The American general and president, Dwight D. Eisenhower once said that ‘’History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid’’. Seven decades later and after numerous administrations, American foreign policy keeps proving him wrong. During this year’s Munich Security Conference, the former US Vice President, Joe Biden falsely reassured Europeans, that ‘We will be back’, insinuating the return of the post war transatlantic consensus. His words were welcomed among Europeans, since Trump’s unilateralism has exposed the divergences of the transatlantic relationship. The return to the post world-war II consensus that Biden promises, however, is just a manipulative excuse to keep Europeans in the fold, which I presume will only benefit the American foreign policy establishment. The Iran nuclear deal, Euro-Russian relations, trade, energy and defense policies, as well as European autonomy and consensus in foreign policy are all pieces of the same board called transatlantic relations.
Transatlantic security for whom?
The verse towards economy and the obsolence of conventional military dominance that the 21st century has set forth has become a reference point of the rapid rise of globalization and the security asymmetries of societal challenges within and beyond states. The widening and deepening notion of security in the past 30 years has set forth different aspects of threat perception and policymaking in the domain of foreign policy. In the age of data wars, climate change, political extremism, cyber security, terrorism, neo-populism and hybrid warfare there is little room left for the traditional aspects of security. Or so it seems…
The decline of the postwar liberal order has been concurrently expanding with the rift in transatlantic relations. The divergences of this rift are above all, over security perceptions as well as political and ideological in nature. European security perspectives although envisioned by common values and norms within the transatlantic partnership, have over time depeloped a rather unique normative awareness, deriving primarily from the role of multilateralism and institutionalism over unilateralism. U.S foreign policy remains a traditional security actor utilizing its military capabilities and diplomatic reach to impose its interests and exert influence worldwide. This fact has remained solid in the past 80 years. Isolationist or not, however, Washington has promoted a conservative and excessively unilateral foreign policy even though the post war liberal era was an American creation. Europeans, on the other hand, have remained vastly under American influence. Therefore, their common foreign policy became vaguely operational and capable of projecting military or diplomatic power. European foreign policy constitutes a completely different case, not just compared to the U.S but regarding foreign policy itself.
Starting as a European attempt to establish a euro-core within NATO in the 1990s, the European security identity, by-product of American influence and European integrative ambitions, established a rather multilateral and rule-based foreign and security policy. Its goal remains the expansion of the rule-based order beyond Europe especially through trade, social, economic and legal policies and the prevention of crises, wars and weapon proliferation in its periphery and beyond. European capabilities and political determination, however, are far from able to implement any short-term policies which could assert influence or affect current crises. Conflict in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine and the Sahel region is ongoing. Euro-Russian relations remain under a strain of diplomatic pressure from Washington. Palestinians keep dying at the hands of Israelis while terrorism and tribalism threaten societal peace in the Sahel and the Middle East. The fact is that the absence of European autonomy in its periphery isn’t only because of leading U.S military and diplomatic presence but also because of Europeans decentralized capabilities and an absence of strategic sovereignty and operational prioritization.
Debating a Common or European foreign policy
So while common foreign policy, whether interventionist and Eurocentric or multilateral and humanitarian, remains vague and apolitical, European foreign policy introduces the mind-set of societal interdependence and utilizes institutional means to achieve it. There lies the reason that the Iran Nuclear Deal requires a stern European intervention and not just a Franco-German accord. The institutional nature of European foreign policy has the capacity to overlook systemic and conventional deficits found in national foreign policy orientation. On the other hand, the political symbolism of the Franco-German abstention during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the speech of the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, at the UN against intervention is today conceived as a rather European moment in history. So, despite the fact that an institutional foreign policy can disperse and overlook conventional political barriers set by realpolitik or foreign policy establishments, political symbolism can excessively impact how societies interact with policy implementation, even more so in post-modern societies.
My point, however, regarding the case of the Iran Nuclear Deal, isn’t just focused on whether institutional or political means are required to solidify its functionality. The mind-set of compromise behind the Nuclear Deal constitutes an amazing case by itself, since it provides a new basis of interaction with a state like Iran and paves the way for a new level of conditionality towards the Islamic Republic and the European partnership policies. Setting such standards automatically advances European capacity for action since a deal like the JCPOA doesn’t simply extend European influence in terms of soft power but also proves that multilateralism can dissolve 20th century diplomatic and political deadlocks by opposing unilateral actions, whether U.S or Iranian.
Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which along with the U.S media created the post war geopolitical narrative of the Middle East, maintains its priorities since the post-war era, including the isolation and the eventual collapse of the Iranian regime. European leaders, however, cannot simply follow the U.S lead nor wait for an ideal U.S administration to hold their hands just like Joe Biden promises. The European conception of the JCPOA is structured on the basis of setting up a viable re-entry of the Islamic Republic to the international system while averting nuclear proliferation and regional escalation. The successful establishment of a prospective partnership with Iran would grant the EU a necessary confidence to capitalize in its institutional and political capacity for action over U.S influence in world affairs. The replacement of Obama’s multilateral agenda with the rise of a protectionist administration, provides Europe with a chance to regulate an institutional approach over the Iran nuclear deal which can reinforce the Franco-German resolve to salvage it. Much like Germany’s interdependence energy policy with Russia and French interventionism in Africa, the JCPOA requires an institutional context of policy making regarding the means that the common agenda mandates. That would set European foreign policy as a regulative instrument by introducing more interdependence, authority and conditionality in foreign affairs and securitized threats. An institutional context however remains unviable without a highly politicized public base over the core elements and reasons behind policies like the JCPOA. Therefore, even if a common foreign policy requires a form of institutional and political legitimacy to become operational, European foreign policy being regulative and bureaucratic, requires a higher level of politicization. Ceding sovereignty aspects of foreign policy however isn’t the same as prioritizing and institutionalizing foreign policy based on common threat perception like the extensive societal, humanitarian and transnational variety of contemporary threats. Conceiving sovereignty securization from non European actors in a geopolitical aspect is therefore a first step towards strategic autonomy in a broader sense. Even more so, such strategic autonomy over desicion-making and its eventual institutionalization represents a ‘higher’ political case of europeanizing foreign and security policy while diminishing state bargaining in strategic security threats.
The diminishing of the Postmodern
Following Iran’s recent violations of the JCPOA regarding uranium enrichment as well as the deployment of U.S forces in the Gulf and the seizure of British oil tankers by Tehran, transatlantic cohesion is facing a new rift. Conventional conflict is unlikely against Iran but not conflict in a broader sense, since the sanction campaigns of Washington are adding a new level to the political, trade and security division between the EU and the U.S. Iran being the epicentre of all proxies in the U.S national security narrative and a strategic security concern for Europeans, I expect the transatlantic divergences of the last 16 years since the Iraq invasion to consolidate the current degradation of the global economic integration.
The threat of U.S sanctions to European security and business interests represented by Washington’s resolve to strangle the Iranian economy haven’t paid up by the creation of a European counterpart of the SWIFT banking system. The so called Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) is operational in order for European companies to bypass U.S sanctions and resume their integration to the Iranian economy. The disparate domestic and European environment, however, stalls any successful policy implementation since Washington has tremendous leverages over Paris and Berlin. The pompous publication of the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, suggesting that Europe’s rift with the U.S runs deeper than Trump’s administration and should pursue a new world order that will counterweight the U.S if needed, is not realistic yet. Chancellor Merkel having successfully kept German foreign policy in a state of strategic patience for years, undermines such a politicization of the transatlantic rift, understanding the trade and security ties with the U.S cannot be promptly replaced. Nor the 33.000 U.S. soldiers in Germany. The case of France is not completely different and without German support, Paris will be unable to project any influence over the JCPOA implementation, while Macron’s isolation in the NATO London 2019 Summit will project a narrative of a leaderless and fragmented euro-core within the Alliance.
Overlooking the Franco-German abstention over the Iraqi invasion which politicized the normative multilateral and post-conflict approach that the EU should have, compared to the failure of the Obama – Sarkozy NATO intervention in Libya in which Germany abstained, the case of a European foreign policy becomes a clash of wills over the JCPOA. That’s why without a consensual institutional foreign policy over the implementation of the Nuclear Deal by the EU, Iran will be driven towards unilateralism, just like the U.S is hoping.
The political pressure over Brexit and the regional destabilization in Libya and the Middle East among others are averting focus from the rising conflicts between common European interests and the U.S ability to effectively dismantle any agenda of effective multilateralism when Congress or the White House conceive new threats to U.S dominance. Overregulation and complexity of European politics in foreign policy as well as the lack of political determination that since the 1990s have kept any serious attempt to implement a normative agenda, is diminishing the post-modern promise of the EU which remains a spectator of the deglobalization and deregulation of global governance. I believe that the survival of the JCPOA will prove a turning point for European security and strategic sovereignty while its apolitical and institutional nature will surely be debated and restructured by the ongoing transatlantic divisions and regional destabilization.
Strategic Europeanization: Beyond a common foreign and security policy.
The case of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the degradation of Iranian socio-economic stability will remain in Europe’s core strategic challenges along with issues over Europe’s digital sovereignty as well as the balance between integrationists, eurosceptics and isolationists like in the case of the western Balkans. Concurrently, Berlin is trying to balance between the U.S and China, its two biggest trade partners outside the EU while France is pressuring for the reform of the enlargement process while reforming itself. The franco-German proposal for Europe’s future certainly prioritizes contemporary EU governance issues as well as politicization in European agendas. Without strategically prioritizing a consensual approach in foreign and security affairs, whether in Balkan integration and the JCPOA or migration policies and great power rivalry, the current state of affairs seems to heading to a multistructural crisis. Since regional stability seems to be the common denominator in European security however, a coordinated effort to safeguard the JCPOA from the U.S seems to be the only short term solution to a number of security proxies.
Since the recent French and Dutch objections over EU enlargement as well as the question of the deepening of European integration and the governance of such a structure, European foreign policy needs to avoid an one-dimensional enlargement strategy to invoke a pattern of Europeanization. The fact is that without a success story over the JCPOA, less important issues in the European agenda will degrade over inability to assert influence over U.S economic and diplomatic dominance. Georgia is facing an authoritarian backlash while Turkey is tightening its grip in Syria and eastern Mediterranean by bringing Libyan GNA into the fold. The termination of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the upcoming expiration of the New START Treaty in 2021 as well as straegic Chinese investments in nuclear upgrades, require a European mediation of institutional proportions. Likewise, deterrence and territorialism receive a new aspect in the case of massive migration and the means to desecuritize it should most certainly not be holistically military but rather civillian in nature. Therefore, I believe that the necessary normative awareness towards europeanizing contemporary threat perception is the first step towards a comprehensive foreign and by extension, security policy by the EU. The politicization and securitization of climate change and the recent emergence of the Greens as a major power in Europe have set the example.
The necessary steps to establish a flow of institutional and reformative relationship with its periphery that lies in European ability to regulate and establish functional partnerships are not different in the case of the JCPOA and the 2019 Prespes Agreement between Greece and North Macedonia. Difference in in nature, notably the political and institutional scale, authority and impact should not diminish the normative approach behind individuals and structures when implementing policy, whether foreign or domestic. Especially when the outcome raises the capacity for future Balkan peace interdependence. My personal experience dictates that progress is earned over time but also over critical moments and within different viewpoints. Research, however, theorizes that European foreign policy is far from establishing any strategic approach towards the Balkans and MENA without a consensual post-modern political and institutional prioritization in terms of security. The transition towards an age of data, trade and climate-oriented wars and conflicts will test Europe’s normative legacy in consolidating viable institutional interdependence like in the case of INSTEX’s impact. Although the post-modern has surpassed our security integration and theoretical understanding of its consequences, it’s plainly a matter of sheer political will to prioritize European security from state centric and conventional operationalization towards regulatory institutionalization and strategic autonomy.
Transatlantic relations and regional divergences will surely test Europe’s ability to collectively project its own security priorities by providing normative and multilateral solutions and alternatives to the continuous dismantlement of the U.S post-war order.