Addressing Kyiv’s desire to become a NATO member and deciding how to deal with the regime in Tehran will be of particular importance in the year ahead.
Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger is president of the Munich Security Conference Foundation.
Among the many foreign policy issues of 2022, two are likely to remain of particular geostrategic relevance in the year ahead: Namely, whether Ukraine’s desire to become a NATO member will become a reality, and how to deal with the Iranian regime in light of the nuclear deal.
When it comes to NATO, the procedure of enlarging the alliance is truly complicated — as illustrated by Turkey’s continued refusal to approve Sweden and Finland as new members. Not only is unanimity from member countries required, but each member must also obtain approval from their respective national parliaments, as the decision is linked to a formal international treaty.
Thus, in order to react appropriately to Ukraine’s request to join the alliance, it might be useful to recall the three criteria applied during the initial NATO-Enlargement round of 1997.
At the time, we asked three questions: Is the country in question united in its desire to join NATO, or would a potential membership result in internal division? Are all members of the alliance in favor of granting membership? And would the country in question’s membership enhance European security and stability generally?
Back then, we recommended presidents and heads of state invite prospective member countries only if all three of these questions could clearly be answered affirmatively. And in the cases of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, all three questions were answered with a resounding “Yes!”
When the topic of Ukraine arose during the NATO-Summit in Bucharest in 2008, however, a controversial debate ensued, and both then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy concluded that not all of the three questions could be answered positively.
Arguably, from today’s perspective, one could draw different conclusions — particularly regarding the issue of European security and stability — even though not all concerns by all member states have been eliminated. Perhaps this explains why the alliance continues to be quite hesitant in responding to Ukraine’s membership bid.
As for Iran, the main challenge to address is going to be whether to impose more rigid sanctions or exercise restraint regarding the regime’s current human rights violations because of our interest in reviving the nuclear deal.
Here, the answer should be a clear “no!”
Naturally, serious concerns in terms of safeguarding the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty remain. However, most experts believe the chances of reviving the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) had hit rock bottom long before the unrest in Iran was triggered, and Tehran hasn’t displayed any willingness at all to agree to the present draft proposal.
Moreover, signing an agreement with Tehran at this time would send completely the wrong signal, as any concessions by the West might appear as if in support of the regime — a slap in the face for Iranians fighting for their freedom, as well as those already imprisoned.
Therefore, the West shouldn’t hesitate to impose additional sanctions on the mullahs’ regime. And while current measures planned by the European Union appear somewhat half-hearted, the bloc should instead demonstrate unity and toughness.
Considering the ongoing delivery of drones to Russia, Tehran supports the genocidal war of aggression Russia is waging in Ukraine — and this is unacceptable. As such, it must be made apparent to Tehran that it isn’t just facing a massive domestic challenge but will also face further international isolation and challenges.
And while it is also clear that the JCPOA offer should stay on the table, if the West wishes not to abandon its own values, it should demonstrate that the people of Iran won’t be abandoned in their courageous fight for their liberty.