by Peter Jenkins
It is hard to know why Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, claimed, in a statement on December 5, that Iran’s testing of a medium-range missile on December 1 demonstrated that Iran’s missile-related activities “go beyond what can be justified for national defence”.
The claim suggests the existence of some kind of agreed international norm that can be used to assess whether or not a weapon system is justified as a defensive tool. But no such norm exists. And we can imagine how the British government would react if some UN member were to opine that British possession of a nuclear deterrent goes beyond what is “justified for national defence”.
The claim also seems unreasonable. Israel, a possessor of medium-range missiles and an open enemy of Iran—especially under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu—is located well beyond the range of Iranian short-range missiles. Is Iran not justified in acquiring missiles capable of reaching Israel in order to create the “balance of terror” on which mutual deterrence rests?
Another feature of Mr. Hunt’s statement was the omission of any mention of Saudi Arabia and Israel. If one is concerned for regional stability in the Missile East, one should not single out Iran’s medium-range missiles as uniquely destabilising, as Mr. Hunt did. Saudi medium-range missiles and Israeli possession not only of such missiles but also of nuclear and chemical weapons deserve places in the picture. They too have a bearing on stability.
Regrettably, it is not only the United Kingdom that applies such double standards. France’s foreign minister has been equally eager to single out Iranian missile-related activity for condemnation. Yet such one-sidedness runs counter to Europe’s “soft power” need to appear just and even-handed when addressing a global audience. Given Europe’s wish to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, such British and French diplomacy is also unwise: applying double standards can affect how Iran sees that deal.
In reality Iran’s missile-related activity may not be as destabilising as the UK and France believe.
It is possible that over the next decade Iran’s missiles will gain in accuracy and reliability, and that the explosive force of their conventional payloads will increase. This is a trend that has been apparent in the United States and Russia, for instance. It has created potential for conventional missile strikes on strategic targets that can reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in strategic calculations.
A similar trend in Iranian missile technology could lead Iran to calculate that it has the capacity (augmented by ever more effective cyberweapons, perhaps) to inflict sufficient damage on the strategic assets of an adversary for there to be minimal benefit in developing a nuclear deterrent once restrictions on Iranian uranium enrichment fall away.
In other words, paradoxical though this may seem, Iranian conventional medium-range missiles can become a basis for strategic stability in the Middle East, as well as a reassurance to those who doubt the sincerity of Iran’s 2015 pledge never to acquire nuclear weapons.
As a footnote, in connection with the British and French proclivity for double standards, it has to be stressed that neither the UK nor France has condemned publicly a U.S. “inconsistency” with UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2231, even though this “inconsistency” is far more egregious than the Iranian missile-related “inconsistency” to which Mr. Hunt drew attention on December 5.
In fact the United States is guilty of much more than an “inconsistency”: the United States is in violation of UNSC 2231. Since denouncing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) the United States has failed to comply with paragraph 7 of UNSC 2231: “[the Security Council] Decides, acting under Article 41 of the Charter… that …. All states shall comply with paragraphs 1, 2, 4 and 5 [of UNSC 2231]”.
“Decides, acting under Article 41” creates a legally-binding obligation. Paragraph 1 urges full implementation of the JCPOA. Paragraph 2 calls on all states to take appropriate action to support implementation and to refrain from undermining implementation.
The United States is neither implementing the JCPOA nor refraining from undermining its implementation by others. On the contrary, the United States is doing its damnedest to undermine implementation by others. Surely, Mr. Hunt, this deserves regular public condemnation until such time as the United States returns to compliance. In yuletide parlance, what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander.