Background report: Berlin/Washington - division of labor against Iran?


BERLIN/WASHINGTON At present, the Middle East is viewed as a decisive battle ground in the competition for hegemony in the future ,,world order."Berlin and Washington recognize not only their mutual intentions ( ,,to pressure these countries to open themselves politically"), but also considerable differences which call for co-ordination, because only a joint effort promises success. Berlin sees German-European interests threatened by the aggressive strategy of the USA against Iran, and attempts, while following US policy, to increase its influence on Iran with an independent and more flexible strategy.

In January of this year, prior to the war on Iraq, foreign policy strategists in Berlin and Washington worked to resolve the differences in interests and strategic goals and explore possible cooperation. Two conferences, organized by the project: ,,Diverging Views on World Order? Transatlantic Foreign Policy Discourse in a Globalizing World"(TFPD) took place in the US capital. The sponsors of the project are the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP - foundation for science and policy), the foreign policy think tank of the federal government and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), established in 1972 with German resources. The latter promotes and encourages German-US cooperation and attempts to bring the divergent ambitions for world power to an accord ( ,,seeks to examine the strategic implications of emerging players in the international concert of powers").

Settling differences...

Both colloquia considered the different strategic perspectives of the Middle East in general and Iran in particular. The region is viewed as the currently decisive battle ground in the competition for hegemony in the future ,,world order": ,,The Middle East is the most important region where diverging strategic perspectives between the United States and European countries cause transatlantic frictions."The enforcement of the joint objective ( ,,to pressure these countries to open themselves politically") is, thus a question ,,of growing relevance for transatlantic policy coordination". Berlin's lever is its ability to influence the EU in the negotiations ( ,,its stronger influence among Arab nations, financial support for the Palestinian authority and reforms, and its ability to get involved where the U.S. cannot"), and it demands a corresponding participation. It is likely that US policies opposing Berlin and the EU would fail: ,,Thus, it is clear that transatlantic cooperation is the key to the success."

As far as Iran is concerned the conflicting interests and goals were in the foreground. While the USA aimed to isolate Iran and limit its influence, Berlin and the EU preferred its integration ( ,,integration rather than isolation"), because Iran is a potential partner and possible leading power in the region and is, because of its natural gas resources, of significance for the ,,EU's future energy needs". For that reason Berlin accepts Iran's nuclear program ( ,,official policy in Germany (...) does not even perceive Iran as a proliferation threat") and can envision Iran as a nuclear power ( ,,the EU may view a nuclear Iran as tolerable").

... for a common strategy for Iran?

After the preemptive war against Iraq has demonstrated that the hegemony of the USA, based on its superior military power, is an unavoidable fact, Berlin approaches the US strategy against Iran without abandoning its independent demands. Thus, Wolfgang Ischinger, German ambassador in Washington and former head of the planning staff and undersecretary of state in the Foreign Office, demands a ,,renewed acceptable basis of transactions for the transatlantic relationship"and an EU global power policy ,,complimentary to the USA" 1)and espouses a synchronized action against Iran: ,,Why (...) don't we have a road map for a joint Iran strategy?"Of the EU, Ischinger demands participation in a possible aggression against Iran, notwithstanding conflicting economic and political interests: ,,To formulate this concretely with an actual example: Will Europe, indeed, take a critical view of Iran, insisting on the transparency of Iran's nuclear program, and be prepared to pay a price for this objective, should the occasion arise? If yes, at what price?"

,,Continuing and flexible influence"

However, the SWP still questions this cooperation in order to keep down the price, to be paid. Consultations and, where possible, even cooperation with the USA would be necessary and desirable, yet the ,,conceptual independence"of strategy vis-à-vis Iran would have to be retained. This individual strategy is based on ,,broad and manifold relations between the EU and its individual member states with Iran and increasingly on social interrelations as well": ,,Only this makes a continuing and flexible influence, even under changing conditions, possible."In contrast, the US strategy is unrealistic and inflexible because it is intent on isolating Iran - ,,particularly in shaping the energy policy of the region"and, thus, is in conflict with Berlin's interests. The goal must not be a change of regime but rather a change in Teheran's political behavior.

Berlin's policy advisors hope for a ,,distinct tendency toward pragmatism"in Iran and set their hope on former President Rafsanjani who, as chairman of the ,,Council for the Establishment of the System's Interests,"is the second most important man in the government. The SWP counts on the option of greater success with its demands on Iran, while the latter is under US pressure. A suitable basis for a coordinated EU strategy is the security strategy initiated by the EU, which specifically allows for ,,preemptive wars" 2): ,,The agreed upon security concept of the EU provides for the possibility to make explicit demands on Teheran, based on the EU's individual position on the nuclear question which covers not only Iran and is independent of the USA, without relinquishing the policy of the large scale European commitment."It would be important to retain the ,,conceptual independence of the large scale European commitment"without giving up ,,complementarity": ,,Consultation and, where possible, cooperation with the USA are necessary and desirable".

,,Safeguarding geopolitical interests"

The SWP puts particular emphasis on German-European energy policy interests. It looks particularly in the direction of Iran's natural gas reserves which amount to more than 15% of the world's supply. Among fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) natural gas is the one with the biggest growth rates. In terms of volume it has already become the most important source of energy for German industry and will contribute more than half of Germany's energy production by 2020. Currently, there exists a massive reciprocal dependence on the main supplier, Russia 3), which controls the price by withholding quantities from delivery. The SWP states that, in this case, the existence of conflicts of interest demand competition for the ,,assurance of the supply".

Berlin's policy advisors criticize the EU for avoiding ,,safeguarding of geopolitical interests" 4), although the stakes in its interests weighs more importantly than those of the USA: The EU depends to a larger degree on the Middle East's energy sources for its energy needs and, along with Russia and North Africa, has less alternatives at its disposal. The EU should have a ,,massive interest in access to the natural gas sources of the Gulf Region", since Russia's natural gas production is on a steady decline since 1990. For this reason, the SWP recommends cooperation with the USA in the ,,reorganization"of the Gulf Region 5): ,,In any case, it would make sense to take advantage of the current Gulf crisis, in order to formulate European interests in this region regarding assurance of the supply and, if necessary implement a consistent policy."

1) See also earlier article Complementary war power
2) See also earlier article EU Strategy: ,,Preemptive Wars", worldwide
3) See also earlier article BASF: Access to the largest energy reserves of the world
4) See also earlier article ,,Downfall or ascent to world power"
5) See also earlier articles Germany as ,,victorious power in Iraq"and Berlin wants ethnic ,,New Order"in Gulf region

See also earlier article War or Change of Regime

Diverging Strategic Perspectives on the Middle East;
Iran and its Neighbors: Diverging Views on a Strategic Region;
Iran: Aktuelle Lage und europäische Iranpolitik;
Wolfgang Ischinger: ,,The Transatlantic Partnership: Can It Survive?";
Energiepolitische Neuordnung am Persischen Golf;
Geht es wirklich ,,nur"um Öl?;
Versorgungssicherheit. Die Risiken der internationalen Energieversorgung;