Europe Needs to Develop Independent Policy to Curb US Unilateralism: Austrian Prof.
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – An Austrian university professor said Europe is seeking to develop an independent policy so that the 28-member bloc can fight American unilateralism.
“So the INSTEX mechanism and the blocking statute that Europeans have is already an example that Europeans are trying to develop an independent policy, but we’ll take a long time until you become stronger and can replace the US dollar in some areas. That may take five years, ten years maybe so that is not a good argument for Iran. I understand this, but this is the example that Iran and INSTEX might help us to think about the future that Europeans should be more independent of the US,” Dr. Heinz Gartner told Tasnim.
Gartner is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Vienna, at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and at Danube University. He was an academic director of the Austrian Institute for International Affairs until 2016. He held a Fulbright Fellowship as well as the Visiting Austrian Chair at the Stanford University where he had further visiting fellowships. He is the editor of the book series "Internationale Sicherheit“(Peter-Lang Publisher). Heinz Gartner is a senior external expert of the "RAND-Corporation Europe“. He chairs the advisory board Strategy and Security of the Austrian Armed Forces. Among others, he is a member of the editorial board of the Journal “International Politics” and the “World Journal of Behavioral Science“(Synchro Publisher), and member of the Advisory Board of the “International Institute for Peace” in Vienna and the Journal “Security and Peace”. Gartner received the Bruno Kreisky (legendary former Austrian Chancellor) “Award for most outstanding Political Books”.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: Iran strongly believes that it is unjust that Iran abide by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers as other parties to the agreement have failed to abide by their commitments. What is your take on this?
Gartner: It was one of the best-negotiated Arms Control agreements in history in a way that every comma and full stop had to be agreed upon. So there's no better Arms Control agreement. It has a very comprehensive verification mechanics. And what we hear in mainstream media in the West (is) that it’s expiring and it's only (for) a short time, (but) it is not. It’s a permanent agreement because in the preamble it says Iran never will acquire nuclear weapons.
So that’s the best of what we can have, that's why I'm saying I think Donald Trump violated the JCPOA. He withdrew and violated international law. It is based on international law because we have the UN Security Council Resolution 2231. So one party violated the agreement and international law. But I do think that it’s in the interest of all the other parties that the JCPOA will be kept alive, so it should be kept as long as possible and I understand your question that Iran didn't benefit that much from the agreement economically. So some of the sanctions have been lifted yes but new ones have been imposed by the US and Iran did not really economically benefit.
However, there's another dimension on that, our the international law and international agreements are important as such and Iran and the other parties so far are on a much higher moral level than the US.
So Iran abided by the agreement. The IAEA confirmed 15 times, as you know, that Iran abides by the agreement and all the order parties have an interest that the JCPOA stays in place.
However, now Iran is coming to the Europeans and saying okay you have to compensate (for the damages inflicted on Iran by) the sanctions. I have to say the Europeans don't have the capacity, the Europeans will not be able to compensate Iran for the losses of Iran so that's because, as you know, European companies are threatened by so-called secondary sanctions if they do business with Iran and so these companies withdrew from Iran.
It is the market economy. It is capitalism. The European Commission cannot tell companies that you have to invest in Iran. It is not possible.
Small and medium enterprises are all looking for possibilities to keep the trade open with Iran. They are not big companies, they’re small ones. They have all their own businesses, car parts or tools you know what, so if you want to build infrastructures on the streets. All these businesses are not threatened by sanctions. So I calculated that if we combine…these very small in the European Union it would be a hundred thousand.
On top of that, what is important is that the JCPOA remains in place. If Iran now is saying we are going beyond the limit of the JCPOA, it will not change much. The Iranian government is expecting the Europeans to put a little bit pressure on the US and to increase the bargaining power of Iran. It might happen but will not change (the situation much) because the Europeans do not have the leverage for that. That’s why I think I'm a strong supporter of the JCPOA.
So if that is violated, the so-called B-team, as (Iranian) Foreign Minister Zarif described, will cry foul that Iran wanted to have a nuclear weapon all along. Now they're violating the JCPOA, which is kind of ironic and paradoxical that Trump, Bolton, Pompeo and also Netanyahu would say Iran is violating the JCPOA that they say it was a bad agreement anyway from the first place. So that is a kind of paradox.
Tasnim: Then it makes sense to say that the JCPOA is a good deal, but how could one convince Iran to remain in the multilateral deal after Washington withdrew from it unilaterally. What would be the incentive to keep Iran in the deal?
Gartner: I understand what Iran is doing is still legal but I don't think it's politically wise to leave the JCPOA altogether because if the situation changes, Iran would be in the higher moral ground.
I cannot predict what is happening, I cannot predict maybe Trump will be there for another 4 years and all his advisers will press him for military operation but there are some desperate attempts of Europeans to keep this agreement alive. So I have to say Federica Mogherini, who is the higher representative of the European Union, is trying very hard to keep the deal alive. She was the one who installed the INSTEX mechanism but she doesn't have much of power. The power rests in as the (EU) member states.
Many of the members (have) so far wanted to appease Trump so they are not really fully committed anymore, they want to have a free trade agreement with the US, and look at the NATO members that want to have the protection of the US against Russia. They’re afraid that Trump is threatening of withdrawing the support for the Europeans.
So some Europeans start to support the JCPOA less strongly. Politically, they’re not supporting the JCPOA strongly enough. Economically Iran doesn't have the benefit, the Europeans do not have the leverage and are too weak but I would say the Europeans should support the JCPOA much louder and stronger.
About how to convince Iran? What I can say is that Iran so far (has been) abiding by the treaty and Iran cannot be accused of anything.
Now they're trying to accuse Iran already for the incidents in the (Persian) Gulf and they are starting to find reasons that Iran is to blame. If Iran chooses to leave the JCPOA, Iran would be the one to be blamed for everything. If it comes to military action, if it comes to war, so Iran would be the one who started this, not the US.
So that’s for political reasons and moral reasons, I would say that’s the reason for me enough for Iran to stay in the deal.
Having said this, I understand the economic difficulties.
There is another point that I found out before my visit to Tehran. Iran’s economy is very resilient. It has been under sanctions for 40 years now and still if you look at the statistics, purchasing power parity statistics which means the capacity of the people in the country to buy and survive, Iran is still under the 19th place in the world. Of course, it has lost some ranking over the years. It was 10th before these sanctions were imposed, but it is still on the 19th, not compared to other countries. So people are very strong and they have some power to buy and some power to survive. And I know it is just a question of time.
About Iran’s one year of strategic patience, I think one year is not that long. One year in politics in history has a very tiny period. So I understand that Iran is under pressure, but in terms of historical perspective, in terms of conflict resolution one year is very little… If you look back at history, Iran would be in the higher moral ground and the US and Trump would be the ones who started the whole conflict.
Tasnim: Given the fact that the Trump administration is pursuing a self-centered approach to international affairs and agreements, this unilateral policy could pose threats to Iran and the JCPOA as well. Do you believe that the EU needs to adopt an independent policy in the face of the US?
Gartner: I do agree with that. I think that the JCPOA is an example of multilateralism. It is an example of an arms control agreement. It is also the second example of common security and an example of engagement. Of course, the JCPOA is one of other several agreements which the Trump administration does not observe like the INF treaty, missile treaty which he left as well. My hunch is that he will also leave the New START treaty about the continental missiles which will expire in 2021 but I guess by an assumption that he will announce before the election that he will not continue the treaty. So that would be the last arms control treaty. He doesn’t even like bilateral treaties, INF was a bilateral treaty, so if we follow the Trump example, we appease Trump in his approach to the international society. We should try to keep the international system as we built it after the Second World War alive as much as possible.
I know Trump is working with sanctions and unilateralism but we shouldn’t follow the example.
Tasnim: How can we support the international system?
Gartner: By abiding by it. Abiding by all these multilateral institutions. Abiding by all these international agreements and international treaties.
I do think that the JCPOA, after the Helsinki agreement in 1972, is the best example of cooperation. So my conclusion would be the JCPOA and Helsinki are the best examples for the future worldorder.
Tasnim: Do you believe the JCPOA will collapse or do you think mechanisms like INSTEX could save it?
Gartner: INSTEX is not really operational and so far I don’t know it would be possible to do any business with Iran like Iran would like to sell oil with INSTEX. I would say it’s a demonstration of goodwill by the Europeans, demonstration of goodwill by Federica Mogherini. It’s an example that Europeans resist American pressure. For example, if European companies do business with Iran through INSTEX, the Americans would think they’re violating our sanctions so if the CEO of this company leaves the EU, he might be arrested in America like the CEO of Huawei in Canada because they said they do business somehow with Iran and that is possible.
So the INSTEX mechanism and the blocking statute that Europeans have is already an example that Europeans are trying to develop an independent policy, but we’ll take a long time until you become stronger and can replace the US dollar in some areas. That may take five years, ten years maybe so. That is not a good argument for Iran. I understand this, but this is the example that Iran and INSTEX might help us to think about the future that Europeans should be more independent of the US.
Europeans will never leave transatlantic relations with the US because of all the security mechanism and trade and for so other reasons that are never going to happen. But more independence will be possible. Of course, America is a much stronger power than Iran economically. Diplomatically and politically INSTEX is a very good example.
Tasnim: You mentioned the employment of independent mechanisms or financial policies by the EU. Apart from the JCPOA, do you think Europeans can see this as a starting point for Europe’s independent policies and decisions?
Gartner: Yes, I do think so. Yes, that is an example. I think it was a wakeup call for Europeans. We are still used to the Obama administration. Obama was learning as well, he imposed sanctions on Iran before as well but he was learning that multilateralism is a good thing and he was negotiating the JCPOA and he was not working with threats of sanctions against the Europeans. Now we have Trump and he is doing all these as a wakeup call (for Europe). We never know who will be the next president of the US. So the Europeans might think that it would be a good idea to have more independence in financial terms especially because of bypass sanctions. Also, the Chinese think the same to form an independent currency system from the dollar, which is difficult because everything especially oil (revenues) will be transferred in terms of the dollar. Of course, there are small businesses and enterprises that are trying to do their best to have business independently. But the problems are the banks. Since most banks somehow use the US money, US administration, and US links. So the banks are the ones who are most afraid of American sanctions. So there have to be some banks that can make transactions more independently. So it’s an illusion to think that you are really independent of the US. That’s not going to happen for the next century maybe.
Europeans do not have an independent policy even towards the Middle East as such. So you have to keep (Jared) Kushner plan for the Israeli-Palestinian issue, where are the Europeans? They are not there. We have the Korean conflict, that is denuclearization, Trump is doing this. Where are the Europeans?
Europe has to be there. (that is also the case regarding the) independent China policy. Europe has the interest to keep an independent China policy. Europe has to develop an independent policy to solve several international issues. So Europe has to learn to become independent, it’s not only Iran. That is disappointing that the Europeans has nothing to say in these affairs.
Tasnim: Europe was unhappy with the US administration’s attitude towards European parliamentary elections. Do you think such policies will change if Trump fails to win re-election? What might the future hold with respect to EU-US, EU-Russia and EU-China ties?
Gartner: Unfortunately, I have to say if Trump is gone, Trumpism is here to stay for a while. It will not disappear altogether and he has his base and his support domestically. Those people feel encouraged now, of course that doesn’t mean the same policy will continue. Trump wants to talk with Berlin, Paris, and Moscow individually.
What you’re asking is whether Europeans are coming closer to Russians or Chinese. It should be said that it might happen but still, the transatlantic relations are here to stay whoever is president in the United States.
Tasnim: What is behind this Trumpism policy? What does he want to achieve?
Gartner: America First! We, political scientists, have this theory of relative gains. Many in the media are saying that Trump is playing a zero-sum game that means I win, you lose. But that’s not what he’s doing. He is too smart to say he cannot have any partner who loses all the time.
Relative games mean we both win but I win more! So that is his attitude and America first means that. We can have a business together but I’m always the winner.
I think Trump is very predictable. You can calculate what he is doing. I just mention four points.
First, he wants to abolish everything that Obama and his other predecessors did, as much as possible so the JCPOA was an Obama thing. Second, he wants to abolish all multilateral treaties and if possible other international treaties as well. The JCPOA is just one of them. Third to implement the camping promises and the JCPOA is one of those things. Fourth, I would say is Trump’s ego, if he does not come out as a president very strongly in the limelight, he wouldn’t do it.
Take the Korean example, that’s all he is doing. Actually, that’s another thing because, in Korea, Obama was not successfully doing anything in Korea so now he (Trump) is reversing the things and says that I can do it. That was a campaign promise as well. You might remember that he said he might want to go to eat a hamburger with Kim, now he (Trump) is trying to demonstrate that ‘I’m doing what I just promised.’ Of course, he is blasted by the Democrats who say that he is in business with dictators. But he doesn’t care about this. That is why I am saying that he is predictable.
Of course, there are people who have an influence on him. Netanyahu is one of those who has a big influence on Trump. Some reports in Israel said it has been leaked that Netanyahu said in a private meeting that he was the one who convinced Trump to leave the JCPOA. But of course, in this tactic and strategy, there is Bolton who has influence. Trump makes a decision but there is this blueprint by Bolton in 2017 where Bolton describes point by point what we have to do with Iran so you could read it in 2017 already and one of these options at the end of this blueprint is war with Iran. How can you put pressure on Iran and you can get allies to support the US against Iran?