The Geneva Centre for Security Policy podcast is your gateway to top conversations on international peace and security. It will bring you timely, relevant analysis from across the globe with over 1,000 multi-disciplinary experts speaking at 120 events and 80 courses every year. Click subscribe, download on your favourite podcast player, get notified each time we release our weekly episode.
Podcast Episode 13
Host: Hello, my name is Claire Heffron and welcome to this episode of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy podcast on the latest issues, advancing peace, security and international cooperation.
Host: Iran continues to dominate the headlines globally and with its neighbours in the Gulf. Currently it is battling to control the outbreak of the coronavirus and with strained relations with Washington, we discuss Iran's current situation with Dr Shahram Chubin, Non Resident Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment, also a GCSP Associate Fellow with the GCSP’s Global Fellowship Initiative. And as NATO enters a new decade of existence, this 70 year old Alliance is constantly evolving. We spoke to Allison Hart, Deputy Head of the Human Security unit at NATO on how it's adapting to meet new threats and challenges.
Host: As Iran faces pressures with US sanctions, the outbreak of the coronavirus and building relationships with the Gulf countries, we had the chance to speak to Dr Sharham Chubin who is a Non Resident Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment.
Dr Sharham Chubin: Iran's key challenge right now is to get through it's, putting aside the pandemic that we're dealing with right now. Currently, it's to get on with its political system. It’s just had some elections, the hardliners have been given really free rein, whether that's going to improve the chances of negotiations with the West, particularly the United States, I doubt but it has to come through this period, perhaps exceptional period, maintaining its relations with Europe, making sure that it's as a possibility for some sort of reconciliation, if there's a new administration in Washington, and locally, it needs to try and limit its competition with the Saudi Arabia particularly and the United States to prevent a local incident becoming major conflict in the region. Those are the immediate requirements. But I think that what else is required is that the regime in Iran tries to understand and come to terms with how it's going to relate to the GCC states. And that means not just Saudi Arabia, but the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and so on, and I think that they are very much hostage right now to its bad relationship with the US and vice versa. So to interact, and the Gulf states need reassurance from the United States. But sometimes they get too much reassurance, and they become activist and the Iranians feel they have to respond, that's particularly true in the region. Sometimes the Saudis are calling for American responses, military responses, which the Iranians consider aggressive, and they respond by targeting Saudi insulations or Saudi allies. So I think this whole thing is intertwined. And it's going to take a little while to work out. But I think that it may begin to do so after 2020.
Host: So that actually leads you directly into my next question, what is next for Iran and the Gulf countries? Are there opportunities that lie ahead? What's coming down the pipeline?
Dr Sharham Chubin: Well, I can't think of a particular thing except a good football match if it isn't cancelled in Bahrain at some point. But I think that the Islamic Republic has to start looking at its immediate region, the Gulf, Afghanistan as well Iraq, with much more clarity, and a lot less ideologically and it'll have to start preparing to see how it can establish relations with Iraq, which does not upset the Sunni Iraqis. And with the Gulf states, try and work out an arrangement so that differences of view with the United States don't lead to conflicts.
Host: What does the current relationship between Europe and Iran and the Gulf Region look like at the moment?
Dr Sharham Chubin: Well, as I was saying, is now to, to a class, what's really interesting is different the Europeans are to the US, vis-à-vis, the Middle East, and Iran. And the reasons are very clear. One is at least three of those countries have had a colonial experience with the region, British, the French, some extent the Belgians and others, have had some sort of relationship in the past with the region. But I think more importantly, is that they are...Europe is contiguous to the Middle East, it's adjacent to it. If Turkey ever became a member of the EU, which seems doubtful today, it would take the European borders to Syria, which shows you that in some ways, the Middle East and North Africa are to Europe, as southern borders of the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, are to the US. Well, this is not true of the US, the US has very little direct interest in the Middle East, less and less in terms of energy, to some extent it has with Israel, but Israel needs less and less looking after, it's militarily strong, economically strong, and there's no real threat to it. And its relationship with the Gulf states is transactional, by which I mean that the United States has a sort of protection racket with the Gulf states, in which in exchange for taking care of their defence and selling them arms, it makes many, many billions in its trade with them. So the United States interested can be transactional. It's not exactly the same as the Gulf states interest. And it may vary, and it may, in fact, recede with time, whereas the Europeans are fated. Just think of the migrants, think of most something like 40 million Muslims live in Europe, almost every Middle Eastern issue whether it's Jihadism, Palestine question, or even anti semitism and anti Zionism, are political issues in most European countries, domestic issues. So the Middle East is a domestic issue in Europe. It's not at all and in the United States. So I think that Europe has an interest in making sure that was down to expand or continue. Europe has been very active and taking in refugees since 2015. They're declining now. Mainly coming now from Libya and North Africa. The regional states have been very active and taking refugees. Jordan, Lebanon have taken very, and Turkey have taken very large numbers of refugees. And the Europeans have helped them do that sometimes help fund them in camps. So I think that Europe and the Middle East and Europe and Iran and its nuclear programme, they take a different view from the United States, Europeans, believe in diplomacy and they believe that they can build on diplomacy. The United States feels that they can coerce Iran into doing things that the Iranians do not want to do. So, so far, the United States has managed to increase tensions and incidents in the region without any sign of success.
Host: My final question to you is, and it could go any way, what is not known about Iran and the Gulf region? Is there something that's misunderstood or not generally known?
Dr Sharham Chubin: It was a very good question. And it's often said that, to explain is not to defend. In other words, I think there's one can make a very good case for what the Iranians are doing, without necessarily making a judgment as to whether they should be doing it or whether it's the right thing. Or another way of putting it is that if you want to understand an area or a country or a people or a person, you have to put yourself in their position and say, how would I react if I was them? What motivates them to do it? Now, in the case of Iran, it is a revolutionary, self proclaimed revolutionary power. It is active in pursuing its ideological goals active in the sense of promoting them verbally, sometimes supporting groups that support it and so on, but by and large, what isn't understood is that Iran is a complicated society, even the politics are complicated, that there is no monolith in the country that the country has evolved. But generally speaking, threats, coercion and bullying work against the interests of the country doing it. And the Iranians are very sensitive or alert to the possibility of being coerced, because they feel that in their view, the revolution has always been misunderstood, in their view. One can argue that It's been misunderstood or understood very well. But the fact is the Iranians consider themselves to have been targeted from the beginning of the revolution, first through Iraq and Iran-Iraq war, subsequently with regime change, and the military buildup in the Gulf, in 1998. Till today, and, of course, much, much bigger build up 2003 till today, and therefore, they feel that their position has not been taken into account, have legitimate interests in the region, they’re not always expansive, they’re quite often defensive, and that they're not heard. And one of the reasons they're not heard is because they don't have a normal relationship with the US, diplomatic relations, and one can argue, you know, who's responsible for that and who's, who's the guilty party, whether it's not self inflicted, and so on. But to understand, if you want to deal with a government, countries that are important as Iran, one has to understand where it's coming from, without that understanding one isn’t going to have any success.
The unregulated trade in conventional arms can destabilise many countries. As decision makers, the pressure is on to act to create a proper legal framework for authorities and the public industry, we must learn how to regulate and control the international flow of conventional arms so that we can prevent their misuse. I am Marc Finaud, the Director of the Arms Trade Treaty Implementation course. At the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, we educate professionals to fulfill their task effectively, we use expert presentations, case studies, interactive exercises as methods towards better understanding how to respond to security challenges with international norms. We can help you achieve your goal by making you understand all the implications of effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty. We have a plan to have you and your authorities abide by your international commitments and contribute to national, regional and global security, but also elevate your own positioning by taking and applying the right policy decisions. Join us in this common endeavor for peace and security. See you in Geneva!
Host: As NATO enters another decade, it faces new challenges and continues to adapt. We had the chance to speak to Allison Hart, Deputy Head of Human Security Unit at NATO who shared with us how it is evolving. Why is NATO important today?
Ms Allison Hart: NATO has been around for just over 70 years now, we were founded because our members said we really want to safeguard freedom and security. Peace is important to us. And that hasn't changed. NATO is still important because all of its members come together around this idea that peace is important, and that we can do better by working together. NATO has been evolving pretty much since its birth. The reality is that the security situation today is so dynamic. And NATO is really invested in making sure that we're aware of the threats, and that we have the right capabilities to deal with them. So we're looking at both conventional threats, hybrid, where you start to see things that are happening beneath the level of declared conflict. Also things to do with cyber and disinformation. These are challenges that we're facing every day. Beyond that, we're also dealing with terrorism. Terrorism is a challenge. That affects us all. And so we're looking at all of these challenges and adapting so that we're well prepared to deal with them today and in the future.
Host: What are the challenges and opportunities for NATO?
Ms Allison Hart: I think there are a tremendous number of opportunities, part of what NATO does, in working together, both among our Allies were 29, soon to be 30, North Macedonia should be joining very soon. But then also working with partners around the world. What we're doing is helping improve security, increase stability. And in developing these relationships, I think there's a tremendous amount of positive feeling to be had. If you take for example, the work that we're doing with partners on human security, if we look at Women, Peace and Security and how we're thinking through those issues, what role do women play? How can we make sure they're included? That's an incredibly positive story. But not only is it a nice story, but it helps us to be more effective. We actually increase security, we increase our effectiveness as an alliance. And more broadly, by looking at these issues in depth and working together.
Host: What key questions were asked at the GCSP session?
Ms Allison Hart: It's broad, and we had a wide ranging conversation. We talked about everything from the evolution, how did NATO get from where it started back in 1949, to the situation we see today, the very different threats that we face. So we talked through some of those issues. We also talked about some of NATO's ongoing missions and operations and activities. We talked a bit about Iraq, the training mission that NATO is undertaking there, how that might expand over time, and what more we can do to help Iraq so it can be secure against the threat of terrorists, like those we saw with Daesh. We also talked about Afghanistan, the training mission that we have there and the prospects for Afghanistan’s future and their prosperity. So we talked through some of those issues more on the operational side. We also talked about NATO and how it works, what consensus means, how that can be challenging, but how that also provides a great deal of credibility. We talked about cohesion within the Alliance. And we talked about burden sharing and what are countries doing to invest, to make sure that they're prepared to contribute to their own security.
Host: Well, that's all for today's podcast for the GCSP. Thanks for listening. And thank you to Dr Shahram Chubin for joining us along with Allison Hart. Join us again next week to hear all the latest insights on international peace and security. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Until then, bye for now.