The defense strategist who authored the document "The day after Iran goes nuclear" says the organization will have to strengthen its ties with countries in the region that are threatened by Iran.
The author, Jean-Loup Samaan, says the greatest risk is not necessarily nuclear warfare but rather "increasing subconventional confrontations of 'nuclear hedging' among NATO partners in the region."
Samaan presented his findings in a paper published this month by the research division of the NATO Defense College in Rome, and at a Tuesday lecture at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Samaan is a researcher and lecturer at the college, though the article states that the views "are the author's only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the NATO Defense College or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."
According to Samaan, the closer Iran comes to a nuclear capability, the more NATO will have to evaluate the implications for the organization and its approach to the Middle East.
Samaan says other countries in the region might try to follow in Iran's footsteps and obtain nuclear weapons; for example, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Smaller countries, particularly the Gulf states, would ask NATO and Western countries for increased security guarantees.
Samaan views a nuclear Iran as a "close and immediate threat" to NATO because it borders on Turkey, a NATO member. Iran can also attack Europe with its missiles. The United States, Britain and France, meanwhile, all have a military presence in the region.
Samaan says that under such circumstances, NATO would have to take urgent steps because a "nuclear-armed Iran would undoubtedly be a game-changer for NATO partnerships" in the Middle East.
If NATO did not strengthen its ties with its Mideast partners, these countries would "look for alternative solutions," Samaan says. He notes that NATO's cooperative framework with Middle Eastern countries "remains modest" and is a low priority for all parties.
He says the organization should consider war games and joint exercises and even expanding cooperation by deploying nuclear weapons in countries that were party to NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative forums.
But he notes that agreement is unlikely on stationing nuclear weapons in Gulf countries the way they were deployed in Europe during the Cold War.
Another possibility is to move U.S. nuclear missiles from northern to southern Europe to strengthen deterrence against Iran. Samaan says there would be a need to deploy missile defense systems in Israel, Turkey and elsewhere.
Like the Israeli defense establishment, Samaan says that if Iran behaved rationally after it acquired nuclear weapons, these weapons would give it greater room to maneuver. It would give its proteges such as Hezbollah and Hamas "an effective security umbrella for offensive non-nuclear military activities."
Samaan recalls the precedent of India and Pakistan. These countries' testing of nuclear devices in 1998 led to increased violence that included Pakistan's support for attacks by terror groups on Indian targets.
Nuclear weapons, Samaan believes, could serve as a kind of insurance policy for Iran in subconventional conflicts.
Considering the poor condition of Iran's conventional forces, Iran would not initiate a broad conventional attack on the West. It would continue to focus on irregular warfare such as the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and ballistic missiles.
Another possibility is that Tehran would spark a provocation such as a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in Lebanon, a reigniting of the conflict in the Persian Gulf or the closing of the Strait of Hormuz. Such tensions, says Samaan, could lead to an unintentional escalation.
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