Europe and the Iranian threat: Macron, Merkel and May should take action!

For the French economic weekly “Challenges”

*Jean-Sylvestre Montgrenier

For the French economic weekly "Challenges"

For the geopolitical scientist Jean Sylvestre Mongrenier, the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, the Iranian President and the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) are still far from the honorary members of a small circle of reasonable people, committed to multilateralism, peaceful resolution of the conflicts and "dialogue" between civilizations.

The decision taken by Donald Trump not to certify the Iranian nuclear agreement of 2015, arguing that the strategic interests of the United States and those of their regional allies were not protected, triggered a diplomatic and media uproar in Europe. According to the rumor, the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, the Iranian President and the Pasdarans would be now the honorary members of a small circle of reasonable people, committed to multilateralism, peaceful resolution of the conflicts and "dialogue" between civilizations.

There would certainly be a lot to say about the capricious turn that Donald Trump gave to the American foreign policy, the lack of a "towering" vision and an overall political project in the Middle East, a fortiori the non-existence of a proper regional and global strategy.

However, the diplomacies of the main European countries are also lacking coherence. Paris, London and Berlin share the diagnosis drawn up by the Trump Administration and seem to want the end, but without the required means. Especially, the European leaders have difficulty in admitting that we have been thrown into a period very different from the 1990s.

The global failure of the Iranian agreement

At the first glance, it is necessary to insist on the fact that the agreement signed on July 14th, 2015 was part a global operation that was supposed to produce a « big diplomatic reversal » in the Middle East: moderation and restraint in the Iranian policy, primacy of the economic development, establishment of the bases of a future Iranian-American friendship. Besides the fact that the Iranian regime respects this agreement, at least in its broad lines of the technical and nuclear aspects, Tehran disappointed the expectations of the Westerners.

The spirit of the agreement isn't respected and we are already far from the vision of a wised up regime, on the way to secularization, more worried about inserting Iran into the globalization than to drive a strategy of « aggressive sanctuarization », serving a regional domination policy.

Instead, the regime fans the flames in the region and has opened a "Shiite highway" towards the Mediterranean Sea, hustling the Sunni Arab States and threatening Israel's borders. While keeping the main part of his nuclear infrastructure, Tehran develops the missiles which, one day, will be able to carry nuclear warheads. Goodbye to the dream of an Islamic democracy of free enterprise!

It is significant that the French, the British and the Germans also pinpoint the Iranian ballistic program and the destabilization of the region, with their inevitable return shocks. The Sunni Arab regimes and populations won't accept a Shiite domination in the region and it is already necessary to contemplate the consequences of the Iranian policy. Even though the American-Western coalition and the Arab-Kurdish forces removed " the Islamic State " of Rakka, the sectarianism of Tehran and its relays in Iraq as well as the abuses of pan-Shiite militias on the ground could very quickly provoke the appearance of new forms of Sunni Jihad. Europe is worried and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, expressed this in clear words. To a certain extent, the European capitals thus validate Donald Trump's analysis. Looking back, we understand that the so-called diplomatic success of July 2015 was not really a hit. At the most, many important points were postponed, but nothing was definitively adjusted in substance. And 2025 is almost tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Western concern to preserve this agreement will have conferred in Tehran a quasi-sanctuarization and an entire freedom of action.

Whoever wants the end shall want the means

The European diplomacies have their own reasons in trying to preserve this agreement, but by adding two additional "pillars": limitation of the regime's ballistic program and restraining its ambitions in the Middle East. It seems that Emmanuel Macron wants to act as an intermediary in the negotiations. Why not? The West needs a European pillar and there could be synergies between a "power dominance" pole on one hand (the United States), and a "soft diplomacy" pole on the other, though diplomacy without power has proven to be vain.

However, we must not delude ourselves. Tehran will not accept a calling into question of what was acquired by the negotiation; the result being globally favorable to the regime: the main infrastructure is protected, the sanctions are lifted, the power and influence of the regime extend in the Middle East and the deadline of 2025 is quite close. Then, why would the Iranian regime make a commitment into a new negotiation? If Paris, London and Berlin really aim to contain Iran, these capitals must be ready for a real test of strength. Tehran already threatens to announce the acceleration of the ballistic program, an assertion resumed by Hassan Rohani, considered as a « moderate». Thus, the return of the sanctions could prove to be not enough. The European leaders will not avoid confrontation and all its dangers except for giving up on the objectives, hoping that the regime, for reasons which escape us, will show restrain. So they should prepare the public opinion, explain what the access of Pasdarans and the Shiite militias to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea means. When will Iran strike, via the Hezbollah or other "proxies", Israel? The safety of the gas exploitation installations in the Levantine Sea is also threatened. Finally, couldn't this violence, aimed at changing the balances in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, spread to its western shores and North Africa?

Overall, in July 2015, we moved back to jump more badly, in the name of a « pragmatic » approach (a « deal », a « win-win » agreement). It would have been better to maintain the western front united and the oil embargo, very effective, to push the regime to give up on the main issues.

The threat of a large change in balances

In a broader sense, it would be advisable to wonder about the European vision of the world and about its gap with so many realities, what the psychologists call " cognitive dissonances" . All of them keep calling for the respect of multilateralism and the international order, they can even find arguments in favor of the neo Maoist Xi-Jinping, as a zealot of free trade. The theme reminds one of the "new world order", announced by George Bush father, between 1989 and 1991, or even of the "unipolar moment" (Charles Krauthammer), ten years later, at a time when no third State seemed able to (or simply want) to question the American-Western hegemony on the world.

Just like Washington, Brussels and the main European capitals aimed to promote the reign of the law and the « market democracy ». We spoke about "enlargement ", extension of the borders of the political and economic liberalism. The Europeans added to it a touch of social democracy and valued the soft power to mask the shrinkage of the available military means. Overall, the idea was to put back on the rails the universalist project of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a « big idea » for a long time blocked by the Cold war, which finds its deep roots into the western political tradition.

Contrary to the naivety that we often use to characterize the Americans, this vast operation had a tragic dimension, more particularly after September 11 attacks. The United States approaching limits of their potential, the American leaders aimed to promote the qualities of their power to "shape" the world, to make the best use of this window of opportunity to move, to anticipate the risks and the threats of future, and to establish rules.

The stake was to open the "post-Ottoman" Middle East to modernity, to reorganize the world under the flag of law and free trade, to dissuade preventively China from engaging a policy that would have threatened the world balances. This big strategy failed. A front of revisionist powers took shape and, in the Middle East, the Iranian regime constitutes the headland. In many respects, the American leaders understood the "spirit of the times" ("Zeitgeist" ") and prove to be more lucid than Europe, threatened by what the German historians name "Kleinstaaterei" (a division in provincial, powerless and politically neutralized entities).

What is to be done?

To the question « What is to be done?», Alexandre Kojève answered «learn the Greek », which was not a simple pirouette but refers to the Greco-Persian wars, the big confrontation between Greeks and Persians constituting the inaugural stage of the fight between freedom and servitude. The Iranian domination on the Middle East would have big consequences for Europe and its regional alliances, still more against the State of Israel, a democratic enclave transformed by force of circumstance into an advanced bastion of the West. Beyond that, this geopolitical victory of Iran allied with Russia would also be the victory of the revisionist front, silently encouraged by People's Republic of China, and would threaten a little more the cause of freedom in the world. Rather than claiming the building of a new Tower of Babel, sentenced to the fate we know, it is urgent for the European states, in good terms with the United States, to take their part of the «burden » and to contribute more strongly to the defense of the free world.

This implies the reinvestment of the concept of the "West", representation of itself and a reconquest project which inspired the ancient European geopolitical large operations.

It is vital to see things as they are and to understand what would mean the world's dislocation that the Westerners, in spite of their old rivalries, collectively made happen : peace and freedom are in danger.

*Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, Researcher at the French Institute of Geopolitics (Paris VIII) and associated researcher at the Thomas More Institute.