Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

The Challenge of Iran to U.S. Security Policy

| Oct. 25, 2018

For many years the US rightly considered the prevention of a nuclear armed Iran as the most important challenge to its security policy regarding that country. The nuclear deal (JCPOA), which it negotiated with France, Germany, China and Russia (assisted by the EU), served that very purpose and represented one of the most brilliant achievements of multilateral diplomacy on non-proliferation. But ever since President Trump withdrew the US from what he called a “horrible deal” most Europeans have considered American policy on Iran as the most counterproductive if not destructive element of American foreign policy.   

Their reasons for that judgement are manifold. Europeans had invested years of arduous diplomacy in a treaty, which Trump rejected, thus undermining relations with America’s most important allies and even insisted on withdrawing after intensive European efforts to meet American objections to the deal.  US sanctions have a similarly negative effect. US trade with Iran comprises only a few million whereas Europe’s is $25 billion worth of goods (2017). Most European companies now feel compelled to withdraw from Iran in order not to lose access to the American market, but the consequence will be a considerable and possibly lasting resentment of the US and its insensitivity to close allies.

The European governments consider the US assertion that a better deal which meets American demands on Iran’s ending of all nuclear activities, withdrawal from Syria and Yemen and discontinuing all support of radical movements as unrealistic if not naïve. The contrast between the carefully crafted deal with Iran with its precise commitments, removal of nuclear materials, timetables and intrusive international control on the one hand and the vague promises on denuclearization given by the North Korean dictator in exchange for Trump’s concessions on the other hand deeply alarms the Europeans and undermines the credibility of American foreign policy.

Europeans particularly resent the indirect impact of US sanctions, aggravated by new measures that enter into effect in early November whereby anybody using Dollars can be subject to American punishment. Notably the US demand to eliminate Iranian banks from the Belgium based SWIFT mechanism, which is the financial nerve center of world trade, is deemed unacceptable by Europeans. For the first time EU governments have agreed to create a “special payments entity” as a kind of barter trade exchange mechanism to avoid using Dollars when trading with Iran. It remains to be seen whether the mechanism will work, but never before has there been so much questioning of the role of the Dollar as an instrument of US dominance as today. A continuation of Trump’s sanctions policy will give further impetus to attempts to operate outside the American financial system.

Europeans, like the rest of the world, ask themselves what will happen if the Trump Administration fails to get the capitulation of the Iranian government it asks for and the hard liners who advocate withdrawing from the JCPOA and starting a nuclear weapons program take over. Will the US go to war?

The US and Europe agree broadly on many objectives to be achieved with regard to Iran, from denuclearization to curbing missile proliferation, but each requires an appropriate approach that combines diplomacy and pressure. On nuclear proliferation the JCPOA is obviously the best approach and is in place and working. On other problems like Iranian support of extremist forces or the threat to Israel a specific approach will have to be worked out. Neither the unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA nor threats of military action but only multilateralism will offer a chance to the US and the world to deal effectively with the security problems of Iran.




For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“The Challenge of Iran to U.S. Security Policy.” METRO U.N., October 25, 2018.

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