Berlin is calling for "considerably strengthening" sanctions against Iran. Germany is prepared to clearly intensify the pressure on Teheran, to force the Iranian regime to accommodate western demands in the nuclear dispute. Next week the EU foreign ministers want to decide on new measures against members of the Iranian establishment. The German government tentatively agrees. But, freezing all of the accounts of the Iranian Central Bank in the EU, as France is proposing, does not meet with its approval. That would not only damage business with Iran, which for Germany amounts to around four billion Euros annually, it would also render more difficult any efforts at a further "dialog" with the Iranian regime. Whereas Berlin is keeping several options open, new demands for military measures against Iran are particularly emanating from the USA and Israel.
A Hegemonic Conflict
The German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) recently recalled the cause for the renewed escalation of tensions. "Since the demise of British colonial rule and the announcement of the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine," according to the think tank's recent analysis, the USA has been pursuing the objective of thwarting the rise of any Middle East country to become a regional predominating power - "if necessary by military means." "The growth of power and influence of a regional player" would "automatically be equated with loss of US power and influence in that region." Washington has always sought, through "alliances and inter-alliance policies, to create a regional balance of power" that guarantees western hegemony in this resource-rich region. On the other hand, the declared objective of the Iranian elites - by no means only those of the current regime - is the use of the economic and political potentials of their country to become a hegemonic power at the Persian Gulf. With the crushing of Iraq, Iran's former rival, and the overthrow of the anti-Iranian Taliban in Afghanistan, attaining this objective has been greatly facilitated. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Therefore, the conflict between the West and Iran - regardless of ideological wrappings - is simply a hegemonic conflict.
No Change of Course
Washington's pressure on Teheran to recognize western hegemony has essentially remained constant, even after the conservative US administration, which was openly threatening to go to war, left office. As the DGAP points out, at the beginning of his presidency, US president Barack Obama in fact sent "mainly constructive signals to Teheran." They, however, had still been an aspect of the double strategy comprised of incentives toward cooperation and pressure - and they remained "mainly of a declaratory and symbolic nature." Obama particularly avoided making promises of "a comprehensive or even a partial lifting of US sanctions" - a step "that possibly would have signaled a credible responsiveness on Washington's behalf." Even before tensions escalated most recently, the US government had broadened its sanctions against Iran and "intensified Middle East military threat scenarios" inherited from the Bush-era. Recent debates about possible military operations against Iran are therefore merely the logical development of the previous policy.
Berlin's politicians are still divided over Iran. Transatlantic oriented forces are preparing the public for possible military strikes. For example, an article in the periodical Internationale Politik is calling for a Cold War like deterrence policy to prevent Teheran from using offensive measures, if Iran should acquire nuclear weapons. However, applying the deterrence policy to the Middle East entails a particularly high risk of escalation. The West, including Germany, should "seriously consider" the use of the threat of nuclear "retaliatory strikes against urban areas" in the Middle East. This however, does not seem "politically feasible nor conceivable (...) to western heads of state." The West has to decide whether "to face the difficult and disconcerting questions of a highly risky and costly deterrence strategy"- or "to use military force to postpone" the Iranian nuclear program. In September one could already hear: Time is pressing - "soon the second option will no longer be available."
Glasnost and Perestroika
For years, other members of the Berlin establishment have been rejecting the demand for military strikes. They would like to see the EU playing a more important global role - independently of the United States - with the idea that Berlin could thus become more influential in the resources rich regions of the Middle East, in the second ranks behind the militarily predominating Washington. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) The DGAP, for example, writes that a serious policy of detente should be initiated - while maintaining a credible military deterrence potential. This would be promising, because "sectors of the Iranian elite" could "imagine cooperating with the USA." In the long run, this concept is aimed at fully implementing western hegemony in the resources rich regions of the Middle East. Concerning this prospect, even though necessitating a longer time span, DGAP writes: "it was 16 years between the beginning of the western détente policy towards the Soviet Union in 1969 to the 'policy of glasnost and perestroika' under Mikhail Gorbachev. The known outcome of this long term strategy of containment and détente were worth the waiting."
The West, however, has not yet taken the decision to bomb Iran. Above all the US military is opposing a new war in the Middle East, that would tie down US troops for a long period and thereby seriously hamper the recently initiated concentration of US Armed Forces on a future confrontation with the People's Republic of China. Still, the recent Middle East developments strengthen the positions of those favoring military operations. Observers point out that Iran is massively losing influence in the Arab countries. The influence of Turkey - particularly among Sunnite Islamic forces - is generally growing at the expense of Shiite Iran. In particular, since the Syria has drifted into a civil war, Iran has virtually lost its main official ally in the Arab world. Iran's isolation is growing just as the probability that the West will use this weakness to launch a military attack. With its demand to strengthen sanctions for the time being, Berlin is still keeping all options open. However, the comprehensive arms buildup of Iran's Middle East rivals, in which Germany has significantly participated, has facilitated a military intervention. (german-foreign-policy.com will report next week.)