U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: Competition Involving the EU, EU3, and non-EU European States
September 22, 2011
US competition with Iran has become the equivalent of a game of three-dimensional chess, but a game where each side can modify at least some of the rules with each move. It is also a game that has been going on for some three decades. It is clear that it is also a game that is unlikely to be ended by better dialog and mutual understanding, and that Iran’s version of “democracy” is unlikely to change the way it is played in the foreseeable future.
The Burke Chair at CSIS is preparing a detailed analysis of the history and character of this competition as part of a project supported by the Smith Richardson Foundation. This has led to the preparation of a new draft report entitled Competition Involving the EU, EU3, and non-EU European States, which is now available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/110922_Iran_Chapter_xi_Europe.pdf.
Comments on this draft will be extremely helpful and should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This report shows that the various states that comprise the EU and non-EU Europe collectively and individually influence US-Iranian competition in a number of ways. The EU, and particularly the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany), are the United States’ most consistent allies in seeking to roll back Iran’s nuclear efforts. Though the European approach has not always paralleled that of the US, unlike China and Russia, European disagreements with the US serve to moderate rather than to weaken or spoil American efforts.
In addition to Europe’s diplomatic support for US efforts, Britain and France provide military support in the region as well. The force projection capabilities of the EU3 are limited and potentially weakening under the strain of budget reductions, but they remain an influential factor to competition.
In the past, members of the EU have also generally supported the United States’ long-term goal of altering Iran’s behavior, but differed with the US approach to reach that goal. While the US pursued policies largely built on isolating the Iranian regime in order to change it, the EU and other European nations worked to integrate the IRI primarily through diplomatic and economic incentives. Despite disagreements, the overarching similarity of US-EU interests and both powers’ mutual investment in the international order firmly situates Europe in the American camp.
Geography and energy dependence explain Europe’s somewhat different strategic evaluation of Iran from the US. The Islamic Republic’s relative proximity to Europe and its potential as a strategic alternative to Russian energy exports makes it a much more valuable partner to the nations of Europe than to the US, and most European states are substantially less sympathetic to Israel. As such, Europeans have been more willing to tolerate behavior by Iran that the US characterizes as belligerent.
Iran has sought to exploit these fault lines. The Iranian leadership, and particularly President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, frequently states that Iran seeks partnership with Europe and encourages Europe to pursue its own interests apart from the US. Even after American and European strategies began to converge in the late 2000s, Tehran continued policies geared toward exploiting differences between both groups; it refuses to address the US and EU as a united bloc.
The convergence of the US and EU’s strategic approach to Iran acquired new momentum in 2002 with the discovery of the clandestine nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak. In the years that followed, the EU under the leadership of EU3, began a series of negotiations to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment and provide greater transparency as to the purpose of its nuclear program. After several years of failed bargains, EU negotiators gradually began to take a harder line toward Tehran till the rhetoric and polices of European governments closely resembled those of the US.
As Iran remains unwilling to comply with requests made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the EU has unilaterally implemented punitive measures against the Islamic Republic’s defense and energy sectors. Working in partnership with the US as part of the P5+1 (comprised of the US, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany), the EU3 have supported UN sanctions and lobbied both non-Western members of the Security Council to approve of UN resolutions targeted at Iran’s nuclear program.
Countries outside the EU play a more minor role in US-Iranian competition. Their presence can be felt most strongly when they work to broker compromise between both parties, when they broadly track with the EU and by extension the US, or when they pursue opportunistic policies in opposition to the established order.
The EU and the other European states that share its strategic views, remain committed to a dual track approach to Iran consisting of sanctions and incentives, but they have also largely sided with the US and resigned from mediating between the US and Iran. Experience has shown that US-EU unity presents a formidable challenge to Iran, while division provides the Islamic Republic space to advance its interests.
In a game where so many players are ambiguous in their allegiance, the EU has proved to be an invaluable partner of the US, and one which has both adapted to reflect US positions when they have proved valid, and played a role in persuading the US to see the merits of incentives and flexibility in dealing with Iran’s legitimate needs.
Other Burke Chair Reports on Iran and Gulf Security Can be found here: http://csis.org/program/burke-chair-irans-military-and-nuclear-capabilities