpose was to encourage a genuinely open discussion that could build the seeds for a change in approach towards one based less upon fear and threat and more upon the recognition of the opportunities in reducing nuclear dangers. This effort continues with roundtables planned in Brussels and in Ankara in October, and more events planned in Estonia and in Germany.
Executive Director Paul Ingram spent a week (1-7 August) in Tehran in attendance of the Second Grand Congress of Iranians Living Abroad. Please find below his personal reflections.
"I was lucky to experience a 'cold snap' in the Iranian summer - temperatures rarely above 30C when I could have expected more like 40C – during my second visit to Iran. I was attending the Second Grand Congress of Iranians Living Abroad, one of only five non-Iranians attending (out of 2000), presenting to a panel as part of the event, a special guest of Mrs Fatemi, the widow of the popular former Foreign Minister executed on the instruction of Churchill in 1953 after the British-inspired coup that then installed the Shah. We had addresses by President Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Mottaki, and a very long and controversial three hour speech by Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and preferred successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie. Tehran’s media was full of the fallout over the rest of the week. I was lucky enough later in the week to have an hour-long meeting with him to discuss how links with the UK government could be improved, and how we might collaborate on an international conference next year on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. I was also lucky to experience an impressive historical and cultural legacy at Esfahan. There were a number of impressions I left the country with I’d like to share:
- Both the conference and city of Tehran were chaotic – it made me wonder whether western officials really should be lying awake at night worrying about the threat. The chaos meant that on numerous occasions, (which might make your hair stand on end if I were to describe them in detail), I had to suspend any rational judgement of risk and entrust to fate or God. Amongst crowds of thousands of people I would be surrendering my mobile, my passport and my valuables to complete strangers who would then disappear amongst crowds of others. The disorganisation of the conference was horrifying, if you took it too seriously. Crossing a road is placing your life into others' hands every second. But all this seemed to throw people together – the good humour and the fraternity was staggering in these circumstances.
- There was a great deal of pride and nationalism. Whilst the frame in western media is of radical Islamic Revolution, it is probably underneath more the strength of nationalistic pride and the depth of desire for independence from the corrupting power of western governments and their corporations that drives Iranian elites and support amongst the people. I met several people who had been reformist supporters who had come around to supporting the current government under the President because they believed it to be the best chance there was of challenging the power of the clerics. And I can't help wondering whether informed western political elites really understand this. If they are worried about a strong effective challenge to the current status quo, then Iran certainly is a threat, and a nationalist more secular Iran could be a greater threat than a semi-medieval theocracy. But it's not the same threat as we are often sold. This was the fundamental message beneath Mashaie's speech, and indeed all the principal speeches – power is shifting in the international system, and the time of US hegemony is waning. And Iran is busy building alliances beyond the traditional Muslim world. There may have been a great deal of wishful thinking, but it could easily have reflected majority thinking in Tehran. And it has big implications for western policy. For if we think that we can continue our efforts to control and suppress these tendencies, as was done in 1953, we will fail and sow the seeds of our own destruction.
- While this visit meant that Iran made it under my skin – I met any number of open and friendly Iranians – I was also left with the feeling that their pride and confidence could also be dangerous. I definitely got the sense that they could underestimate the threat of reaction they could incite by their challenge to the status quo. I also found myself arguing strongly with them that there was more to this than challenging injustice – that, for example, acquiring a nuclear weapon capability would simply undermine any such objectives by inspiring fear and attack. It underlined for me the importance of engagement with Iran on the basis of common understandings of human rights, international law, and nuclear disarmament".
Anne Penketh, Program Director, used the quiet period to catch up on reading and research for BASIC's Middle East project and to reach out to potential funders in the United States and to Congressional staffers, administration officials and embassy diplomats trapped in Washington as we plan for a busy season after Labor Day. She also wrote a piece for The Hill newspaper's Congress blog on ratifying New START, which was well received. See: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/113941-its-a-no-brainer-ratify-arms-control-treaty-
Looking forward- BASIC will be involved in further conferences involving the Iranians about nuclear disarmament, and specifically the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. We just received confirmation of our first grant from the British Foreign Office, to encourage discussions within the region of this idea in the wake of the agreement to hold a conference in two years’ time, reached at the NPT Review Conference in May. We will be looking to involve Israeli, Egyptian and Iranian officials in this dialogue.
We are also organizing a roundtable (and delegation) in Ankara on NATO's Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) on the 4-6 October; and holding a joint roundtable with the Top Level Group on Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, on the issues surrounding Trident renewal, their relationship to the UK's international role, and our wider capabilities and defence budgets. The roundtable is in London on 12 October.
Finally, we are soon going to publish two papers on TNWs - one from our Washington intern Jinah Roe setting out various NATO countries' positions and one from Laura Spagnuolo, Research and Policy Officer, on the role that Italy can play in the current debate.