New Trends in the EU-US Security Relationship: Implications for the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Iran

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Nasser Saghafi Ameri
29 July 2004


For over half a century a military alliance between the United States of America and Western Europe constituted the backbone of the policies of the West toward its rival Eastern bloc, and the rest of the world in general. Since the end of the Cold War, the security setting of the world has changed substantially. In the Trans-Atlantic relations, the old-feared enemy, the Soviet Union, no longer exists to serve as a target or as sticking glue for the security system of the Western alliance. Also, new developments have occurred in other fields. The expansion of NATO to the East, the EU enlargement with inclusion of ten new members with plans for an independent security policy vis-à-vis the United States of America, and more importantly, major changes in the US security policies since September 11, 2001 suggest the opening of a new chapter in the security relations between the countries of the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Obviously, these developments could have repercussions and implications not only for the member countries of the NATO but also for the outside powers and other regions. This article aims to focus and shed light on some interesting aspects of this evolving relationship, especially where it refers to the following questions: Where the EU-US security relationship is heading for? Which are the influential factors in this new relationship? And what are the possible effects of these prospected changes in the EU-US security relationship for the world security and in particular, for the Middle East, the Persian Gulf region and Iran?

The Changing Security Environment

Today the world is facing a more fluid and complicated set of international alignments than anything ever seen since the formation of the Western alliance system in 1949. Such a statement would not have been accurate even during the 1990s. Throughout that decade the elements holding together the international system were stronger than those pulling it apart.[1] The US-European relationship has changed from a single Trans-Atlantic security community to a loose alliance. That is due to the fact that in a unipolar system it is harder to maintain alliances; and other countries lack the capacity to be full partners. The present situation is the consequence of a deep structural change in the EU-US relationship. These changes were building up throughout the 1990s, but they were largely obscured by the sugarcoated rhetoric of undiminished Trans-Atlantic solidarity. However, the clash of interests over Iraq brought them into full view.[2]

In recent years, significant changes have redefined the position and role of Europe in the world.[3] Radical changes have taken place in the nature of global politics, military strength and effectiveness, economics, society, and even in culture. Taken together, these changes have made Europe a new repository of capacity to act in the world and thus have given new significance to the relationship between Europe and the United States. While the Europeans are more in the mood of pacifism after experiencing two devastative world wars, the present US administration is acting in a so-called militaristic atmosphere. This tendency in the United States has been interpreted by some as a trend that has its roots in the structure of the American capitalistic economy. In the United States, the capitalism is quite concentrated and in the process of reproduction of wealth, the most important element is the military power. It is, thus, not surprising that in 2003, the American defense budget was around 400 billion dollars.

On the European side, the pacifism is also attributed to the very nature of European capitalism. Expansion of socialist thinking in Europe and the domination of the social democratic parties in the continent also contributed to the promotion of pacifism and distribution of economic wealth among people.[4]

The Americans are relying more than ever on hard power in pursuit of their foreign policy in the aftermath of September 11. Meanwhile there are growing debates on the rationality of this policy both in the United States and abroad. The critics of US unilateral policies including many Europeans emphasize a multilateral approach for solving international problems. In this context many Americans advocate the use of soft power, which was invented by Josef Nye in the past.[5] The advocates of this theory, for instance, indicate that soft power can help "get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. ... It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies."[6] Apparently, the idea of application of soft power in foreign policy might find more appeal on both sides of the Atlantic once there is a common perception that the new security environment is more complex, more unpredictable, and in some ways more dangerous than what was the case during the familiar Cold War decades. At present, they see the new threats mainly coming from the weapons of mass destruction and especially from nuclear terrorism, from nuclear blackmail, from nuclear intimidation and from nuclear accident. Facing those threats, some analysts advocate a new approach. William Hague in a speech addressing the strategic relationship of European Union and the United States says: “we cannot rely simply on attempts to staunch the flow of military technology. Organizations like the Missile Technology Control Regime may, at best, slow down the spread of advanced weaponry. Nor can we look to traditional arms control methods as the main response. Those states, which present a threat to stability, are unlikely to sign -and observe- treaties to limit or reduce the level of arms. Conversely, those, which can be expected to observe treaties, do not threaten the peace. Simple deterrence will not be enough, either. Of course, we must seek to deter potential aggressors wherever our vital interests are threatened, but deterrence requires detailed knowledge of the political culture and likely calculations of potential aggressors as well as stable and reliable channels of communication. Neither of these conditions can be counted on in future. Indeed, the risk of miscalculation in the post-Cold War is now greater because the threats have grown in number, while the possible costs have risen.”[7] More generally, Western security, as broadly understood, faces a wide range of actual and potential challenges where non-military instruments are important. The pattern of US-European relations during the past half-century included a heavy reliance on working with others, forging and fostering international institutions, and promoting the rule of law.

Europe's relative military weakness makes it inevitable for it to find alternatives to war. In practical terms, Europe cannot bridge the gap with an America that spends three per cent of its gross domestic product on the military compared with Europe's two per cent. Likewise, there is no way that the United States, whether led by Republicans or Democrats, is going in the foreseeable future to match European spending on the nonmilitary side of foreign policy. European countries contribute three times as much aid to the developing countries and twice as much to the UN budget as the United States. European countries contribute 10 times as many soldiers as the United States for peacekeeping.[8] In an attempt to confront the new threats emanating from a cycle of conflict, insecurity, diseases and poverty, Europeans also are advocating a strategy of ‘preventive engagement’ in contrast to the American ‘preventive policy’. It is with this understanding that the cycle of regional conflicts fuels the demands for proliferation; and violent religious extremism is linked to the pressures of modernization, and to the alienation of young people. Thus, the Europeans have arrived at a conclusion that “a world more fair is a world more secure.”[9]

NATO in the Past and Present

Established in the 1940s, NATO was created to serve defensive purposes, and to inject American power into conditions of post-World War II economic devastation in response to the Soviet threats. In the early 1960s, some diplomatic frictions between the United States and Britain developed. The simple explanation was that they occupied significantly different strategic positions and sought varied national objectives. US policy-makers, clearly in the most economically and militarily powerful position, were divided broadly between a desire for a multilateral agenda in Europe and continuing cozy ties to Britain. The British sought to maintain the special relationship so as to acquire nuclear information from the United States. This, in turn, would create a favorable position vis-à-vis France, enabling Britain to exchange such technology for French sponsorship into the European Economic Community (EEC). Adding to that complexity, France developed a strong sense of nationalism under President de Gaulle who maintained a firm skepticism about NATO, British foreign policy, and US intentions. He stymied British efforts to enter the EEC and scared the United States and Britain by courting West Germany, all the while continuing to invest in the French nuclear force de frappe.[10]

After the Cold War, serious questions were raised about the necessity of NATO's continuity and existence. [11] Thus, throughout the 1990s and into the new century, it was difficult for the United States to enlist support from European allies to develop and modernize relevant instruments of power, especially military power, for potential use elsewhere and certainly not to apply it to any of the situations noted above. These included, after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, developments in the greater Middle East of unimpeachable interest to Europe, indeed, arguably of even greater interest to Europe than to the United States. In the 1990s, the alliance decided to “go out of area to avoid going out of business.” NATO justified itself to non-defensive operations even by going to war against Serbia. In its new drive, NATO rather than revising the treaty and seeking ratification from national legislatures simply behaved as if its political decisions carry international legitimacy on an equal footing with the United Nations Charter. Also, in analyzing the present state of relations in NATO, the critics say that the crisis in Trans-Atlantic relations is less the product of differing views about issues like Iraq than the inevitable result of a NATO which has lost its raison d’être and has ceased to be a true alliance of shared interests, let alone of shared values. While all European governments support the United States in some circumstances such as pursuing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, no European state shares America's global ambitions. Europe, with its past history of collapse of its overseas empires and the self-destructive wars and ideologies, has lost its universal ambitions. The Europeans are gradually, although slowly, coming to grips of the new realities. On building a new security relationship with the United States, the weak point, as ever, remains the level of European defense expenditures and quality of defense planning. Javier Solana the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy while addressing this issue remarked:

“[The European Union as] a political union of 450 million people in 25 countries producing a quarter of the world's gross domestic product, has both regional and global responsibilities. Europe shoulders a growing responsibility for security in the Balkans. But the challenge of building regional security extends further - beyond its new borders to the East and to the Arab world.”[12] On security threats, he further stressed: “Today’s security threats demand more mobile, more flexible military forces. To achieve this, we must find more resources for defense. There is no alternative, no easy option. Collectively, Europeans already spend 160 billion Euro a year on defense. Military capabilities are an important element in our strategy, but there are others. Military efficiency has often been followed by civilian chaos. We need police and other civilian capabilities in crisis and post-crisis situations.”[13]

During 2002, NATO adopted the doctrines, the military plans and structures necessary for possibility of global intervention, new Response Force and command structure, etc, which incidentally involved a major and probably irreversible step away from collective self-defense as its primary function. Since then, NATO has agreed on its biggest ever enlargement and most sweeping extension of its military role; when all members have agreed to let it take over the coordinating role for the ISAF force in Afghanistan and have kept open the door for it somehow to support future peace-keeping in Iraq. The 2004 Enlargement and the new NATO-Russia relationship make NATO a continuing important force for security and stability within Europe, even if it is starting to withdraw from its direct military role in the Balkans. For the United States, however, this role is no longer sufficient to justify the Alliance unless NATO can also become militarily active in solving crises outside the European region. Although it is too early to be sure, it looks very much as if NATO’s role is shifting from a creator of generic common defense and security-building policies towards that of a “tool-box” from which military instruments can be picked up when the political conditions for using them have been generated elsewhere. It is possible that the Iraq experience will lead many allies to rediscover NATO’s ‘instrumental’ value also in the political sphere, as a dialogue channel across the Atlantic and a restraint, however modest, on US unilateralism.

Friction between Allies

With the end of the Cold War, areas of potential frictions have emerged in the relations between the United States and the European Union. Different perceptions and outlooks regarding global issues as well as national interests have complicated future cooperation. Divergence deeply affects US views of European power and influence in terms of subjective assessments and objective capacities, regardless of whether European countries would employ those capacities. Further, this disagreement created a two-part problem, both parts of which are important but the non-military is more than the military one, because, at least in combat, the United States has less need for allies than it has in either pre-combat diplomacy or providing security and other forms of support after combat is over. This last point is of particular concern with regard to the European role within NATO and the projection of military power to places such as the Greater Middle East. Experience in Afghanistan and Iraq argues against trying to get European states to spend more money on defense except for a few more advanced militaries, while emphasizing high technology weapons capabilities such as advanced tactical aircraft and precision guided munitions.

In the mid-1990s, at NATO, the term “outside of area” meant Bosnia and Kosovo, even though both were demonstrably within Europe. Further, although some European states did engage in peacekeeping and nation-building, virtually all could safely cede responsibility to the United States to manage most problems external to Europe that might be unmanaged, at some point or would seriously affect European interests. The Kosovo crisis was followed by the original launch of the CESDP (Common European Security and Defense Policy). There is a consensus developing around a group of proposals for strengthening ESDP that have come up in the European Convention in the recent adoption by EU governments of a specific strategy and action plan against WMD proliferation and their approval of a general European strategy, both of which contemplate the use of force as the last resort. However, there are security values and priorities which most Europeans share, in contrast and potentially in opposition to the United States. Even those Europeans who operated most closely with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq continued to take steps during and after the crisis designed to make sure that they would have other options and capacities to operate in pursuit of distinctly European interests. However the behavior of the future European Union members from East and Central Europe in the conflict over Iraq fed the suspicion in some European Union states that the new members are acting as American allies. Perhaps, the worst result of the Trans-Atlantic divide over Iraq has been the growing anti-American feeling in large segments of European public opinion. Interestingly, by mid-2003, dynamics of action and reaction in the Euro-Atlantic area clearly started to assert itself with conscious efforts being made to restore a modus vivendi between the United States and Europe. The Europeans started doing their best to pull back together, institutions were looking for therapeutic and diversionary activities, and individual nations were drawing back to reflect on their mistakes. One reason why analysts and the public at large have so often debated developments following US unilateral action to topple Saddam’s regime in Iraq in black-and-white terms is that the United States tends to dominate the Western security scene not just militarily and politically, but also to some extent intellectually. On the other hand, Europe's attempts to introduce a common foreign and security policy are often interpreted primarily as an effort to counter American influence in the world, perhaps by deliberately subverting NATO or other US interests. To some observers, EU's move since the 1999 European Union summit meeting in Helsinki has been interpreted as a move to go in the other direction in which nearly all the initiatives and financial appropriations are for nurturing new military capabilities. Moreover, France, Germany, Belgium and, to some extent, Britain, are recognized for pushing hard for Europe to have its own defense identity. The critics say that NATO is largely dominated by American decision-making, and Europe needs the freedom to deal with what it perceives as a crisis without having to win Washington's support. Even the French talk of building up Europe as a "counterweight" to the United States in a multi-polar world is mostly interpreted in that context. Although, the counterweight idea has found echoes in Berlin, implying a relative diminution in US power and a relative increase in that of Europe, that does not seem to be the wish of most European countries. They would rather prefer to have Europe as a partner to the United States. However, with the Cold War over, Europeans feel that they have more freedom to develop their own policies independently from Washington. Meanwhile, as the Europeans move into an independent foreign and security policy, there are possibilities of clash with Washington if they stand against those US policies that would be seen unsuitable for Europe. A review of the European Presidency report and the annexes at the Nice summit clearly demonstrates a distinctive desire for the EU independence from NATO; it specifies that:

- The EU military forces will be independent and autonomous from NATO.

- The planning for many operations will be done outside NATO.

- It is the European Union that will make the decision if and when to consult NATO.

- It is the European Union that will decide on operations, not NATO.

-The European Union will retain full political control throughout any operation.

These moves by the European Union could be best interpreted as an isolationist worry of foreign adventurism and nation-building mood in the United States, following President Bush's election campaign in the fall of 2000.[14] The concerns grew even more with the new security agenda of the Bush Administration after September 11, 2001. It seems that this has done more to split the European Union for the United States. The disagreements that emerged were not limited to specific aspects of antiterrorism and counter-proliferation policy or to specific cases for action like Afghanistan and Iraq. They also extend to other important domains of global governance such as the rule of law, the legitimacy of military action, equality before law, the meaning of strategic stability and associated restraints, as well as issues more indirectly related to security such as international trade and competition, the protection of the environment and climate change. The results of these turbulences have aggravated the problems which the European Union and NATO are facing with in handling their already very tough challenges of adaptation combined with their biggest ever enlargement.[15]

US Unilateralist Policies

To some observers, the existing facts illustrated and highlighted by the campaign in Iraq, and by the regime change in Afghanistan, are that the United States is indeed now the world’s only superpower. They argue that the United States is capable of mobilizing the latest military technologies and tactics for rapid victory at long range, on a scale and in a combination unavailable to any other nation, and with only very modest help from outsiders. Moreover, events surrounding the conflict have also underlined the US global diplomatic and economic reach and its ability to bring major and rapid pressures for change to bear upon countries in every continent. The American overestimation of the military dimension of power, to the neglect of the other two dimensions including economic and ‘soft’ power, is a major contending issue between the European Union and the United States. For this reason, US ideas about how it is necessary and possible to use this power are quite different from the security policy of most states including the European ones. In particular, the doctrines introduced in the United States 2002 national security strategy instrument about maintaining the US present strategic superiority for as long as possible at all costs, and about the legitimacy of preemptive attack where necessary on opponents who might threaten this, are goals which most modern states not only lack the strength to aim at but would think improper to express in these terms. The preemption doctrine in particular is one for which there is clearly no cover in the normal reading of the international law. The current US administration’s conviction that these policies are not only admissible but necessary can most simply be explained by the US unique position as a country which has never experienced invasion, has never experienced peaceful multinational integration with equal partners as the Europeans have, and which therefore tends to see the preservation of its frontiers against either physical or legal intrusion as an absolute value combined with the extraordinary shock and still-lasting trauma of the events of September 11, 2001. Thus, at present, the United States does not feel any compulsion or sees any reason to operate through international institutions – be it the UN, G8 or even NATO. Colin L. Powell the US Secretary of State while disclaiming the US unilateralist policies suggests that his country’s strategy is one of partnerships that strongly affirms the vital role of NATO and other US alliances -- including the UN. On the future role of NATO, he has further remarked that “Some observers predicted that NATO would wither away after the Cold War, others that the United States and the European Union would even end up on a collision course. Neither prediction has, or will, come true. Not only have NATO survived, but also both its membership and its mission have expanded. It is true that we have had differences with some of our oldest and most valued NATO allies. But these are differences among friends. The Trans-Atlantic partnership is based so firmly on common interests and values that neither feuding personalities nor occasional divergent perceptions can derail it. We have new friends and old friends alike in Europe. We are closer than ever to a Europe whole, free, and at peace. Such a Europe definitely includes Russia, as well as the other new and reborn republics that emerged from the Soviet Union. As for our relations with the European Union, never has our common agenda been so large and mutually significant from advancing free trade to joint efforts in counter-proliferation.”[16]

The viewpoints of the European Union on the security strategy and its cooperation with the United States is best described by Javier Solana the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. He says:

“Europe's partnership with the United States is irreplaceable. It has underpinned our progressive integration and our security. NATO is an important expression of the relationship and a close strategic partner for crisis management. Though, the United States is today's dominant military actor, it cannot tackle today's complex problems on its own…I believe that our security will depend more -not less- on an effective multilateral system, a rule-based international order and well-functioning international institutions.’[17] Those points highlight the fact that, while Europe as a landmass -economically and politically- remains important for the US global interests and objectives, it still depends on US power, influence, and leadership to be fully assured of its own independence, security, long-term prosperity, and in some places even domestic tranquility.

European Independent Force

The idea of a European independent force is as old as the European Union itself. After the European Community became a Union in the Maastricht Treaty of December 1991, member states agreed to adopt a common foreign and security policy. It has been an uphill struggle; the formal decision to create a rapid reaction force (ERRF) was taken only in December 1999 as a start of a European army. As mentioned above, George Bush's presidential campaign in the fall of 2000 revived the echoes of isolationism by suggesting that if elected he would make a priority of removing American forces from the Balkans. Though, later he trimmed his position and reassured America's NATO allies that there will be no hasty decision, European defense planners were motivated to look for an independent military organization. Moreover, there are many in Europe who believes that Europe should indeed be forging a defense strategy based more on common European interests, and less on the Trans-Atlantic connection.

However, it was only after a summit meeting in Brussels in December 2003 that the European leaders decided to establish an autonomous European military planning element, independent of NATO. This move was made despite powerful opposition by the Bush Administration. Some observers saw this as a lesson to Washington about how not to deal with its allies. In fact, the new military element is very small. An operational planning unit will be established within the existing European military staff in Brussels, whose present task is to advise the European Council on strategic developments. The relationship between NATO and an independent European security and defense identity was defined in 1996. It was clear from the beginning that European armed forces were not to be capable of undertaking major tasks. They were to be fully transparent as far as NATO was concerned. The European leaders have continued to emphasize the EU's deep commitment to the Trans-Atlantic relationship, and their acceptance of NATO's primacy in response to major crises. Yet they were determined to create their own military element, and would have gone their way separately from Britain and other opponents, had they not had their agreement. It was only on this basis that Britain was able to persuade the US administration to accept it. The importance of the European independent force also lies in the demonstration of its independence from NATO, and thus of Europe from the United States. It was with the same logic that the European Union created the new European rapid reaction force. It is planned that a force of up to 60,000 by the member states to come together for specific operations and for training in ERRF. It will have three main roles. One is to give assistance to civilians threatened by a crisis outside the European Union. Another is to respond to UN calls for peacekeeping forces. The third is to intervene to separate warring factions. In all the three scenarios, the European Union would deploy its forces only if NATO decides not to get involved.

Converging and Diverging Interests: The Middle East

In the Middle East, European Union and the United States have an overwhelming common interest to see that one day Israel is physically connected to the West by a patchwork of Islamic or post-Islamic democracies. Although the United States and Europe have reached a common position on ways to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Trans-Atlantic gap on attitudes toward Israel remains wide, especially in terms of public opinion. The fact that Americans are far more supportive and protective of Israel than Europeans has far-reaching ramifications and is a clear obstacle to better cooperation.[18] Despite the fact that the European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner, political relations between the two are not good. At the time of the Six-Day War in June 1967, the majority of the European elites sympathized with the Jewish State in part because of their hostility toward the key Arab governments. A very different atmosphere pervades Europe today. Most European leaders and much of the public believe that the Israeli government is as much to blame for the failure to solve the Palestinian question as the Arabs are. The majority of Europeans believe that the politics of the Sharon government are themselves partly responsible for the failure to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Europe has no equivalent to the powerful support for Israel found in the US Congress among the American Jewish community and Evangelical Christians who, for both ideological and theological reasons, support the concept of a “Greater Israel,” which for years has been the ideology of the Likud Party in Israel. Public opinion polls show that Israel’s popularity in Europe has fallen significantly over the years. To many Europeans, the US refusal to deal with the elected president of the Palestinian Authority undercuts prospects for progress and belies the democratic ideals Bush advocates for the Middle East.[19]

However, with regard to the greater Middle East, there is a common understanding that all Western states are in the same boat together in the end. It is in part for this reason that the European Council has begun debate on a set of far-reaching concepts.[20] The report goes a fair distance in meeting US concerns regarding European attitudes about threats and responses to them. Yet, European countries and the European Union can and will act in other ways that can significantly shape events and in some cases reduce the likelihood of conflict or other threats to Western security interests. In that direction and to promote peace and security in this volatile region, the concept of a ‘Middle East Helsinki Process’ has long been discussed among American and European think-tanks. The US approach is loosely modeled on the 1975 Helsinki accords signed by 35 nations, including the United States, the Soviet Union and almost all European countries. The Greater Middle East Initiative "projects the administration as looking beyond immediate trouble spots to institutionalize a policy of change for the region." Although European governments generally support the idea, they have varying degrees of skepticism about whether a Helsinki-like approach will work in the Middle East. The European Union is cautious because of its long-standing dialogue with the Arab nations on the Mediterranean, which has had some success in reforming educational and health systems but marginal impact on politics.[21] The Europeans say without resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there will be little chance of dealing with other problems in this region. The Europeans argue that, it is Europe not the United States which is adjacent to the Middle East and while EU enlargement continues, perhaps eventually including Turkey, its relationship with the Middle East and the Muslim World will grow even closer. It is also pointed that, immigration, both legal and illegal, from the Muslim countries has become a critical factor in the European domestic politics. Yet, from another perspective, European security is increasingly influenced by the growing importance of natural gas exports from the Arab countries in North Africa. Gas supplies from that region, which continue to be buffeted by political, economic, and social challenges, play a growing role in EU’s economic development and modernization plans. France, Spain, and Italy import a large portion of their energy needs from Africa, and the governments and security establishments in all three of these countries have become increasingly concerned about the possibility that turmoil and conflict in the area might disrupt gas supplies. That is the reason why Europe has huge political, economic and strategic stakes in what happens to its south and southeast.

The Persian Gulf

The importance of the Persian Gulf to Western security has increased at the outset of the new millennium and will continue to do so in the years to come. The region accounts for roughly 65 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 30 percent of all oil that is traded globally. American and European oil imports from the Persian Gulf are projected to increase over the next two decades: During this period, 14 percent of total oil consumption in North America will come from the Persian Gulf, up from 8 percent in 1995; for Western Europe, about 35 percent of total oil consumption will originate from the this region, compared to 25 percent five years ago. Persian Gulf oil exports to Western Europe averaged about 2.3 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2002. The United States also imports about 2 mbd from the Middle East, but this amount represents a smaller percentage of its total imports because the United States imports most of its oil from the Americas; Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. However, any major disruption in Middle Eastern oil supplies would affect both the United States and Europe because they would be competing for higher oil prices in the oil market. In the future, Europe’s dependence on Middle Eastern natural gas is likely to grow and become more critical to its overall energy profile. Although, there is no direct relationship between dependence on oil imports to meet energy needs and security vulnerability to the effects of oil supply disruptions. Nonetheless, national perceptions that severe oil supply interruptions would have highly disruptive effects play a key role in shaping the national security policies of Western governments. More important, the United States has strategic and geopolitical interests in preserving the security of the Persian Gulf quite apart from the region’s importance as a major oil exporter. These include the security commitments it has with several countries in the region and on its periphery, including Israel and Turkey, and the imperative of preventing the region from falling under the domination of hostile anti-Western regimes that could use their control over the Persian Gulf oil production to harm Western interests or, as has happened in the past, change governments and borders in the region.[22]


After victory in Afghanistan and despite Iran backed the US invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, Washington has dubbed Iran part of an "axis of evil" in an effort to highlight the security threats that US officials say it poses. The United States accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons and long-range missile technology. It also charges Iran with aiding Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian groups such as Hamas which Washington lists as terrorists. Americans argue that trade and dialogue with countries like Iran do not, at least in short term, foster openness and political change, rather, they give these hostile governments resources with which to carry out their destructive programs. The US objective is thus to maintain pressure on Iran with keeping the military option open for preferred changes in the country. The spectrum of policies pursued by the Americans for changes in Iran ranges from a “change in behavior” to the “change of regime,” according to different political inclinations. The Europeans while sharing the same concerns of the Americans regarding Iran’s nuclear program are opting instead for dialogue and diplomacy. In this regard, British ministers in an apparent move to avoid a repetition of the episode between Europe and America over the war in Iraq and in a proposed list of six options to avoid a new rift that ranges from no change to reluctantly joining America in isolating Iran opted and decided on a middle course. That option implied to issue a private warning to Iran. And, accordingly, the European Union would cut off trade talks and reconsider its dialogue with Tehran if they did not take action on key issues within a clear short deadline of two months. It was also reported that the British Cabinet was trying to convince Europe and America to play a coordinated game of ‘good cop’, ‘bad cop’ with Iran[23]. Thus, the West in its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran has in fact pursued a unified agenda for some years. As emphasized in their different policy statements, four issues remained in the agendas of the Western countries when dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran. For instance, the US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher when describing the US policies towards Iran on May 27, 2003 once again emphasized that policy by stipulating that “Terrorism, nuclear development, Middle East, opposition to the peace process, and poor human rights record have been standard issues that we have sought to raise with Iran in variety of ways.”

On the question of Iran’s nuclear program, the European Union and the United States have started a cooperative effort to end what they consider as Iran’s putative nuclear weapons program. The European Union apparently came to the conclusion that to overcome the rifts created during the Iraqi crisis with the United States, it has to play the Iranian card and to use its influence on Iran’s nuclear program. However, the United States is likely to push very hard for additional measures against Iran and to demand that Iran abandon its nuclear infrastructure, particularly its uranium-enrichment and heavy-water facilities. Reaching agreement on these broader objectives will be controversial because Iran will put up a strong defense and many Europeans will sympathize with it, especially if Iran complies with its NPT commitments. Nevertheless, Europe has an interest in seeing Iran become reconciled to US demands and in reaching an agreement with the United States. Until this happens, Iran’s enormous energy resources, especially natural gas, cannot be fully developed. Looking at longer-term energy needs, one can make a very strong case that access to Iranian natural gas makes a good deal of sense for the growing European market because Europe does not want to become too dependent on one source such as Russia.[24] Following the disclosure of a nuclear research work in Iran, the Secretary of State Colin L. Powell tried very hard to persuade European foreign ministers to put pressure on Iran. He argued the view, most prominent in the White House and Defense Department, that Iran was far more likely to respond to meaningful deadlines than to the promises of trade and diplomatic cooperation favored by European leaders. The silver lining to the dispute was an emerging good cop-bad cop strategy. Ironically, Iran’s possible withdrawal from the NPT was a serious case that could set off alarms and bring about a coalition of countries together.[25] The key to this coalition supposed to be a joint US-EU collective action that would send a powerful message to Iran and would probably be supported by Russia and Japan. US administration officials cite the fact that France, Germany and Russia, all which opposed Iraq war, have helped to press Iran to dismantle its rapidly growing nuclear capacity. Experts observe that Europe now feels the same pressures as all strategic actors do to avoid seriously antagonizing, or throwing away, its remaining hopes of influencing the US superpower.

Now it is widely believed that the more serious the European Union becomes as a power-player, the more its practical understanding of power will grow and the closer its own practical judgments on how specific security challenges should be handled may become to those of the United States. There is a hint of a future paradigm in this sense to be found in the converging tactics the European Union and the United States have used to try to force a change in the nuclear development policies of Iran. The EU’s new WMD strategy instrument implicitly recognizes that it is the shared task of all responsible states to help strengthen the international legal instruments including monitoring and inspection capabilities.

Thus, the European Union and the United States after a divide over US policies in Iraq finally came to a common understanding over Iran's nuclear program and its possible fallout for the security of Israel. Israel that has demonstrated much anxiety about Iran’s nuclear programs, after four decades of silence, admitted its nuclear arms capability. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon while disclosing this said that Israel's existence is still in danger and “Iran represents an existential threat, one of the existential threats or maybe the main existential threat” to Israel. Immediately, President Bush in strongly worded remarks before an audience of newspaper editors and publishers asked the leadership of the Islamic Republic to heed US and European demands not to pursue a nuclear weapons program. He said that “It would be intolerable to peace and stability in the Middle East if they get a nuclear weapon, particularly since their stated objective is the destruction of Israel.” With the US and Israeli threats for using military force against Iran becoming more probable, some observers caution that an aggressive reaction by the United States or Israel to strike Iran's nuclear facilities could well have the unintended consequence of antagonizing a highly nationalistic and largely pro-Western populace while convincing Iranians that a nuclear weapon is indeed in their national interests. Such a reaction could be disastrous for US interests in the region, especially given Iran's key location between Iraq and Afghanistan.[26]


With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist order, the European continent suddenly ceased to be the competition ground for global power and the place on which US attention was focused for more than half a century. Although Europe’s significance as a geostrategic entity at the top of the list of regions that must be actively kept free of anti-Western hegemonic or ideological dominance has radically declined, its internal development has preserved its inherent importance for the Americans. In general, the new international security environment is becoming more complex, more unpredictable, and in some ways more dangerous than during the familiar Cold War decades. Under such circumstances, the EU-US security relations are facing new challenges, both for the adaptation to present needs of their existing security structures namely NATO as well as to reach a consensus on the way to meet the new challenges. NATO has made great strides in adapting its missions, organization, doctrine, and forces to the new security challenges of the post–Cold War environment. In addition to maintaining the capabilities to carry out its central mission of collective defense, the Alliance has affirmed its commitment to a new purpose that is much more relevant to the challenges the United States and its allies face today by extending its mission for security and stability in and around the Euro-Atlantic region.

The pattern of US-European relations during the past half-century relied heavily on military power based on an alliance shaped in the form of NATO. At present, Western security, as broadly understood, faces a wide range of actual and potential challenges where non-military instruments are gaining more importance. These challenges relate much to the growth of transnational phenomena that are beyond the control of individual states. The collapse of the twin towers on September 11, 2001 was in true sense the beginning of a new era in the security thinking in the West in general and in the United States in particular. The combination of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism is now considered in the West as the greatest dangers to their security. However, in a wider scope, the political Islam, or in a less provocative term, ‘Islamic extremism' is generally targeted as the root cause of many malaise and security challenges to the West. This tendency is said to also serve the very much-needed aim for finding an alternative to replace the threat image of the Communism lost in the aftermath of the Cold War era.

Meanwhile, at a lower, sub-strategic level, a competition for gaining political influence and economic upper hand in some key regions is going on not only between the United States and European countries but also in some cases between the Europeans themselves. These include mainly in the Balkans, in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf regions. In the Balkans, the first European independent initiative to establish peace and security was not successful and the Americans in the framework of NATO later rescued that peacekeeping plan. In the Middle East, apart from differences between the United States and European Union on their policies regarding the peace plan, American victory in Iraq has left the Europeans in a much weaker position in the region than before. Under current circumstances, the European Union is in search of ways to utilize its leverage on Iran in order to enhance its regional and global profile in a power game with the United States. Besides, maintaining a dialogue and good relations with Iran ensures its present and future economic interest with this important country. However, the American opposition to any opening toward Iran has made it difficult for the Europeans to fully engage with Iran. Making things even more complicated is Iran’s nuclear program, which has been portrayed as a risk to the international security. An initiative by British, French, and German governments to negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Iran on its nuclear program was welcomed by the United States. Some observers considered this European initiative as a coordinated game with the United States and as a conciliatory gesture toward the Americans especially by France and Germany after they vehemently opposed the US intervention in Iraq without a UN mandate.

In terms of the EU’s own political dynamics, the events around Iraq showed that it is even harder to unite the whole European Union on an extreme anti-American platform than on a pro-American one. And last but not least, certain irreducible shared interests of the two sides of the Atlantic have been freshly highlighted especially by contemplation of what would have happened if post-Saddam Iraq went really wrong. All this together helps explain the current short-term drive to build a concrete agenda for shared or complementary US-European action with a prospect for strengthening their future security relationship worldwide and in particular in the Middle East.


[1] See, Robert Hutchings, “Strategic Choices, Intelligence Challenges,” Woodrow Wilson School Princeton University, December 1, 2003.

[2] Ibid.

[3] For more information on Europe’s future role in world politics, see, Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “Formation of A New Europe with 25 Countries,” Periodical Bulletin (Occasional Paper in Persian), Center for Strategic Research, Tehran, No. 66, April/May 2004.

[4] This is quoted from an interview by Mahmood Sariolghalam with Iran Newspaper, November 19, 2003.

[5] Terminology used in discussion and debate of matters, such as “hard” versus “soft” power, is often fuzzy and imprecise, especially as between diplomacy and force and as between military and non-military instruments. Analysts and commentators often rate military force as most significant, without reference to what outcomes desired, simply because it is widely believed to be most clearly decisive.

[6] See, H. D. S. Greenway, “America in the World: The Right Mix of Hard and Soft Power,” The Boston Globe, March 23, 2004.

[7] See, “The US-European Strategic Relationship: Can It Endure?” Speech delivered by William Hague in a conference organized by the New Atlantic Initiative, London, January 12, 2001.

[8] See, Geoffrey Kemp, “Europe’s Middle East Challenges,” The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2003-2004, p. 163.

[9] Javier Solana, “Joining Forces against Common Threats,” The International Herald Tribune, December 12, 2003.

[10] Constantine A. Pagedas, “Anglo-American Strategic Relations and the French Problem, 1960–1963: A Troubled Partnership,” Aerospace Power Journal, Summer 2001.

[11] See, Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “Prospects for Disarmament after the Cold War” in Military Doctrine and Military Reconstruction in Post-Confrontational Europe, International Forum, Charles University, Prague, 1994, p. 216.

[12] Solana, op. cit.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hague, op. cit.

[15] Alyson J. K. Bailes, “The Iraq War: Impact on International Security,” Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), Policy Paper, August 2003.

[16] Colin L. Powell, “A Strategy of Partnerships,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004.

[17] Solana, op. cit.

[18] Kemp, op. cit., p.168.

[19] Ibid., p. 164.

[20] Following that debate a report was prepared dubbed as the “Solana Report” for its author, CFSP High Representative Javier Solana.

[21] See, Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler ,”Bush Aims For 'Greater Mideast' Plan Democracy Initiative to Be Aired at G-8 Talks,” The Washington Post, February 9, 2004.

[22] See, Richard Sokolsky, Stuart Johnson, and F. Stephen Larrabee, “Persian Gulf Security: Improving Allied Military Contributions,” 2001.

[23] Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “The Iran-EU Relations: Back to Strategic Spheres,” Studies on Europe; Special on EU-Iran Relations, Vol. 2, No. 3, TISRI, Tehran, 2004, p. 223.

[24] Kemp, op. cit., p. 175.

[25] Some Iranian officials have suggested that in event of a military attacks against Iranian nuclear plants, Tehran should pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), see, Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, “Iran’s Nuclear Program: The Question of Non-Proliferation?,” Discourse: An Iranian Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 2003, p. 75.

[26] It is argued with the same breath that, “despite Iran's Islamic government's steadfast opposition to the United States and Israel, for most Iranians no such nemeses exist. For instance it is said that; Iran's young populace -- more than two-thirds of the country is younger than 30 -- is among the most pro-American in the Middle East, and tend not to share the impassioned anti-Israel sentiment of their Arab neighbors. Also, the Iranian people are eager to emerge from the political and economic isolation of the past two decades and are strongly in favor of increasing ties with the West. See, Karim Sadjadpour, “Iranians Don't Want To Go Nuclear,” The Washington Post, 3 February 2004.