Europe Facing a Big Test on the JCPOA

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dr.Hossein Gharibi

Director of the EU Group at Iran-Eurica Institute for European & American Studies


A feeling of insecurity among European countries and fears about increasing military and security power of other countries finally gave birth to two devastating world wars in Europe. Under these conditions and in order to overcome internal rivalries among European countries and also to block the infiltration of Communism, which was lying at Europe’s door, the idea of creating a united Europe was born. Therefore, more than being an economic idea, this was basically a security one. This unity was first forged on a small scale and apparently with economic goals through establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) by Germany and France as the two main driving forces behind World War II. Later on, other European countries moved to join that community.

During the Cold War period and under the bipolar world system, Europe sought to provide its security as part of the Western bloc and as an ally to the United States. After the Cold War ended and the Eastern superpower collapsed, which led to the formation of a unipolar world system, Europe had to redefine its security within framework of the interests and policies of its transatlantic partner, that is, the United States. As a result, Europe defined its security and political identity entirely within the domain of the American security and was totally dependent on it.

However, the crises, which have emerged during the past two decades both in Europe and in the West Asia region, have revealed weakness and inefficiency of the European strategy more than ever before. As a result, Europe has had to revisit its security strategy. Therefore, the European strategy, which previously underlined the importance of normative and soft power and differentiated between Europe’s security environment and its periphery, saw a paradigm-based change in its security section as a result of which, Europe started to play the role of a geostrategic actor.

The nuclear deal with Iran, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was the first successful test in which Europe managed to play a role alongside other major global powers, including the United States, Russia and China. The deal was clinched through consensus among all involved parties and, as a result, it redefined Europe’s international credit and standing. This is why maintaining this agreement is not only important to Europe from the viewpoint of the continent’s global credit, but is very significant from a security angle as well.

The difference of approaches and viewpoints between Europe and the United States with respect to the JCPOA is indeed rooted in their different understandings of stability and security in the West Asia region. From the viewpoint of the United States, instability exists when its hegemonic power is challenged by another power in the region, but from the standpoint of Europeans, instability means war and insecurity. Therefore, if these conditions, that is, security and stability, which are the most vital elements for Europe, are provided by any power in the region, it would be totally in line with the European strategy. However, due to dependence of Europe on the United States, the European Union has to follow suit with Washington’s security policy in this region.

Some available reports are indicative of the fact that security and stability are Europe’s Achilles’ heel. According to a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), the year 2018 will be a difficult and tough year for Europe in terms of security in which we will witness a major security void. The report’s authors believe that unpredictable behavior of the US President Donald Trump and the policies adopted by his administration are indicative of an effort aimed at security destabilization. Trump does not seem to be willing to guarantee stability in this region and in some cases, including with respect to the type of relations and interactions with Iran, he is even willing to take steps toward disturbing international security.

Given the reality that absence of security and stability is the most important challenge faced by Europe, the question that is posed is “will Europe be able to appear as an independent actor capable of compliance with and maintenance of the JCPOA in order to meet its major goal of restoring stability and security to the West Asia region?”

According to the realistic logic, the answer to this question in negative, because from the very beginning, the security structure of Europe has been designed and engineered in a way that political and security identity of Europe is define within framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and in line with the interests and principles of the United States. This is why Europe lacks an independent defense and security system. This is also why Europe needs its transatlantic partner in order to face any challenge and has no independent tool or mechanism of its own to act in such cases.

On the other hand, there is a group, which believes that the international system is no more a unipolar system and an end has been put to unilateral actions in this system, because various actors at regional, national and even subnational levels have emerged and are playing their specific roles. Therefore, the European Union is also trying on its part, as an international actor, to play a role with regard to various issues and show appropriate and suitable reactions to foreign conflicts and skirmishes as well as overseas crises. This reality has been clearly specified in the European Union’s global strategy document in 2016.

This group maintains that following the decision by the United States to withdraw from the JCPOA, the European Union can take advantage of “blocking regulations” to protect European companies against US sanctions. As put by Denis Chaibi, head of the Iranian taskforce at the EU's external action service, European countries are studying a spectrum of options. “We are looking at a number of possibilities. It is not complicated to do it legally in that the legal instrument exists, but it doesn’t require a huge internal debate,” Chaibi told a Euromoney conference in Paris.

Under the present dire conditions, the European Union is faced with a tough choice and if it is willing to appear as a full-fledged geopolitical actor in the Middle East, it must do its utmost to defend the nuclear deal with Iran and keep it in place.

Last but not least, Europe has two options to choose from. It must either make a decision on the basis of large-scale documents and statements made by European officials in accordance with the European interests, or continue to play the game in the Trump administration’s court. Without a doubt, the second option would not guarantee the interests of European countries in this region.


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*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.