After a couple of months of a tense standoff in the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey, it seems that the situation is cooling off, with the ’Oruc Reis’ research vessel and its accompanying warship fleet withdrawing back to Turkish shores. However, Ankara continues its drilling activities in the waters off Cyprus. Ahead of the Special European Council, Brussels must push Erdogan to cease any provocative actions and rhetoric and start negotiations on the basis of international law and the Law of the Sea. Otherwise, the imposition of economic sanctions, further destabilising the already weak Turkish economy, cannot be ruled out.
On the other hand, the signing of the Abraham Accords signals a new era for the Middle East and the hope that the Mediterranean basin and the wider Gulf region can become a land of peace and prosperity for its people. The alliance formed between France, Greece, Israel, and Cyprus, together with many of region’s Arab states, change the geopolitical map of ‘Mare Nostrum’.
This online event aims to discuss the recent developments in the area and Turkey’s revisionist stance. How can the EU defend its interests in the region, and what could be the role of Israel and the main Arab countries? Is Turkey NATO’s ‘fifth column’? Finally, what should we expect from the United States and Russia?Roland Freudenstein Defence Mediterranean Middle East
Online Event ‘The Perils of Revisionism: Security Threats in the Eastern Mediterranean ‘
Live-streams - Multimedia
22 Sep 2020
Devastated by years of conflict, economic collapse and multiple humanitarian crises, the omnipresent coronavirus could wreak unprecedented havoc on the already-fragile geopolitical situation in the Middle East. On the other hand, the virus presents a unique opportunity for cooperation, particularly with Iran – the epicentre of the virus in the region – and could also provide the EU and other international actors with an opportunity to reconvene dialogue and peace negotiations.
The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies invites you to a webinar where we will discuss the implications of COVID-19 for the Middle East, which could ultimately prove to be a watershed moment for the region and all interested parties.Roland Freudenstein Michael Benhamou COVID-19 Middle East
Online Event ‘The Geopolitical Impact of Covid-19 on the Middle East’
Live-streams - Multimedia
29 Apr 2020
We are happy to present our new weekly video series, each week with a different guest. Today, we’re honoured to have Daniel Schwammenthal answering the 7 Questions of the Week.Roland Freudenstein COVID-19 Economy Middle East
The Week In 7 Questions with Daniel Schwammenthal
Multimedia - The Week in 7 Questions
10 Apr 2020
Watch again our first Online Event on Tommaso Virgili’s publication about the integration of Muslim communities in Western Europe. Discussed by Tommaso and Ruud Koopmans, Director of the Department of Migration, Integration, Transnationalization at WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Moderated by Vit Novotný.Vít Novotný Tommaso Virgili European Union Islam Middle East
Online Event ‘Lifting the Integration Veil: Outcasts from Islam in Western Europe’
Live-streams - Multimedia
24 Mar 2020
In international affairs, the year 2020 has begun dramatically. On 3 January, the US killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, General Qasem Soleimani, in a targeted airstrike in Iraq. The strike came only days after protesters had assaulted the US embassy in Baghdad in an attack for which the Pentagon blamed Iran and Soleimani in particular.
Iran retaliated on 8 January by hitting American air bases in Iraq with missiles. No American troops were killed and Washington has seemed to accept them as a tit-for-tat response for the earlier strike on Soleimani. Yet, the standoff has also produced casualties: hours after the missile strikes, Iran accidentally shot down Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board.
As tensions between the US and Iran have peaked, the EU has found it challenging to play a meaningful diplomatic role in the Middle East, despite the fact the region is located on its own doorstep. The Union’s response has been—as it often is when the EU is confronted with a crisis—haphazard and devoid of strategy.
The EU has made little effort to speak in one voice. Following the American strike on Soleimani, EU leaders issued different and poorly coordinated statements. The first one to do so was European Council President Charles Michel, who emphasised that further escalation needs to be avoided ‘at all cost’. His statement was followed by additional reactions from High Representative Josep Borrell and the President of the new ‘geopolitical’ European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Confusion over who is really speaking for “Europe” was increased further by the separate diplomatic initiatives of France, Germany and the UK—the “E3” European signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. At the height of the standoff, France spoke to Iraq, Germany engaged Iran and the UK put the Royal Navy on standby in the Gulf. The E3 also released a separate joint statement to add to the pile of European reactions.
As tensions between the US and Iran have peaked, the EU has found it challenging to play a meaningful diplomatic role in the Middle East, despite the fact the region is located on its own doorstep.
The various European statements have two things in common. First, they emphasise the need to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East in order to avoid a spiral of violence. Second, they emphasise the need to preserve the JCPoA, which has been on life support ever since the US decision to withdraw from it in 2018. Yet, Europe doesn’t seem to be in a strong position to impact the former and the latter seems little more than a dead letter, especially after Iran announced that it would no longer abide by the JCPOA’s uranium enrichment limits.
EU foreign ministers did discuss the situation in the Middle East in an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting on 10 January and they mandated the High Representative to carry out diplomatic efforts with all parties to the standoff to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions. Beyond this, the outcomes of the FAC were meagre (i.e. call for de-escalation and restraint, rhetorical support for Iraq’s stability and the preservation of the JCPoA).
The most significant European move took place on 14 January when the E3 triggered the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism in order to bring Iran back into full compliance with the agreement. High Representative Borrell will oversee the dispute resolution process but the EU doesn’t seem to have an Iran strategy beyond the preservation of the JCPOA, which may well collapse entirely if the process fails and UN sanctions are re-imposed on Tehran.
The causes of Europe’s strategy deficiency are multiple and would take an entire book to address sufficiently. However, it suffices to say here that the EU suffers from multiple problems. These include, inter alia, a leadership vacuum in foreign policy, difficulties in taking decisions that do not create positive win-win outcomes, an unwillingness to make political sacrifices in international affairs, and a lack of appetite for strategic thinking.
None of these problems can be fixed with a single silver bullet such as expanding the use of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in EU foreign policy. This is because the Union’s problems are either structural in character or rooted in strategic culture, which means that they cannot be overcome by simply moving away from unanimity decision making in the Council.
Yet, there are things the EU could do. The current practice in which the presidents of different EU institutions issue separate statements on major foreign policy events should stop. This is confusing to audiences both within and outside the EU who seek to understand the Union’s position on a given issue. Ideally, there should be a single joint statement by the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council and the High Representative if a statement by the latter alone is considered insufficient.
There should also be a permanent operational contact group consisting of the major European powers, which inevitably are expected to take charge in a crisis. It could take the form of a European Security Council, under the umbrella of which major European countries could coordinate their diplomatic activities. Such a structure could be based outside the EU to make it politically feasible to include post-Brexit UK as well.
The current practice in which the presidents of different EU institutions issue separate statements on major foreign policy events should stop.
Finally, there should be a permanent EU level strategy development process, which should lead to the adoption of a new European Security Strategy (ESS) every five years. At the moment, documents such as the 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) are developed on ad hoc basis whenever the member states have an interest in them. This is why there was a 13-year gap between the 2003 ESS and the 2016 EUGS. A more formalised process would push the EU to think about what it wants to achieve on the world stage in regular intervals.
These are small steps, but smalls steps are preferable to doing nothing. The risk is that Europe will continue to sink into further strategic irrelevance and that EU foreign policy will be reduced to empty slogans, hollow statements and photo opportunities.
At a time when tensions in the Middle East remain high, when Russia continues to be assertive, when China’s rise is challenging the established international order, muddling through—Europe’s default foreign policy strategy—should be rejected as an option. Continuing to follow it would be detrimental to Europe’s ability to defend its interests as well as those of its partners.Niklas Nováky Brexit Crisis EU Institutions European Union Foreign Policy Middle East
Iran-US standoff: A missed chance for the EU to speak with one voice
15 Jan 2020
The leading Twitter hashtags on 3 January – the day Qasem Soleimani was killed by an American drone strike in broad daylight in front of Baghdad Airport – were #WorldWarIII and #FranzFerdinand – the latter not referring to the Scottish indie band, but to the murder of Austria’s heir presumptive that triggered World War I. Alas, 2020 is not 1914, Baghdad isn’t Sarajevo, and the one thing we can safely predict is that World War III is not about to break out. Which doesn’t mean everything is ok and we can safely go back to de-hibernation in rainy Brussels. And the disaster of the downed Ukrainian passenger plane demonstrates that there is no such thing as a conflict without tragic losses. But it means that Europe’s hyperventilation, even if shared by many US liberals in the solidly partisan biotope of Washington, should give way to a healthy dose of sobriety. I propose to take it in five steps.
1. The big Middle Eastern War is not imminent
If the price of crude oil, as a reaction to Soleimani’s killing – jumps up a mere 3 %, as it did last Friday, you know that Armageddon will have to wait, no matter what the Twittersphere says. That doesn’t mean the crisis is over. But the very measured missile strike without casualties against US bases in Iraq on 8 January, the tweets by Iranian leaders that they don’t want further escalation and also Trump’s non-escalatory statement after the missile strikes all speak for lowering tensions for the moment. In fact, while both sides of the conflict have no interest in letting this grow into a full-blown war, it’s the Iranian regime whose very existence is at stake in case the US and/or Israel take out the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) structure – of which they are very well capable. While full-blown war might jeopardise Trump’s re-election, in Iran it would put the whole system into question and likely end mullah rule.
2. Soleimani’s killing has re-established deterrence against Iran
Taking out the mastermind behind Iran’s export of terror in the Middle East and beyond, the engineer of the slaughter in Aleppo and elsewhere who is also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers, may well go down in history as a textbook example of escalating to de-escalate. This, nota bene, after a couple of Iranian attacks that remained essentially unanswered by the US. The bombing of tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in spring 2019, the shooting down of a state-of-the-art US drone in June and the missile attacks against Saudi refineries in September come to mind. And remember, it was a good part of the American and European security community that began to worry that Trump is being too soft on Iran, especially after he called back planes and drones already in the air after the drone incident.
Apparently, this week the Iranian military before the strike called up the Iraqi authorities, who then warned the US soldiers so they could get into shelters. Iranian leaders are tweeting very clearly that they want to avoid further escalation. Iraqi Shia leaders have issued calls to their faithful not to attack US troops for the moment. All these are signs that, for the first time in almost a year of direct aggression against the US, Iran is indeed standing down. Soleimani’s killing caused this.
3. The killing has not weakened Iranian moderates
First of all, don’t be deceived by Iranian TV pictures of millions of mourners in the streets of Iranian cities. Soleimani may have been a popular figure with some Iranians; but being the second most powerful leader and his IRGC the decisive pillar of the regime, he was certainly reviled by all dissenters – whose numbers have been growing, if anything, recently. Naturally, the regime spent all the carrots and sticks at the disposal of an authoritarian system to make people attend the rallies. And secondly, Iran’s moderate reaction this Wednesday can very well be read as a sign that the radicals, especially in the IRGC itself, are not calling the shots anymore, contrary to recent years.
4. US forces are not being kicked out of Iraq
That may still happen, and it would be detrimental to Iraqi democracy and especially the fight against ISIS, but Iraq’s non-binding parliamentary resolution of last weekend will not lead to an immediate withdrawal of US troops. Anti-ISIS operations have been halted; some US allies are withdrawing troops from Iraq, but this may very well not be the last word. It’s definitely too early to predict the end of the US presence in Iraq.
5. It is Europe’s sacred mission to bring both sides back to reason – NOT!
Non-European observers may be forgiven for thinking that Europe’s habitual calls on both sides to exercise utmost restraint, and defer from further escalation, have all the quaintness – and the effectiveness – of a Pottawatomi rain dance. Which doesn’t mean that de-escalation doesn’t happen (see above) but it certainly isn’t the result of Europe’s well-meant efforts to ‘bring both sides back to reason’, as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas put it.
Fortunately, the heads of government of the UK, France and Germany were slightly more sober, putting the blame squarely on the Iranian side and Soleimani personally before repeating the standard memes of EU Iran policy. Europe’s problem with this crisis, as generally with the Middle East, is twofold: First, the EU and its members don’t have the wherewithal to take on any serious diplomatic role because, without the necessary military resources (not only troops but also transport, intelligence and command & control), they cannot alone become a security provider which is essential in the region. And second, some important European actors (Germany, for example) have a huge problem with the very idea of deterrence. Deterrence meaning the ability and the willingness to escalate, in a precise and limited and targeted manner in specific situations, as it happened last Friday. As long as this is so, we can call for utmost restraint or try to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) until we’re blue in the face.
Again: All this doesn’t mean that we’re heading for a peaceful future in the Middle East, or that the Soleimani killing was a brilliant, well-planned chess move by a stable genius in the White House. But it means that we Europeans have to rethink some time-honoured principles about security. Remaining pure vegetarians, we won’t survive in a jungle of carnivores.Roland Freudenstein Crisis EU Institutions Foreign Policy Middle East Security
After Soleimani: We Need to Talk About Deterrence in Europe
10 Jan 2020
Since the time that the popular uprisings in Syria mushroomed into a civil war, prospects for a negotiated political settlement have been thwarted because of the myriad diverging interests of the regime, local opposition groups, and regional and global actors, all of which are vying for power and influence in the country. Europe is deeply troubled by the human rights situation in the country. However, as currently organised, the EU lacks the foreign- and defence-policy mechanisms that would allow it to make a significant impact on the conflict.
Any chance of influencing the situation that the EU may have had in the beginning of the conflict dissipated relatively quickly. This paper recommends that the EU broadens its policy options and engages in ‘linkage politics’ with key powers, particularly Turkey, which has shared interests on certain fronts and direct influence on the ground in Syria. The EU has a long-standing relationship with Turkey, which was developed through the EU accession and customs union processes and more recently in connection with migration management.
Its concerns about Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism notwithstanding, the EU should build on this relationship to promote, as much as possible, a democratic, stable, just and prosperous Syria and greater Middle East region. More specifically, this broader policy framework should emphasise deeper and more sustained coordination of humanitarian responses, border management and de-mining. It should also stress the need for inclusive economic growth as concerns both the displaced Syrian private sector operating in Turkey and its Turkish business counterpart.Democracy Foreign Policy Human Rights Middle East
Thin on the Ground: Recalibrating EU-Turkey Engagement in Syria
08 Jul 2019
For Europe, four security challenges predominate: Russian revanchism, Islamist terrorism, the migrant crisis, and the associated problems of civil war and state collapse in the Middle East and North Africa.
For India, the environment looks very different. Its two most important security challenges are cross-border terrorism from Pakistan-based militant groups, often sponsored by the Pakistani intelligence services, and the steady growth of China’s economic and military presence along India’s land and maritime borders, including as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
These differing priorities risk pushing Europe and India in different directions. India’s hope is that an improved US–Russia relationship will create a thaw in Europe, allowing all parties—India, Europe and the US—to focus on addressing China’s rise. But there is little sign of such a shift at present. However, there is considerable room for greater convergence on a range of issues, such as maritime security, Afghanistan and counterterrorism.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Shashank Joshi Defence European Union Middle East Security
The prospects for EU–India security cooperation
30 Oct 2017
In the post-Soviet space as well as the Middle East, Western leaders have largely failed to heed ample evidence that the goals of the Russian leadership are fundamentally opposed to those of the EU and the US. Whereas Moscow seeks to counter Western influence and roll back the US’s role in the world, the West has proposed a win–win approach, seeking to convince Moscow that its ‘true’ interests should lead it to cooperate with the West.
When this has not worked, Western leaders have ‘compartmentalised’, isolating areas of agreement from areas of disagreement. This approach has come to the end of the road because the assumptions that undergird it are false. So long as Western powers fail to understand the fundamental incompatibility of their interests with the deeply anti-Western interests of the current power brokers in the Kremlin, they are unlikely to develop policies that achieve success.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Svante Cornell EU-Russia Foreign Policy Middle East Security
The fallacy of ‘compartmentalisation’: the West and Russia from Ukraine to Syria
25 May 2016
Syria’s peaceful revolution for dignity and democracy turned into a brutal civil war when the regime of Bashir al-Assad continued to commit atrocities against its people. Since then the war has become complicated, involving jihadist groups, regional actors and the international community.
This article outlines the difficulties of creating a peace process for Syria, given not only the opposing interests of the groups at war, but also those of the international community. Two models for peace negotiations, those of Palestine and Sudan, are then analysed as possible paths for the Syrian negotiations.
While it should be remembered that the war is a result of a call for dignity, an outcome that does not appease Iran, Turkey, Russia, the West and Saudi Arabia will simply be impossible to achieve.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Ingrid Habets Middle East
Obstacles to a Syrian peace: the interference of interests
19 May 2016
The relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been conditioned by many factors, from the religious divide between Shia and Sunni interpretations of Islam to the regional role played by external forces, such as the US. We are currently witnessing the collapse of the traditional Middle East order, most dramatically in Syria.
This breakdown has been accompanied by a rapprochement between the US and Iran. But far from producing a more stable situation, it is nurturing a reaction by Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia, that may lead to more regional rivalries and confrontation. There are two camps—the Shia led by Iran and the Sunni led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—that are colliding in several places, from Syria to Yemen.
It is a clash of divergent religious branches but above all of power and strategic interests. Thus far the tensions have, to some extent, been kept under control. But they may well escalate in the near future.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Rafael L. Bardají Islam Middle East Security Transatlantic
Rafael L. Bardají
Religion, power and chaos in the Middle East
03 May 2016
After four years of war, Syria threatens the balance of its neighbours and the security of the entire Mediterranean basin. Europe’s interests are directly at stake in a conflict where it did not have the appropriate tools to react with at first: long procedures, a lack of cohesion between EU institutions, an absence of military culture in a country that shows no sign of appeasement and the inability of EU Member States to define a joint stand in the Middle East are fair criticism of Brussels’ performance.
And yet, more than four billion euros were spent to heal wounds and help suffering communities while EU diplomats try to bring all sides to the negotiating table. With regional powers such as Russia, Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia playing on opposite sides, it appears that no factions can reach a decisive victory on the ground, as Bashar Assad, the Islamic State and the Syrian opposition are holding on against each other. Europe learned from the conflict’s dynamics and adapted its own foreign instruments to this violent context, notably in support of partners and civil society groups.Foreign Policy Middle East Security
Innocence and War: Searching for Europe’s Strategy in Syria
15 Dec 2015
The American energy revolution has radically transformed the US energy landscape in less than a decade. Surging energy production is increasing US energy self-sufficiency, the holy grail of American energy policy for over 40 years. The US economy appears to be the biggest winner in the new energy reality. The surge in US competitiveness presents an almost insurmountable challenge for important parts of European industry.
Yet, is the US, in the wake of diminishing reliance on foreign oil, redefining its role in the oil-rich and conflict-ridden Middle East, causing a US foreign policy revolution in the region? And is Europe on the winning or losing side of this new Middle Eastern reality?
In this article I describe the American energy revolution and argue that, despite growing energy self-sufficiency, the US will remain deeply integrated in the global energy markets. The American energy bonanza will thus continue to have a significant, though not revolutionary effect on the global energy landscape.
I also argue that, despite the official US rhetoric, the American energy revolution is causing a somewhat revolutionary shift in the US’s Middle Eastern policy. The US’s diminishing energy imports seem to be contributing to a less engaging role for the country in the region.
The lack of determined American leadership to end the conflicts in Syria and Iraq is also resulting in the European refugee crisis. Without decisive action, the EU is likely to stay on the losing side of the American energy revolution on the Middle Eastern and economic front, at least compared to the US.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Mark Boris Andrijanič Energy Middle East Resources
Mark Boris Andrijanič
The American energy revolution: challenging Europe and the Middle East
07 Dec 2015
In late July EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini went to Tehran. The visit was meant to show that the Islamic Republic was now on its way to mending fences with the EU and that a new, more peaceful chapter was to begin between Iran and its adversaries after the nuclear deal.
The pictures from Mogherini’s meeting with the Iranian Foreign Secretary show a beaming Zarif and a veiled Mogherini. It is a picture that makes it abundantly clear that the nuclear deal, now also signed by the US Congress, is an all-out win for the Iranian regime. Iran has got everything that it wanted, and then some.
The image also depicts the complete capitulation of the EU. By pandering to the very conservative interpretation of Islam that the Iranian regime follows, Mogherini, knowingly or not, sent out a message—easily understood in the region—that the EU had succumbed to Iran without question. No wonder Zarif is beaming happily.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Magnus Norell Defence Foreign Policy Middle East
A really bad deal: the Iran nuclear deal and its implications
30 Nov 2015
Upon leaving Europe for a research work with the Martens Centre, I have to admit I was mostly ruminating about the Islamic State. I came back with my thoughts focused on Iran and on how this country is now shaping events in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Iraq and even Yemen, under the umbrella of a well-intentioned nuclear deal.
Iran fills a void left by the withdrawal of the Western powers from the Middle East but has enflamed the Sunni/Shia sectarian divide in the process. This is disastrous for the Middle East’s Muslims – UNHCR now counts 4 million refugees in the region. This is disastrous for minorities – Christians now represent less than 5% of the population, compared to 20% a century ago. This should be deeply worrying for Europe whose security is directly at stake.
Christian wedding in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley
The EU is served on the ground by dedicated delegations that have spent roughly €3.2 Billion since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, “the largest aid package provided so far”, according to diplomats met in Amman. Those funds are vital to tend to the basic needs of affected populations. Yet is there a long term strategy of influence behind that money? Are we thinking about ways to alleviate the crisis? Western powers do conduct airstrikes, around 2500 so far, but Iran is facing the Islamic State on the ground and its Shia affiliates expect to reap benefits few Sunnis will accept.
President Obama’s refusal to bomb Bashar Assad after he crossed the announced ‘red line’, by using chemical weapons in September 2013, was a major turning point. Western nations have lost a great deal of credibility. Some allies feel outright betrayed: Sunnis in Iraq, opposition fighters in Syria, Christians in Lebanon. Europe and the United States are losing friends because of their failure to decide on a strategy and stick to it. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement about the “necessity to speak to Assad” surprised no one when I visited Beirut: “Iranians know how to play the long game, Westerners lack the patience”, one interlocutor said.
This long game is destabilising the region further though. The question for Europe is: how long can we let the pot go on boiling? Can we cope with a generation of poor and barely educated Syrians raised in refugee camps? How do we prevent the rise of a radical Sunni movement that war and misery breed and best embodied by the Islamic State today?
The good news is that civil society in the Middle East has awoken. That is why we should not make the mistake of reducing our engagement out of political/security fears or because we feel lost in the complexity of the oriental chessboard. This Middle Eastern civil society needs our attention and every sign of indifference or cynicism we give – lately French MPs meeting Bashar Assad for instance – has lasting negative consequences.
Europe should be prepared to take political risks and increase the effectiveness of its civilian-military response. And we should continue to engage our southern partners, develop new projects with them. The tide always turns for those who dare.
Refugee camp in LebanonMichael Benhamou Democracy Foreign Policy Middle East
Engaging the Middle East: A travel diary in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon
26 Mar 2015
The ongoing saga of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme continues this month.
Sizeable elements, notably in the US, question the very basis of the negotiations while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to the US Congress declared Iran the great enemy of our time. But the European Union remains committed to finding a diplomatic solution.
Many deadlines have come and gone since negotiations began in early 2014. Many critics point to the lack of a substantive agreement after so many rounds of negotiations as evidence of failure. But whether or not a deal gets brokered over the next few weeks, the very continuation of these negotiations bears testament to the ongoing success of European diplomacy.
After the deadline last November resulted in deadlock, Catherine Ashton, former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy stood side by side with Muhammad Javad Zarif to announce that talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the international interlocutors known as the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) were to be extended for a further seven months. Though announcing no concrete result, the press conference was remarkable.
There was to be no talk of aggression, none of the militarism that marked the Ahmedinejad era of Iranian politics. Rather, we saw an affirmation the commitment of both sides to find a diplomatic resolution.
This transformation is the result of a wide array of factors: the inauguration of the Hassan Rouhani administration; the coalescence of Western and Iranian interests in opposition to the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria; and likely, the combined economic imperatives of the international sanction regime and imploding oil prices. And of course, the prioritisation of the issue by the US.
However, one, often overlooked, factor was central in keeping Iran at the negotiating table and ensuring that diplomacy did not make way to confrontation: the role of the European Union as a diplomatic power and mediator. The devoted commitment of the EU to seeking a diplomatic solution is paying dividends. Its diplomacy with Iran marks one small victory of European diplomacy in the post-Lisbon Treaty era.
When talks have stalled, some have called for an escalation of sanctions against Iran. Maybe they are right. Perhaps, negotiations with the Islamic Republic are futile. And certainly such an approach would be legitimate if the Iranian government pulled out of negotiations or even if its negotiation stance was one of obfuscation or obstruction. But this does not seem to be the case. No sources are claiming a deadlock, rather diplomacy is, far from atypically, taking longer to pay dividends than originally expected. Diplomacy with Iran is remarkable precisely because it has been so unremarkable.
In such a context, calls for escalating sanctions are, somewhat understandably, viewed by Iran as akin to asking them to negotiate under threat. Such a strategy, rather than paving the way for a solution, seems likely to only encourage the pursuit of a nuclear programme as a source of Iranian national pride.
Therefore, the resolute determination of the European Union to pursue a diplomatic solution is of immeasurable importance. Catherine Ashton, as EU lead negotiator with Iran, has never wavered from commitment to brokering a deal with Iran. While US-Iran relations still threaten to return to a conflict between “The Axis of Evil” and “The Great Satan” the EU has treated Iran as a legitimate negotiating partner and in doing so has helped ensure that they are one. The EU has emerged as a credible negotiator that Iran is willing to put its faith in and overcome its continued distrust for the West.
European policy has been instrumental in committing the Rouhani administration to negotiations. The current government in Tehran is now utterly dependent on reaching a negotiated settlement with the P5+1. If Rouhani cannot deliver an agreement with some relief from international sanctions, it seems unlikely that his administration can survive long.
Of course, Iran is unlikely to be a major ally of the West in the foreseeable future. Its confessional vision of the world order clashes fundamentally with liberal democratic conceptions of the international system. Iran’s long term support for various terrorist groups in its neighbourhood and its existential conflict with Israel further prevent any true alliance emerging.
Nonetheless, it is now increasingly apparent that a convergence of Western and Iranian interests is emerging in the Middle East, at least in the short to medium term.
While Iran has fomented regional disorder in the past, it is clear that the Rouhani administration recognises the danger of weak and/or failed states on its border. As such, the Islamic Republic has emerged as an important component of efforts to build stable state institutions in its neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. Iranian influence in Iraq is far from universally positive but without it, it is unlikely a coalition could have been established around Haider al-Abadi who was elected prime minister last July. Similarly, the personal intervention of Iranian foreign minister Muhammad Javad Zarif was instrumental in cobbling together a government in the fragile politics of Afghanistan.
Most pertinently, however, is the joint threat that the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ poses. In a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam, IS strives to ‘re-establish’ Muhammad’s caliphate and unite the world’s Muslim population into a united state, Dar al’Islam, in conflict with the world of war (read: infidel), Dar al’harb. To this end both the infidel West and apostate Shi’ia Iran are sworn enemies but geographical proximity amplifies the threat to the Islamic Republic. Although unwilling to follow US leadership and join international efforts against IS, Iran has joined the conflict against IS with a number of military interventions in Iraq. Some Iraqi politicians have even stated their belief that Iran is more committed to the fight than the West.
As we enter 2015, the process of negotiation has been firmly established as the solution to international tensions arising from the Iranian pursuit of its nuclear programme and opportunities for strategic partnership are emerging. More importantly, a return to the confrontational politics of the Ahmedinejad era seems unlikely. True, it would likely be impossible to have arrived at this point without the efforts of the White House but similarly diplomatic progress is hard to conceive of with the Trojan efforts of the EU and Catherine Ashton in particular. The continuation of negotiations with Iran is evidence that the EU has an important role to play in international diplomacy.Eoin O’Driscoll Defence Foreign Policy Middle East Security
Devoted to diplomacy: the case of EU-Iran nuclear talks
19 Mar 2015
GENEVA WAS THE BEST POSSIBLE DEAL BUT CAN ONLY BE THE FIRST STEP (By Marc-Michael Blum)
The Joint Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear programme that was agreed on in Geneva on November 25th, also often just referred to as “the deal”, has produced strong opinions either in favour or against. Even though at a CES publication launch earlier this year I said I feel rather pessimistic regarding a solution of the issues associated with the Iranian nuclear programme I will side with those feeling positive about the deal. Why that? Because it was the best possible deal at this moment and it is preferable to having no deal at all.
Yes, the sanctions imposed on Iran have hit the countries economy hard and they probably constitute the major factor for Iran to get back to productive negotiations but anybody who might think that these sanctions would bring Iran to the point to fully give up its nuclear programme (and the potential to fuel processing and enrichment specifically) made unrealistic assumptions in the first place. Apart from the fact that external pressure often produces even stronger resistance to give in, the complicated machinery that makes up Iran’s political decision-making process and power distribution would not allow for anything going beyond to what was agreed in Geneva at this point.
So while I agree that ending enrichment activities and the dismantling of facilities would have been preferable it was clear from the beginning that this could only come at the end of a long process and not at the beginning of a 6-month interim agreement. So what do we get? If the agreement is followed (and I will say something about cheating in a moment) Iran will suspend 20% enrichment of Uranium and will either turn existing stockpiles into oxide form, which is not usable for weapons, or reduce the enrichment grade by blending. In addition no more centrifuges can be added and recently installed ones cannot be commissioned. Also work on the Arak reactor that is a possible source for weapons-grade Plutonium is suspended. This is combined with rather strong verification provisions that allow IAEA inspector unprecedented access to facilities.
All of this would ensure that that the time Iran needs for a burst programme to produce enough highly enriched Uranium (or Plutonium) for a nuclear weapon is significantly lengthened instead of shortened as it would have been the case without a deal and with new centrifuges installed. This gives time for further negotiations aiming at a more long term if not final resolution of the dispute on the Iranian nuclear programme and this is what this agreement is all about: Time. But what if the Iranians cheat? If there are strong indications that the agreement is not followed it should be declared void and sanctions should be tightened.
Admittedly it might be hard to do that at some point and its time for the 3+3 to define their red lines now. However if you assume that Iran will for sure cheat there is no need for any further attempts to resolve the problem by diplomatic means. The only option then, if you were not willing to accept an Iranian bomb, would be military action with all possible consequences. This means giving up political options and in my opinion is highly irresponsible. If the decision for Iran’s leadership is either to go for a nuclear weapon to be immune to attempts of external regime change or to suspend nuclear ambitions in order to avoid possible internal change (as happened to so many other countries during the Arab spring) my bet is currently on the latter and the world should make the best of this opportunity. However, lets not forget that things in the Middle East are never easy and always complicated.
This conflict is embedded in numerous others: The clash between Sunni and Shia Islam, the tensions between Arab countries and non-Arab Iran, the conflict of Israel and its Muslim neighbours, increased instability in the region after the Arab spring revolutions, just no name a few. What we see are not only negotiations between the 3+3 and Iran but we also have a number of invisible stakeholders sitting at the table with their concerns and wishes. Will this agreement lead to better sleep for people in Israel or for the leaders of the Gulf countries? Not quite, but on the other hand it should not lead to new nightmares either. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog post are entirely those of the author and do not represent those of any organisation.
GENEVA WAS A BAD DEAL. NOW LET’S GET A BETTER ONE (By Roland Freudenstein)
“Peace for our time” is reportedly what Chamberlain said when he stepped off the plane from Munich in September 1938 where he had negotiated a fateful deal: He had given in to most of Hitler’s demands regarding Czechoslovakia, got little in return and so ended up bringing World War II a good deal closer, as we know today. In many of the critical comments these last days, not only in the Israeli ones, Geneva has been labelled the new Munich. Now, historical parallels should always be handled with care. But I do believe that those who now pride themselves of having averted war, may have actually brought it closer in the end. So let’s look at the drawbacks, the alternatives, and the consequences of Geneva.
What’s bad about the interim agreement? In December 2006, the UN Security Council demanded an immediate end to all uranium and plutonium enrichment in Iran. Over the past years, an elaborate sanctions regime has been built up, which is never easy and took a lot of time and effort. As we see, it has started to bite. But in Geneva last weekend, the West, as part of the 3+3 powers, has not only vowed to impose no new sanctions (which were well on their way), but actually to ease the ones in place. Let’s spell it out: The UN demand of 2006 has now been officially thrown out the window. Western insistence that Geneva is not equivalent to a recognition of Iran’s “right to enrichment” changes little here. Now that the Iranian negotiators have received their heroes’ welcome by regime-sponsored crowds in Tehran and Ayatollah Khamenei has made clear that Iran’s “right to enrichment” was recognised, it is hard to see how the regime can, in future, agree to any deal that would take it away
On sanctions, however, the international and domestic pressure in the West to ease them further will increase. And it should be obvious that even if and when Iran is caught red-handed at cheating, calls for the reintroduction of sanctions will be labelled as “dangerous provocations” that would only antagonize the mullahs. Geneva is a one-sided agreement that leaves Iran’s efforts to achieve nuclear breakout capacity basically intact. It has strengthened the regime domestically, so it can continue to oppress democrats, and internationally, so it can continue to export terror and commit crimes against humanity, such as in Syria. It’s a bad deal.
What would have been the alternative? According to the advocates of Geneva: War. Well, military action to disable Iran’s nuclear weapons programme has always been an option that even Barack Obama never took off the table. And that’s where it should remain. But quite obviously, the main and immediate alternative to both war and a flawed agreement would have been to move to the next round of sanctions while trying to make the regime understand that it has to stop enrichment immediately, and close down (not temporarily limit) all preparations for producing plutonium in Arak. With only current sanctions in place, that may have been difficult to achieve even with the Rohani regime. But it was worth trying tougher sanctions to drive up the cost of enrichment.
Where do we go from here? Now that the interim agreement has been signed, it will be of utmost importance to achieve in the upcoming negotiations what could not be achieved so far: The dismantling of the Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons. Pressure, including tougher sanctions and military threats, must be upheld, and the temptation to get carried away by our diplomatic “success” must be resisted. As France demonstrated a few weeks ago, it is possible to keep the Obama administration from “kicking the can down the road” on the Iranian nuclear programme.
Because one thing should be clear: If Iran retains any capacity to break out and race to the possession of nuclear weapons within a matter of months, a possible consequence is still an Israeli military strike – because Israelis will never accept a nuclear armed Iran, and they have good reasons for that. But the certain consequence would be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Which would surely bring the world closer to a devastating war than a further escalation between the West and Iran due to increased pressure. To prevent such an arms race, not to succeed in diplomacy at any price, must be the main concern of Western leaders in the negotiations ahead.Marc-Michael Blum Roland Freudenstein Defence Foreign Policy Middle East Security
Iranian Nuclear Program: The Geneva Deal Pros and Cons
26 Nov 2013
Israel has in the last 20 years achieved some impressive economic results. It was the last country to enter the great recession and the first to come out and its economy grew by 4.8% in 2011. Israel also has the highest number of start-ups per capita in the world and has the highest relative number of people working in R&D. Furthermore, multinationals like Intel, Google, Cisco and AG Siemens all have important research and production facilities in the country.
So how can Europe learn from Israel’s achievements in order to improve its own economic prospects? The book ‘Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel Economic Miracle’ by Dan Senor and Saul Singer offers some answers.
Firstly, the State of Israel has been, and still is, a country built by immigrants. Around 90% of Israelis have a migration story in their recent family history. Immigrants are more likely to start from scratch and build something themselves. Israel has also used the potential of educated immigrants to the maximum, with many of them working in the high tech industry or creating start-ups.
Secondly, the role of venture capital is also very important. Israel attracts around two billion dollars a year in venture capital, the highest per capita in the world and more than Germany and France combined. This flow of capital began in the 1980s with a number of private sector initiatives, but started to increase from 1993 with the introduction of the government initiative ‘Yozma’, which offered co-financing and tax incentives for foreign venture capital investments in Israel.
Thirdly, Israel is a country with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. While elsewhere mothers may wish for their children to become doctors or lawyers, in Israel mothers hope that their children will start their own business. It is considered normal to take risks and found a start-up.
The last and perhaps the most important consideration is the cultural factor of ‘chutzpah’. This Hebrew word can be translated as audacity and focusses on the attitude in Israeli society of assertiveness, of informality and of questioning authority and things as they are. This leads to an urge for improvisation and innovation and allowed companies like Intel to make some of their biggest R&D successes is Israel.
[picture source:theyeshivaworld.com]Christophe Christiaens Business Macroeconomics Middle East Neighbourhood Policy
The Israeli economic miracle, lessons for Europe
25 Mar 2013
The question of what Europe’s nuclear strategy should be is rarely discussed. While Europe continues to play a crucial role on issues relating to non-proliferation, particularly in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme, nuclear strategy is generally considered to be within remit of Russia, the United States and NATO.
The paper identifies possible scenarios where the deployment of nuclear weapons may be justified. It also examines the use of tactical nuclear weapons, traditional means of arms control and the implications of a nuclear Iran. The author establishes a compelling case for the immediate development of a coherent European nuclear strategy. This strategy should take into account the role of nuclear weapons in maintaining peace and security in modern Europe.
While conceding that during periods of financial and political crisis dialogue may not be considered a priority, the author maintains that it is essential in order to limit the risk of proliferation or the use of nuclear weapons.Defence EU-US Foreign Policy Middle East Security
Rethinking the Bomb: Europe and Nuclear Weapons in the Twenty-First Century
06 Mar 2013
An action plan for EU–MENA cooperation in the field of education should aim to (i) strengthen ongoing projects under the Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education and Research Area while initiating new policy mechanisms to support quality education and network-based governance and (ii) coordinate EU efforts with those of other donors to create sound policies that are politically and administratively feasible.Arab Spring Foreign Policy Middle East
Ideas to Actions: A Springeneration for EU-MENA Cooperation in Education
01 Nov 2012
Olivier Guitta, a security and geopolitical consultant based in Europe, looks at the Muslim Brotherhood – its history, its ideology and its vision of the West as well as at three branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in Middle East and North Africa region.Islam Middle East North Africa
Muslim Brotherhood Parties in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region
01 Sep 2010
This paper assesses the extent of cooperation between the EU, Israel and the PA and offers a set of policy recommendations for European policy makers responsible for relations with Israel, the PA and the Middle East in general.Foreign Policy Middle East
Squaring the Circle? EU-Israel Relations and the Peace Process in the Middle East
01 Jan 2009
This report is about promotion of the democratic constitutional state in the Middle East. The perception of the Western world is not very positive in the Middle East. Religion is seen as part of a confrontation strategy, rather than part of the dialogue. But there is a bridge. For both Christian Democrats and Muslims, religion is a source of inspiration for their lives and their political orientation. Our experience is that religion can be a very rich source for democracy. The question is which elements of our tradition and history are most productive for the dialogue.Democracy Foreign Policy Islam Middle East Religion
Crossing bridges – Democratisation in the Middle East and a Christian Democratic Approach
07 Nov 2008