By Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata
Under the Trump administration the US has, to say the least, been acting erratically on the world stage. The current uncertainty over trade relations between Europe and the US, as well as Trump’s posturing on NATO, have left many questioning the Atlantic alliance, and whether the interests of the US and Europe have now truly diverged. On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the EU can no longer rely on the US for its security, and must pursue its own security policy to protect its interests.
One area, however, where Trump’s new policies have been aligned with European interests is in his policy on Iran. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, promises to do more to protect the security of Europe than almost any decision made by Europe’s own political leaders this year.
Saying that the US’s withdrawal from the deal is in Europe’s best interest may seem strange considering how it has been reported in the media and the negative reaction of many of the EU’s political leaders. Trump’s decision was presented as reckless and highly risky, an impulsive move which jeopardises relations with Iran and increases the risks of the regime deciding to pursue a nuclear agenda.
In reality, Trump’s decision will likely bring an end to a deal which has always benefited the US more than Europe. The deal contains no long-term deterrent to prevent Iran from producing many of the components of a nuclear weapon. Instead, it provided significant economic benefits to the country in the hopes that the regime would continue to comply with the terms of the agreement even as its economy recovered.
The deal in effect ransomed Europe’s security to the goodwill of an unstable and aggressive regime, in return for limited economic gains which have mostly accrued to private companies. The brunt of the Iranian security threat in this arrangement is borne by European countries: Iran’s proximity to Europe means it has always been one of the main threats to European territorial sovereignty. The sanctions relief offered by the deal, meanwhile, have primarily been to the advantage of private US and European companies.
This is ironic given the current positions of the two parties. The JCPOA was never in the interests of Europe, but the EU has now become the strongest advocate for its survival. This is bizarre behaviour from Europe’s leaders, whose opposition to Trump seems to have blinded them to the realities of the deal.
Given Macron’s comments this week, it is also ironic that he is one of the Iran deal’s biggest champions in Europe. His demand that Europe take responsibility for protecting its own interests is undermined by the very policy he advocates for Iran.
European politicians like Macron support the deal for two principal reasons. The first is the belief that expanding trade with Iran will bring economic benefit to Europe. The second is the belief that by opening up Iran to foreign investment, the country may become similarly open to new ideas and freedoms, and thus will evolve into a Western-style liberal democracy.
The deal has clearly benefited private commercial interests within Europe: companies such as Airbus, Allianz and Total were quick to take advantage of the economic opportunities provided by the opening up of the Iranian market. It is not at all clear, however, how much European citizens have benefited economically from the deal, and it is impossible to see any benefit which compensates them for the security risk they have to shoulder.
The second justification, that the deal will in some way ‘Westernise’ Iran, is completely wrong-headed, and is based on a now outdated view of geopolitics. Autocratic regimes around the globe have demonstrated that it is possible to import Western goods and profit from Western trade without importing Western values. European goods can be bought in the absence of European democracy.
The narrative that the Iran deal is in the interests of Europe and that reimposing sanctions will be harmful seems only therefore to serve the interests of private companies looking to expand their business dealings in the country.
The companies who have profited from the deal, and who were well aware of the risks of doing business in Iran when they entered the market, are now crying out for protection and further economic benefit from Europe. As if profiting at the cost of European security was not enough, these companies now want the EU to foot the bill for their misadventures in the country.
Giving in to these demands is not the right course of action for Europe. The prospect of a nuclear Iran is Europe’s problem first and foremost. Three years after the JCPOA was signed, we can see that this was not the right way to deal with this problem. A new arrangement, one which places the security of European citizens as its top priority, should be the top priority for European leaders like Macron who believe that Europe should take more responsibility for its own security.
Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata is a former Foreign Minister of Italy and a board member of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).