IMI-Analyse 2006/002b

Munich Security Conference: NATO closes in front against Iran

von: Jürgen Wagner / Translated by Anna Cox | Veröffentlicht am: 6. Februar 2006


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It was almost a little dull at this year’s Munich Conference on Security Policy, which took place from the 3-5th February in Munich, as usual. After the “most important meeting of foreign ministers and the military world-wide” (Financial Times) was last year marked by altercations between the USA and Germany, which came to a head in a statement from Josef Joffe, editor of “Die Zeit”, that he had the impression that NATO would at this moment be brought to its grave, this year one remained in calm waters. While one attempted, despite the existing and unchanged difference of opinion regarding the future distribution of power within the organisation, to praise the transatlantic friendship to the skies, the consequent escalation in relation to Iran was impossible to oversee.

Aggressive War Tactics as International-Order Policy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the conference and was happy to comment on how successfully Europe had militarised since the last meeting. The Union is, “in the process of creating a common European armaments industry” and has, “grown into a role in which we are truly prepared to assume independent political responsibility, including the military security aspect.” Furthermore, she stressed that although the European Constitutional Treaty was rejected in the referenda in France and the Netherlands, the possibility is not off the cards.

Subsequently, she eventually addressed the main theme of the conference, as set by the organisers, the future of transatlantic relationships and NATO. At the beginning of her speech she encapsulated quite precisely the core of West’s conflictual approach and with it, the braces that (still) hold the Western alliance together, as she challenged the NATO States to carry out an even stronger “joint international-order policy.” Because – and in this point both sides of the Atlantic are in agreement – in order for this international order, the rules of which set by the West through the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, to function smoothly, the recourse to military support will become increasingly necessary due to growing resistance and conflicts that accompany Western policies of exploitation. As the French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie stated at the conference, “We all need an international rule that is recognised; otherwise it is the law of the jungle.” Most importantly, the West determines the rules of the game, i.e. it is able to reinterpret them arbitrarily in their own terms, as in the case of Iran.

Exactly in this way Merkel disregarded in passing the prohibition of the use of force under international law, which in Orwellian Newspeak is presently referred to as the “evolution” of international law. The Chancellor stressed, “that the tools of conflict prevention and crisis management have to be made more effective. This requires an international legal basis. In my view international law must be developed within the context of the United Nations … to ensure the existence of a legitimate, widely supported foundation on which to base our responses to the entirely new challenges of the 21st century.” Here the Chancellor supports current attempts to “reform” the UN in such a way that wars are not longer solely justified under international law through self-defence, but also in the case of breaches of „international law“, whereby the prohibition of the use of force by States in terms of world order policy would be practically abolished.

War as NATO`s Lowest Common Denominator

The Chancellor confirmed in Munich that which is already common knowledge, namely, that the American and European military policies barely differ from one another, as for both parties the “international-order policy” or the military administration of the neo-liberal system plays a central role: “The European Security Strategy, NATO’s Strategic Concept and the National Security Strategy of the United States of America provide a suitable foundation on which to conduct more intensive dialogue on the form our common security agenda should take. We only need to go through them once to see that they correspond to a remarkable degree. I don’t now intend to start philosophising on the differences between the words ‚preemptive‘ and ‚preventive‘, but it is fascinating to see that things are moving in the same direction.”
Merkel already described the most important guidelines of both strategies during her appearance at the Munich Conference on Security Policy in year 2004, in order to, “influence the policies and actions of other nations,” and to, “serve our interests and values,” we have to consider, “the tools available … everything from kind words to cruise missiles.” According to Merkel this “amazingly simple definition” need not only be valid for US policies, but, “should – or better still, must – also be a benchmark for a European foreign and security policy.”

The unanswered question within the internal relationship between the Western powers remains however, and in fact for quite a while, who gets how much of the cake and who gets to act as the chief guardian of the world order, so to speak, a role which not only the USA lay claim to. Both the United States and the European Union, especially Germany, are knocking hard at the opportunity, to finally face each other, eye to eye, and to steer the rest of the world together.

Even shortly before the security conference Hans-Ulrich Klose (SPD), acting chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Federal Parliament, remarked that, concerning the question of a restructured security policy, one would have to, “hold talks with the USA with all brutality.” The continual single-handed approach of the US government is a thorn in the side of the new federal government of Germany. For that reason the equal and aspired partnership in leading (or rather exploiting) the world demands that Washington undertakes all measures within the NATO framework in close association with other partners and to entitle them to wide reaching co-determination and veto possibilities. In Merkel’s words, “it (NATO) must be the place where political consultations take place on new conflicts arising around the world … Discussions must begin within NATO and may not only occasionally take place there,” which is why the Chancellor vehemently campaigned for NATO to hold “a kind of primacy” again in the future. In fact, Merkel’s statements resemble those of the preceding SPD-Green government, although the tone was drastically diffused.
For this reason, the US Defence Minister Donald Rumsfeld was not obliged to bite back this year, but rather he simply ignored the demands for principal consultations within the framework of NATO tacitly.

In any case, all agreed that NATO had now become a global military alliance. The German Federal Defence Minister Franz-Josef Jung formulated this unmistakably, “NATO … has gradually become a globally operating alliance … The old NATO as a purely defensive alliance is history.” The newly formed NATO Response Force (NRF), whose formation was decided at the Prague Summit 2002, acts as the peak of NATO military ambitions. NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced at the conference his aim to declare the operational readiness of the hoped total of 21,000 ground troops at the November Summit of the alliance in Riga.
All in all, there were few new developments brought to the table. That which is most worth mentioning is Merkel’s suggestion to remould the strategic concept of NATO in the next two to three years, which included adapting the repeatedly increased readiness to take military action and a commitment to NATO opening its doors to new members, i.e. a commitment to the fundamental agreement to incorporate Macedonia, Croatia and Albania within a foreseeable timeframe into the alliance (ambitions of the Ukraine and Georgia in this regard suffered setbacks). Thus, the most contentious question was on how the Western representatives would deal with the snowballing Iran crisis.

Escalation of the Iran Crisis and Renewed Nuclear War Threats

The full weight of the international-order policy was felt by Iran at the conference. Merkel set the tone, as she accused the country in her opening speech of having “knowingly overstepped the mark” and spoke of a “justified fear”, that its nuclear program serves no peaceful but rather military purposes. Despite paying lip service to peaceful conflict resolution, all signs pointed to stormy weather, because a successful settlement, according to Merkel, “depends on a willingness … to accept the terms of negotiation on offer.” The possible diplomatic solutions which have been presented so far are, however, unacceptable from Tehran’s point of view, which few parties other than Iran seem to notice. In particular, and considering permanent threats of war, the understandable interest in a guarantee from the USA that they will not attack, has not yet been up for serious debate at all.
“It is within Iran’s grasp” to avoid the situation escalating, according to the Chancellor, but only if Iran subordinates itself completely to the western guidelines – international-order policy in real terms. As Merkel simultaneously stressed, the West will not “be belittled”, further escalation seems to be pre-programmed. “We want to and must prevent the development of nuclear weapons in Iran” stated Merkel.
In direct response to Merkel’s speech, the acting Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stated, “this means an escalation of the conflict. I hope that Europe does not choose this path.” The fronts appear set and a solution is not in sight.

In fact, solely due to the overexpansion of American military activity in Iraq it is difficult to imagine that a large scale operation in Iran will actually take place, on the other hand all the sabre-rattling could put a dangerous downward spiral into action.
Moreover, it is unlikely that the deployment of ground troops presents a preferred military option for the West. Much more probable is the option of destroying Irani atomic and military sites from the air, possibly with nuclear weapons. The French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie excelled with particular aggression on this point at the conference. She stressed that her country would be able and ready to advance precisely with the use of nuclear weapons on “critical centres” in States, by which it felt threatened. Thus France is able, “through the ability to attack critical centres, rather than whole countries, to directly hit those who are responsible for a threat.” Further on she stated that the explanation from France’s President Jacques Chirac, that France retains the right to employ nuclear weapons against States that present a terrorist threat is “nothing new.” This is in fact true, but it does not make it any better. Furthermore, these publicly made threats of nuclear war, which have been repeated in direct connection with the Iran crisis, present a clear case of nuclear blackmail. Rightly so, Araghchi complained that his country, which possesses no nuclear weapons is seen as a threat, while European States, which threaten an advancement with nuclear weapons, are not considered a threat.

After such preparatory work, it was not necessary for the US representatives to rattle their sabres, the EU fighters had already polished off the lion’s share. The remaining task reserved for the US senators, John McCain and Jospeh Lieberman, was to verbally nail down the path of conflict. Lieberman proposed that, “NATO begin to plan now how its military assets might be employed to enforce our shared goal to stop Iran’s military nuclear program.” John McCain stressed likewise that, “every option must remain on the table. There is only one thing worse than military action, and that is a nuclear armed Iran.”
McCain stood out in the forefront of the security conference with massive threats against Tehran. He of all people was awarded the medal ‘Peace through Dialogue’, as appointed by the organisers of the security conference. “With this badge the organiser, Horst Teltschik, honours the personages for their merits, that did the motto of the conference ‘Peace through Dialogue’ the most justice”, says the press release from the organisers. Seen in this light, another Orwellian sentence could attempt to sum up the motto of the security conference, “war is peace.”