Toward a shared defensive posture

Although nuclear threat is probably greater than during Cold War, there is still no common strategy.

shihab shahab on highway 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
shihab shahab on highway 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Despite a series of UN sanctions, Iran is continuing to enrich uranium. Judging by its president's speech to the international body on September 23, 2008, the regime is trying to rally as many states and non-state entities as possible. Further, by conducting missile tests, the Iranians are announcing that they can take on the West single-handedly. Apparently, the Iranian leaders were saying the same thing when they announced the recent launch of Iran's first home-built satellite. Experts believe they launched the satellite from a Shahab-3 missile, which could reach Europe or Israel equipped with a warhead. The Iranians' pursuit of nuclear weapons seems to be supported by the Pyongyang regime. Although North Korean dignitaries are committed to dismantling their nuclear installations at Yongbyon, the Japanese government has announced efforts to limit the illegal export of dual-use components from North Korean to Iran, and the Russians felt it necessary to deny supplying the Iranians with S-300 anti-aircraft batteries. Let's hope that Moscow is being honest, as the delivery of such systems would change the balance of power in the Middle East. The use of force against Iran is currently only one option, but our governments must take further steps to deal with the growing threat. An international defense shield is justified. LET'S REMEMBER Raymond Aron, evoking Albert Wohlstetter, in his book The Great Debate - Initiation, when he pointed out a fundamental difference between having some atomic bombs or vectors (bombers) and having a deterrent ability. The latter exists only when it is possible to inflict reprisals. Although the nuclear threat of 2009 is probably greater than during the Cold War, there is still no common defensive strategy among the Western countries. Strengthening international cooperation in missile defense can reinforce our deterrent capabilities. Missile defense is seen as necessary by the Czechs and Poles, who are therefore very willing to accept American radar bases on their soil. The Obama administration considers the latest Russian statement about possible cooperation in missile defense as a positive step. Some analysts predicted that the new US administration would have no interest in missile defense, but they were wrong. As suggested by Richard Haas and Martin Indyk, to allow more time for diplomatic engagement, the Obama administration will have to persuade Israel not to strike Iran. That will require enhancing its deterrent and defensive capabilities by providing it with additional ballistic missile defenses and early warning systems. The Obama administration is still considering the missile shield, and must count on the Czechs and Poles as strong allies. Extended cooperation between the allies in missile defense and, more widely, renewed cooperation on security issues will send a clear message to the Iranian regime that the world will not stand idly by as it threatens Israel and Europe. The allies need to do much more than exchange information. They must increase their capacity to respond if missiles are fired toward their territories. They can achieve this by making a defense system that is interoperable. This cooperation will increase the geographic extent of our protection. Furthermore, other European nations should also allow American radar bases on their soil, even if only for a limited time, and bypass the hard-liners who see this as an infringement of their sovereignty. OUR DEFENSE architecture must also allow us to face asymmetric threats. As missiles could soon proliferate through Iranian proxies, it is extremely important to install widespread early warning systems. Yes, such cooperation will require bigger defense budgets, but it will also save us precious years. Additionally, it will be essential for the French to invest in joint research with countries that have a technological advantage in the field. Our allies must be able to count on French capacity, particularly in space. It is also important for the allies' chains of command, despite the differences in military culture, to be in phase with one another. Some may see the investment required as excessive. Others feel that the Iranians' rhetoric is so inconsistent that they cannot be taken seriously. These people should remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that any nuclear attack would likely cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. If perpetrated in the Middle East, the shock waves would have unprecedented effects. Let's hope our governments will be able to cooperate and therefore reinforce our combined deterrent capabilities. Fabrice Chiche is president of Le Cercle, a French think-tank based in Paris. Nuno Wahnon Martins is a research fellow at Le Cercle.