For the stabilization of our southern neighbourhood it isn't exactly necessary to build a European Superpower, as the target region is no first level great power, not even a secondary one, but for the state of the European divided capabilities, and thus lack of military power, it is nontheless a larger challenge, as the case of Libya has shown. Though this military power is only one of the tools of European security policy, sometimes hard power becomes indeed necessary to complement the tools of long-term economic stabilization, as the fight against terrorism in Syria/Iraq and Afghanistan shows.
1. Challenges for Europe’s security: turmoil, conflicts, terrorism and migration
Since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of 11 September 2001, the Libyan civil war, the rise of Daesh (as the IS is called in Arabic) in Iraq and Syria, terrorist attacks and waves of refugees and migrants, Europeans have begun to focus more on the security threats emanating from this region.
This can also be seen in various official texts referring to the challenges for the European security originating in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Thus, the European security strategies (ESS) identify the following: In 2003 the ESS mentions the Arab/Israeli conflict that is connected with other problems in the Middle East, “serious problems of economic stagnation, social unrest and unresolved conflicts” in the Mediterranean area generally. (Council of the European Union: A Secure Europe in a Better World - European Security Strategy, Brussels, 12 December 2003 (1)). The ESS of 2008 points to “insufficient political reform and illegal migration”. Furthermore, “regional conflict, combined with rising radicalism, continues to sow instability”. (Council of the European Union: Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy, Brussels, 11 December 2008 (2)).
In 2015 the “Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy”, among other topics, also reacts to the Arab revolutions of 2011: It mentions as positive effects of the revolutions the improvement of the rule of law, social justice, etc. But it also notes the negative consequences: conflicts, terrorism and refugees. (European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy: Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Brussels, 18 November 2015, “Section V.2. The Security Dimension,” p.12 (4)).
The Global Strategy (EUGS) of 2016 states that “[f]ragility beyond our borders threatens all our vital interests.” “The Mediterranean, Middle East and parts of sub-Saharan Africa are in turmoil, the outcome of which will likely only become clear decades from now.” It points to conflicts as well as “the threat of terrorism, the challenges of demography, migration and climate change”. (High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/ Vice-President of the European Commission: Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe - A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, Brussels, June 2016, p. 34 (3)).
On 7 June 2017, the European Commission published a “Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence”, stating that “[a]cross the Mediterranean and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, the spread of ungoverned spaces and conflict has left a vacuum for terrorists and criminals to thrive. Regional rivalries are escalating and we have witnessed a dramatic rise in civilian victims and refugees across the world, with more than 60 million people displaced. Greater connectivity is blurring the boundaries between internal and external security. And climate change and resource scarcity, coupled with demographic growth and state fragility can also drive conflict and instability around the world.” (European Commission: Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence, Brussels, 07.06.2017, p. 7 (5)).
As for the origins of the conflicts in the MENA region, there can be found several: Joost Hiltermann identifies five “conflict lineages and conflict clusters”: the dysfunctional post-World War I state system emerging from the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire; the Israeli-Arab conflict after the 1948 creation of the state of Israel; the rise of Iran and, as a consequence, the intensification of the Sunni-Shiite rivalry; the Sunni radicalization that led to the emergence of the terrorist groups al-Qaida and the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS); and the 2011 Arab uprisings as region-wide popular challenges to the existing order/ disorder, and their collapse into either regime retrenchment or civil war – with Tunisia being an uncertain exception. From 2011 onward, locally generated conflicts began to spin out of control with the consequence that conflicting rulers and rebels summoned the aid of powerful allies. This has drawn in regional powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and international ones like the United States, Russia and the European Union, with the consequence of poisoning relations between the conflicting actors and creating more local conflict actors. (Hiltermann, Joost: Tackling the MENA Region’s Intersecting Conflicts, International Crisis Group, Brussels 22.12.2017 (6)).
The official EU strategy towards its neighbourhood was the creation of well-governed democratic countries there to improve its own security. This should be realized by institutions like the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), relaunched as the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in 2008, and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), through which they offered everything but a membership perspective to those partner countries making progress in democracy, human rights, good governance and market economic principles. Whereas, in reality there were tensions and contradictions regarding the stability-versus-democracy dilemma, with the Europeans traditionally giving “a strong priority to preserving the stability of the MENA region” (Mühlberger, Wolfgang; Müller, Patrick: The EU’s comprehensive approach to security in the MENA region: what lessons for CSDP from Libya?, in: Chappell, Laura; Mawdsley, Jocelyn; Petrov, Petar (ed.): The EU, Strategy and Security Policy. Regional and strategic challenges, London and New York, 2016, pp. 51-67, p. 54), as they consider stability to be more in their political, security and commercial interests. Thus, Arab regimes helped the EU in the fight against terrorism, limiting illegal immigration and securing a stable flow of energy resources, with the consequence that “the Union’s promotion of good governance, democracy and human rights often remained half-hearted, with the EU hoping that regional transformation could gradually be achieved” (Mühlberger, Wolfgang; Müller, Patrick: The EU’s comprehensive approach to security in the MENA region, p. 55).
Peter Viggo Jakobsen adds that though the EU used the same approach to the MENA region as to Eastern Europe in regard to creating security, stability and prosperity by strengthening democracy, rule of law, good governance, human rights and trade liberalisation, the situation of the MENA countries was so different that not the same result could be achieved: Thus, first, while the majority of the eastern European countries were eager to join the EU and NATO, this was not the case in the MENA countries, as they have another cultural background and different traditions and several of the authoritarian regimes there perceived democratisation and market liberalisation as threats to their power and privileges. Second, the incentives of the EU and the NATO were smaller as a membership was not on offer, and third, there are many conflicts in the MENA regions for which the EU as a non-military power is ill-equipped to deal with.
As a response to the heightened sense of threat after the terrorist attacks launched or inspired by Daesh in Brussels, Paris and Berlin and the masses of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe since 2015, the first priority of the EU was to reduce the number of these people by strengthened border controls, targeting of criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling and, most important, two agreements with Turkey and the internationally recognised government in Lybia, that controlled at least some parts of the country, to hold the people back that want to cross their territory on their way to Europe. Development assistance and other forms of support were made dependent on cooperation with respect to fighting migration and terrorism. Above all the agreements with Turkey and Libya showed results as the number of people arriving to the EU through the Mediterranean dropped dramatically. (Jakobsen, Peter Viggo: New threats to European security, in: Galbreath, David J.; Mawdsley, Jocelyn; Chappell, Laura (eds.): Contemporary European Security, London and New York 2019, pp. 153-172).
Beginning with the Libya war in 2011, the country seems to be a good example to assess Europe as a crisis manager: It is situated in its direct neighbourhood and thus, a crisis and a civil war there are of great importance for it. Starting in the context of the “Arab spring” and the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria, the anti-Gaddafi demonstrations in Libya escalated into a civil war on 17 February 2011. Despite their initial restraint regarding the Arab revolutions some European countries decided to become active in this case: Based on UN Security Council Resolution 1973, France and the UK dragged the US into air attacks against Colonel Gaddafi’s forces on 19 March with the openly proclaimed aim to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. But soon they changed their strategy and strived for regime change. Wondering why France, the US and the UK allegedly started a humanitarian intervention in Libya but not in Tunisia and Egypt at the beginning of the year, Naim Ameur assumes that it was in reality about the control over the huge Libyan oil reserves, the largest on the African continent. (Ameur, Naim: La Libye entre les intérêts de l’Occident et la résistance de Kadhafi, Outre-Terre, 2011/3 n° 29, pages 299 à 308 (10)).
However, the EU was divided over the operation in Libya: Germany abstained in the vote at the United Nations and said it would not take part in military action. Italy, more dependent than others on Libyan natural gas and oil, reluctantly decided to allow its military bases to be used to enforce a no-fly zone. (Erlanger, Steven: France and Britain Lead Military Push on Libya, The New York Times, 18.03.2011 (7)). Though, later it was discovered that more than hundred German officers were involved in the war as they helped to select the targets and to transmit orders to AWACS surveillance planes. („Mehr als hundert Deutsche am Nato-Einsatz beteiligt“, Spiegel Online, 09.09.2011 (8)). Thus, the operation was not conducted within the framework of the European CSDP, but became a NATO operation.
And the Europeans were not only divided, they also showed military shortcomings that made them dependent on the help of the US: Thus, the US Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, commented them in June 2011 in a speech about the Security and Defense Agenda and the future of NATO where he also referred to the Libya war:
“[W]hile every alliance member voted for Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission. Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there. In particular, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets are lacking that would allow more allies to be involved and make an impact. The most advanced fighter aircraft are little use if allies do not have the means to identify, process, and strike targets as part of an integrated campaign. To run the air campaign, the NATO air operations center in Italy required a major augmentation of targeting specialists, mainly from the U.S., to do the job – a “just in time” infusion of personnel that may not always be available in future contingencies. We have the spectacle of an air operations center designed to handle more than 300 sorties a day struggling to launch about 150. Furthermore, the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country – yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference.” (Gates, Robert M.: The Security and Defense Agenda (Future of NATO), Brussels, 10.06.2011 (9)).
But also in the following civil war in Libya, breaking out in 2014, one can observe the reaction and capabilities of the Europeans. Now the Europeans have a strong interest in preventing an escalation of the conflict into a nationwide war because such escalation would lead to further state breakdown and provide sanctuary to terrorist groups and people smugglers. But meanwhile, there are numerous foreign actors that are contributing to the escalation: In Tripoli, in western Libya, there was established the Government of National Accord (GNA), an interim government for Libya formed under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement, a United Nations-led initiative, signed on 17 December 2015. It is supported by Qatar and Turkey. The east of the country is controlled by Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA). On their side are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, that strive for rolling back the politics of the Arab uprisings, furthermore France, that backs Haftar in connection with its counter-terrorism policy in Libya, and Russia and the US from whom he gets some varying support. Moreover, there are territories under the control of ISIS.
This regional rivalry drastically increases the risk of escalation and could destabilize Libya’s neighbours, what would directly threat European security interests and global energy markets. And as the United States and Russia are unwilling or unable to play a constructive or unifying role in Libya, it is Europe that has to take the responsibility and reach a solution. (Megerisi, Tarek: Libya’s global civil war, European Council on Foreign Relations, June 2019 (11)).
One of the consequences of the Libyan civil war and the absence of a functioning government after the overthrow of Gaddafi was that the frontiers to the Mediterranean were open now, allowing massive migration flows from Africa towards Europe. As a consequence, the EU launched the CSDP operation EUNAVFOR MED Sophia in June 2015 with the aim of “disrupting the business model of migrant smugglers and human traffickers, and contributing to EU efforts for the return of stability and security in Libya and the Central Mediterranean region”. (EEAS: Factsheet about mission EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia, Rome 24.09.2015, updated 19.03.2019 (12)). Further tasks of the operation include training the Libyan Coastguard and Navy, contributing to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya and gathering of information on illegal trafficking of oil exports from Libya. In March 2019 the Council extended the mission mandate until 30 September 2019, but, as the Europeans were divided on the distribution of the rescued migrants, the deployment of the Operation's naval assets was suspended for the duration of this extension. Instead, the operation should focus on strengthening surveillance by air assets as well as reinforcing support to the Libyan Coastguard and Navy. (Council of the European Union: EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia: mandate extended until 30 September 2019, press release, Brussels, 29.03.2019 (13)). Above all Italy rejected to receive more migrants, with Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini saying that Italy cannot be 'Europe's refugee camp'. ("EU to end ship patrols in scaled down Operation Sophia", Euractiv, 27.03.2019 (15)).
Thus, in July 2017, a report of the British House of Lords came to the conclusion that the mission had been a failure, as it had neither managed to reduce the illegal migration nor to disrupt the smuggling network. On the contrary, the report found that “[i]rregular migration into Europe on the central Mediterranean route increased by 18% in 2016, and by another 19% in the first six months of 2017 compared to 2016” (House of Lords: Operation Sophia: a failed mission, London, 12.07.2017, p. 2 (14)). It states that “a naval mission is the wrong tool to tackle irregular migration which begins onshore: once the boats have set sail, it is too late to undermine the business of people smuggling. […] The existence of a unified government in Libya, able to provide security across the country and work with the EU on migration, is a precondition for meaningful action against people smuggling networks onshore. The Government of National Accord cannot, at present, fulfil this role.” (p. 2) But “political and security conditions in Libya are unlikely to improve sufficiently to allow onshore operations by the EU any time soon” (p. 2).
But according to the United Nations the number of sea arrivals has dropped meanwhile: Thus, in 2015 1,032,400 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via the three Mediterranean routes from North Africa and Turkey, in 2016 the number dropped to 373,700, in 2017 to 185,100, in 2018 to 141,500 and from January to June 2019 37,100 arrived in Europe. 58% of them via the Central Mediterranean route. In the first six months of 2019 most crossed the Eastern Mediterranean from Turkey. The majority arrived in Greece and Spain. (UNHCR: Refugee and migrant arrivals to Europe in 2019 (Mediterranean), Jan-Jun 2019, 25.07.2019 (16)). The fact that a quite low percentage of the refugees and migrants arrive in Italy is due to the rejection of the Italian government to receive them. Thus, in June 2018 Italy’s newly formed government has closed its ports to migrant ships. (Robinson, Trelawny: Italy has closed its ports to migrant ships and refugees, 30.06.2018 (17)). According to the UN-data the numbers of refugees and migrants who came via the Mediterranean dropped in total, but one can not exactly see the numbers of those originating at the Libyan coast. And the country of arrival isn’t necessarily an indication of their origin. From Libya one could not only go to Italy, but also to Greece or Malta.
In conclusion about the European engagement in Libya one could thus say, that the Europeans were divided about the military operation in 2011 and that they needed the help of the US in the military field, above all regarding the strategic enablers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. After the war the situation escalated into a civil war, and the Europeans were neither able to stabilize the country nor to prevent mass migration. A naval military anti-smuggling mission of the EU seems to have contributed to the drop of migrant numbers arriving from Libya, but the pressure seems to have been still large enough for Italy to close its frontiers to migrant ships and prevent in 2019 that the ships of the mission can be used.
A second crisis in Europe's neighbourhood emerged in Iraq and Syria after the US initiated regime change in Iraq in 2003 and the following civil war there between Sunnis and Shiites that spread to Syria and led to the rise of the Sunni Daesh (IS) terror group mainly in these two countries. With the war against these terrorists starting in September 2014 under US leadership the refugee flows to Europe grew. But though this is a region within the European neighbourhood, the EU or the European states, were not the main actors there but only in the second row.
Civilian unrest in Syria started in March 2011, the year of the Arab Spring. In May 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad countered this unrest with the police, the intelligence and the armed forces. As a result, the unrest developed into a civil war. Also Daesh and militias like the Salafist Ahrar al-Scham, the al-Qaida ally Al-Nusra and the Muslim brothers attacked the Syrian population. The EU reacted rapidly declaring that al-Assad must leave office. But while the EU then remained inactive, it was other states that became active: first, the US that formed in September 2014 a coalition with several Arab countries that attacked Daesh in Syria and Iraq from the air. Russia intervened in September 2015, flew air strikes, officially against Daesh, but probably (also) against opponents of its ally al-Assad. In August 2016 the Turks also intervened militarily against al-Assad, but were concerned above all about the Syrian Kurds at its frontier that could cause unrest among the Turkish Kurds. Iran however strongly supported the Syrian government. In March 2019 the last town held by the terrorists fell meaning the end of Daesh in Syria. In December 2018 US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of all US troops from Syria but after international irritation decided that 200 soldiers would remain in the country. (“Syrien – Acht Jahre Krieg”, Zeit Online (18)).
As for the Europeans, their military involvement against Daesh in Syria comes mostly from France, whose air force complements US operations. As for the reasons why France was so engaged in Syria, Samuel Ramani explained that by three factors: "First, France is using its interventionist foreign policy in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, to reinforce its self-perception as a great power. Second, France is fulfilling its historic role of presenting an alternative foreign policy to that offered by the United States. Third, France regards its steadfast opposition to Assad as an opportunity to enhance security cooperation with anti-Assad Sunni countries in the Middle East, which also share France’s deep distrust of Iran." (Ramani, Samuel: Why France is so deeply entangled in Syria, Washington Post, 19.11.2015 (20)). France and the US were supported by Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Belgium.
But Marc Pierini attributes the very limited role of the EU as a bloc also to a systemic origin. Thus, the Lisbon Treaty weakened the policy initiative role of the EU institutions, in particular the European Commission and the European External Action Service. And the big three EU countries thought mainly within a national framework: the Germans were concerned about the refugees and a deal with Turkey, the French were, above all since the massive terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, concerned about showing the citizens that the government is acting against the Islamic State and thus extended the French military operation to Syria, and the UK was busy with the consequences of the Brexit referendum and leaving the EU. And thus, they also were divided regarding their engagement in Syria: Britain was averse to engaging militarily, Germany anyway, and France, willing to engage militarily, within limits, had an overestimated assessment of its role as a global power. Pierini concludes: “The lack of proactive and collective EU engagement in the Syrian crisis has deprived the union of any significant influence on the direction of events in its immediate vicinity. Yet, most of the humanitarian and economic consequences of the Syrian crisis fall on EU countries. Arguably, such a major discrepancy is politically unsustainable.” Adding that “the EU may end up being confined to the role of an accessory actor in modern conflicts — a provider of humanitarian assistance, reconstruction support, development and technical assistance, trade concessions, or sanctions.” (Pierini, Marc: In Search of an EU Role in the Syrian War, Carnegie Europe, Brussels, August 2016, p.14 (19)).
The third example of a danger requiring a European response, is Iran and its nuclear weapons program. Though US intelligence agencies have long suspected Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for clandestine weapons development, the international attention and suspects started in 2002 after the revelation of the existence of undeclared nuclear facilities by the "National Council of Resistance of Iran", as the Natanz Enrichment Complex, the address of the Kalaye Electric Company, a heavy water production plant under construction at Arak, and the names of various individuals and front companies involved with the nuclear program. Between September and October 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) carried out a number of facilities inspections and met with Iranian officials. In November, the IAEA adopted a resolution in which it noted with concern Iran's previous concealment efforts and pointed out that Iran's new declarations contradicted the Agency's previous information about its nuclear program. (Nuclear Threat Initiative: Iran - Nuclear, updated May 2018 (21)):
“The recent disclosures by Iran about its nuclear programme clearly show that, in the past, Iran had concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities, with resultant breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of the Safeguards Agreement. Iran’s policy of concealment continued until last month, with co-operation being limited and reactive, and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory. While most of the breaches identified to date have involved limited quantities of nuclear material, they have dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing. And although the materials would require further processing before being suitable for weapons purposes, the number of failures by Iran to report in a timely manner the material, facilities and activities in question as it is obliged to do pursuant to its Safeguards Agreement has given rise to serious concerns.” (International Atomic Energy Agency: Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 10.11.2003, p. 10 (22)).
In November 2007 a National Intelligence Estimate assesses “with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.” But, according to the authors’ high confidence judgment, due to international pressure “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”. However, they also assess with moderate-to-high confidence “that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.” (Office of the Director of National Intelligence; National Intelligence Council: National Intelligence Estimate - Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November 2007, p. 6 (23)).
But despite of diplomatic efforts of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the P5+1 (the three European countries plus Russia, the US and China) and UNSC sanctions, on 8 November 2011, the IAEA released a safeguards report that more fully detailed Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program for the first time:
“The information indicates that Iran has carried out the following activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device: Efforts, some successful, to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment and materials by military related individuals and entities […]; Efforts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material […]; The acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network […]; and [w]ork on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components. […] The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the above activities took place under a structured programme. There are also indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing.” (International Atomic Energy Agency: Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 08.11.2011, pp.7-8 (Possible Military Dimensions) (25)).
As for now, according to US estimates “Tehran possesses the technological and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons. But Iran has not yet mastered all of the necessary technologies for building such weapons. Whether Iran has a viable design for a nuclear weapon is unclear.” As for the time that Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon, the US assumes that before the Iran nuclear deal “Tehran would have needed two to three months to produce enough weapons-grade HEU [highly enriched uranium] for a nuclear weapon. [However,] Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA has increased that time frame to one year”. (Kerr, Paul K.: Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status, Congressional Research Service, updated 10.05.2019, summary (26)).
And there is not only the threat of Iran armed with nuclear weapons, thus, Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center who served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the office of the U.S. secretary of defense from 1989 to 1993, estimates that “[t]he dangers of a regional arms race are real. If Iran resumes its nuclear weapons program, the Saudis will certainly pursue their own — and Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey might well follow.” (Sokolski, Henry: In the Middle East, Soon Everyone Will Want the Bomb, Foreign Policy 21.05.2018 (24)).
As far as the EU is concerned, its three big member states France, Germany and the UK jointly took the lead in the diplomatic negotiations with Iran after the IAEA expressed its concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program in 2003. Fearing that the US would use military force against Iran as it had done in the same year against Iraq, the E3 wanted to reach a diplomatic solution. Thus, in August 2003, the British, French and German foreign ministers sent a joint letter to Iran, in which they offered technical cooperation if Iran halted the enrichment and implemented an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the aim to enhance the powers of the IAEA to check the veracity of Iran’s past declarations and investigate undeclared nuclear activities. In November 2004 the High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana, officially joined the initiative and became its spokesperson, so that the E3 now received formal approval by the EU as a whole. (Meier, Oliver: European efforts to solve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme: how has the European Union performed?, Non-Proliferation Papers, No. 27, February 2013 (27)). As for Iran, it entered into negotiations with the EU-3 to avoid referral to the UN Security Council and in October 2003 it agreed to cooperate with the IAEA, sign the Additional Protocol, and temporarily suspend conversion and enrichment activities. However, Iran exploited ambiguities in the definition of "suspension" and continued to produce centrifuge components and carry out small-scale conversion experiments. Thus, the EU and the US jointly threatened to involve the UN Security Council. To avoid new sanctions, Iran concluded the Paris Agreement with the EU-3 on 15 November 2004 (Nuclear Threat Initiative: Iran, 2018 (see note 21)) in which
“Iran reaffirms that, in accordance with Article II of the NPT, it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It commits itself to full cooperation and transparency with the IAEA. Iran will continue implementing voluntarily the Additional Protocol pending ratification. To build further confidence, Iran has decided, on a voluntary basis, to continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities, and specifically: the manufacture and import of gas centrifuges and their components; the assembly, installation, testing or operation of gas centrifuges; work to undertake any plutonium separation, or to construct or operate any plutonium separation installation; and all tests or production at any uranium conversion installation. The IAEA will be notified of this suspension and invited to verify and monitor it.” (International Atomic Energy Agency: Communication dated 26 November 2004 received from the Permanent Representatives of France, Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United Kingdom concerning the agreement signed in Paris on 15 November 2004, INFCIRC/637, 26.11.2004 (28)).
But in June 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as Iranian President and he had no interest in the Paris Agreement or talks with the EU, and in August 2005 Iran resumed uranium conversion activities. In 2006 France, Germany, the UK, China, Russia and the USA involved the UN Security Council, thus, the E3’s efforts to mediate now became part of activities undertaken by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the so-called P5+1. In July 2006 a UN Security Council resolution demanded that ‘Iran shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development’ but did not contain sanctions as especially China and Russia opposed them. Only as Iran continued enrichment, the UNSC imposed wider sanctions. In November 2008 Barack Obama was elected as US President and now the US took the leadership in negotiations with Iran supported by the EU that had become an advocate of tougher sanctions. (Meier, Oliver: European efforts to solve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme, 2013 (see note 27)). From 2010 to early 2013 talks between the P5+1 and Iran stalled and the UN Security Council approved another set of sanctions.
The situation changed after a new Iranian president came into power in August 2013. Hassan Rouhani was interested in resuming the negotiations with the P5+1 and in a lifting of the oppressive sanctions. Secret bilateral talks between US and Iranian officials in Oman, which already started in March 2013, received new impetus. Talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva started in October, and in November they reached a provisional deal. The final deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was concluded in July 2015. (Nuclear Threat Initiative: Iran, 2018 (see note 21)). This deal increases the time that it would take Iran to produce enough weapons grade uranium for a nuclear weapon, from the currently estimated 2-3 months to at least 12 months. Thus, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. (“Iran nuclear deal: Key details”, BBC, 11.06.2019 (29)).
Before 2015 Iran had a large stockpile of enriched uranium and almost 20.000 centrifuges in two facilities, in Natanz and Fordo, enough to create eight to 10 bombs. Under the JCPOA, it was limited to 5.060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges at Natanz until 2026: “Iran will begin phasing out its IR-1 centrifuges in 10 years. During this period, Iran will keep its enrichment capacity at Natanz at up to a total installed uranium enrichment capacity of 5060 IR-1 centrifuges.” (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Vienna, 14.07.2015, A.2. (30)). And “for 15 years, Iran will carry out its uranium enrichment-related activities, including safeguarded R&D exclusively in the Natanz Enrichment facility, keep its level of uranium enrichment at up to 3.67%, […]” (JCPOA, A.5.). Furthermore, Iran's uranium stockpile was reduced by 98% to 300kg of 3,67% enriched uranium, what must not be exceeded until 2031: “During the 15 year period, […] it will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms.” (JCPOA, A.7.). Besides enriched uranium in Natanz and Fordo, Iran also has a heavy-water nuclear facility near the town of Arak where it produces plutonium. In this regard the JCPOA determines “Iran will redesign and rebuild a modernised heavy water research reactor in Arak. […] The redesigned and rebuilt Arak reactor will not produce weapons grade plutonium. […] All spent fuel from Arak will be shipped out of Iran for the lifetime of the reactor.” (JCPOA, B.8.). And “[t]here will be no additional heavy water reactors or accumulation of heavy water in Iran for 15 years.” (JCPOA, B.10). According to Article B.15. “Iran will allow the IAEA to monitor the implementation of the voluntary measures for their respective durations […]”.
But in May 2018 US President Donald Trump abandoned the JCPOA and in November he reinstated sanctions against both Iran and states that trade with it, thus damaging the Iranian economy. However, the three European states – as well as Russia and China – want to persevere the deal and have set up an alternative payment mechanism, called the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), to help companies avoid US sanctions if they trade with Iran. But European firms, fearing US sanctions, have fled from the Iranian market. As a consequence, Iran broke the uranium enrichment limits of the JCPOA.
Thus, the slow death of this agreement shows the limits of European foreign policy vis-à-vis the US, although the big three EU member states take a common position and act jointly. Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said “[i]f the [nuclear deal] goes down and Europe can’t salvage it, it carries a message for every country—not just Iran—about the relevance that Europeans can play as a global actor”. (Gramer, Robbie; Johnson, Keith: Unraveling of Iran Nuclear Deal Exposes Europe’s Weakness, Foreign Policy, 08.07.2019 (31)).
Against this background tensions between Iran and the West rose in May 2019 when Iran attacked freighters in the Strait of Hormuz and again in July that year when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard boarded an oil tanker operating under a British flag, in response to the British decision to detain a tanker carrying Iranian oil near Gibraltar. Thus, shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz was impacted negatively, and both, the Europeans and the US are thinking about how to secure trade through this economically important strait: while the US are planning their “Operation Sentinel” to escort trade ships, the Europeans think about an own mission. But with the change in government in Britain and the takeover of Boris Johnson as prime minister in July the country, that initially proposed an EU maritime mission, favors the US plans. Paris and Berlin however, rejected participation in a US-led mission showing their rejection of the "maximum pressure" strategy that Washington follows regarding the Iran nuclear deal and worrying about a military escalation in the conflict. Europe is thus divided again, although Britain until now is part of the E3 who want to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran. But the dependence on Washington will rise with a no-deal Brexit. (Konstantin von Hammerstein; Christiane Hoffmann; Susanne Koelbl; Raniah Salloum: Between the Front Lines. Europe Caught in the Crossfire of Iran-U.S. Spat, Spiegel Online, 07.08.2019 (32)).
In conclusion one can easily see that Europe is not able to stabilize the MENA region. Unlike in Eastern Europe where the stabilization succeeded in the cases where a membership perspective (that is, the perspective of wealth) was existent, in the MENA where this perspective was not given, the stabilization didn’t succeed. The mere existence of conflicts there overstrains Europe, that is no military power but an economic one. Furthermore, its internal divisions prevent it from acting as a strong and united great power. Not only is it thus impossible to stabilize the region, but there also intervene foreign powers in our neighbourhood that try to realize there their own interests.
Thus, in the Libyan 2011 war the Europeans were divided and militarily dependent on the US, in the civil war that followed the overthrow of Gaddafi, other actors intervened following their own interests. The country is still without a real government. In Syria, only France had a strong interest in a military intervention, supporting the US against ISIS and in its attempt to replace al-Assad with an own puppet, and watching how the Russians intervened and succeeded in stabilizing their puppet al-Assad. In the case of Iran, the big three European countries take a common position regarding the nuclear deal, but in the moment the US opposed them, the whole deal got in danger, showing the European limits as a great power.