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Does Trump’s Iran move against the EU threaten NATO?

  • Martin Jay
  • 4 Jun 2018

Russia, China and Turkey have reasons why they would never consider a boycott on Iranian oil. They are waiting for the vitriol from Trump to turn on the EU – and in turn towards NATO.

( AP )

The law of unintended consequences is about to smack the Trump administration hard in the face, over its withdrawal of the JCPOA, or the so-called ‘Iran deal’ – which largely eliminated Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.

It isn’t that the immediate impact of pulling out by Washington almost immediately creates a crisis which didn’t exist hours earlier – as Saudi Arabia immediately states that is now preparing to produce a nuclear bomb. Or even that a mainly tepid Middle East has now reached boiling point with not one – but a number of war scenarios between the Iranian and Saudi spheres. Or not even about how the fatuous stunt by Trump has united many Iranians behind their government and given them a new status with the EU, not to mention London, Paris and Berlin.

No, it’s more about how the act has forced European Union apaches in Brussels to face up and grasp a decision they have long avoided: to stand up and distance itself from US foreign policy altogether.

Within the architecture of the upper echelons, this decision has already been made now, as the Iran Deal is not only considered sacrament to the EU (as it was a milestone on a great many levels), but for the EU to accept Washington’s stance would be political suicide for the entire EU project – just months before it has its own elections.

Shifting weight

Yes, the EU really does have elections, once every five years people from all walks of life actually go to church halls and municipalities and vote for their MEP.

But the EU has a real problem now.

Can it really deliver for Iran, as Tehran has given it a deadline until mid July to come up with a compensation package to at least plug the gap of lost investment, following the droves of European companies who pulled out following Trump’s announcement?

Make no mistake. The companies leaving was a huge blow to the credibility of the EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini. Their swift move signalled that any lofty ideas about imposing legislation to stop EU firms doing this was mere folly, and turned to ash in a bonfire of geopolitical vanities (with respects to the late Tom Wolfe).

But all is not lost. Brussels is currently working on ways for EU governments to import oil from Iran and bypass American banks altogether. And here’s the crux of Trump’s perceived leverage: banks and the dollar.

EU foreign ministers have thrown their weight behind Mogherini and the 40 percent or so of Iran’s oil total export to the EU will probably be preserved.  Given that recent comments by India which indicate that it will not impose ‘secondary sanctions’ against Iran and will continue to buy oil from Tehran, only leaves South Korea and Turkey.

And given the increasing petulance against Ankara for the latter’s refusal to buy all of its arms from Uncle Sam (the unwritten rule of NATO membership) and to respect America’s lead in Syria, NATO itself is starting to appear to be an unwitting victim of Trump’s Iran gambit. The hairlines are lining up.

Recent announcements that Washington will now stop selling F-16 jets to Ankara is the final, churlish reaction by Trump who is losing viable victims to bully around the world.

But in the coming weeks, Trump’s Iran move will seem less effective and the options for him limited. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo see Europe as the convenient scapegoat.

The trade war already underway will blow likely up in their faces.  

They will very quickly fabricate the impasse between the EU and the US as a geopolitical, military one. How can the US sit at the same table in Brussels with (EU) countries which are supporting America’s greatest enemy and “threat” against their peace as a NATO member? And how can American troops remain on the continent in German, Belgium, Holland or even on the hotspots close to the frontier with Russia, when the EU is actually financing Iran?

The power Iran wields

This is the power that Iran has as this vacillating subject—which might result in American troops being pulled from the European continent—could shake NATO and generate a debate across Europe about NATO’s survival. Or at the very least, should NATO reform and modernise itself? Could we be seeing the first glimpse of a two-speed NATO in the making?

A Trump move against NATO will be seen as a winner and something very doable, compared with the success of a trade war with the EU. No question. But what is not clear is where will Trump acolytes like the mercurial, if not slimy, Emmanuel Macron going to stand, when it starts?

Macron has shown us that he is easily capable of using his influence to weaken the EU for his own gains and it may well be his pivotal moment in Brussels where he impinges his naked ambitions onto those he only supports ideologically, but not practically. 

But how long will it take for the deep state in Washington to realise that the fantasy world that Trump lives in cannot be allowed to extend to removing American NATO troops from Russia’s borders, given that there is already a lack of will in powerful NATO members like Germany for any soldiers there in the first place?

A recent article in the Washington Post argued that Trump wasn’t a “liar” but a “madman” – hardly comforting for NATO generals in Brussels who are watching the Iran debacle with gritted teeth and have already joined up all the dots.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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