It seems the Iranian crisis has all the elements that led to the Iraqi crisis. However, these are two different crises. Iraq has destroyed the old international order and what happens in Iran could be the beginning of the future international system. Unfortunately, there is no doubt it would be to the detriment of European democracies.
What is at risk first is the future of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons international regime. Until the end of the 90s, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had been very efficient. Only three non-signatory countries got the atomic weapon since the implementation of the NPT in 1968 and many had given up to do it. The only true violation during this period was the Iraqi one that was about to get the bomb before the first Gulf War. Today, this system is about to suffer an implosion. In 2004, North Korea left the NPT, but like Western Germany, we’re not talking about a country but a regime. An Iranian withdrawal would have a very different effect. If Iran gets the nuclear weapon, it would be an unacceptable regional leader that its neighbor countries won’t tolerate. Consequently, they will also try to get nuclear weapons. An unstable Middle East with nuclear weapons is a great threat for Europe and this is the reason why the European Union wants to convince Teheran to respect the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The fact that the EU does not accept the annihilation of the NPT is natural.
However, in view of the danger the nuclearization of Iran represents, launching a war is not convenient. The Iranian nuclear program can’t be destroyed with some attacks. This will terribly worsen relations between the West and the Muslim world. Besides, the impact of a war upon oil prices will be catastrophic for world economy. Unfortunately, coolness is no longer effective.
And it’s here where the second element comes in: the emergence of China as a great power. Beijing has a key role to play in the relations with Iran and it should only worry for its short-term economic interests. China can’t allow either the destruction of the non-proliferation system. If this happens, who would prevent Tokyo, Seoul or Taipei from getting these weapons? So, that the Americans and the Europeans incite China to act in a constructive way in this matter is necessary. But what would the price Beijing will have to pay for this diplomatic action be? Then, what would the Chinese “pacific intervention” be like? What place would Europe occupy in the foreseen American and non bipolar world?
Another factor of the crisis could be an American change of attitude with regard to Iran although, unfortunately, it is not probable.

Le Monde (France)

La clé de la crise iranienne est à Pékin”, by François Heisbourg, Le Monde, September 1st., 2005.