By Jonathan Power
The Europeans have not done well in countering President Donald Trump’s onslaught on Iran. When Trump unilaterally decided that the U.S. should withdraw from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, which committed Iran to winding down its nuclear research in return for the West, Russia and China (the latter two were also part of the deal) lifting sanctions which were crippling the Iranian economy, the Europeans huffed and puffed and then did little.
The UN membership considered the 2015 deal to be very fair. The Security Council gave it unanimous support. Indeed, the U.S. is now in breach of international law by opting out.
But if the Europeans had had the guts when President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal they would have pushed for debate on this issue at the Security Council and got the U.S. condemned, even punished.
Unfortunately, Trump had the Europeans’ guts for braces. After shouting loudly that they would find a way to lift their own sanctions and compensate Iran in other ways, the Europeans have ended up caving in to Trump.
Fearful of the long arm of American sanctions which could make any European company doing business with Iran suffer if it was using American bank channels with some parts of its transactions, the EU nations have more or less given up on trying to help Iran.
(Given the ubiquity of American banks it is almost impossible to do business in the world without being compelled to make use of them at some point.)
Besides caving in on the 2015 deal, the EU, supporting Trump, has condemned Iran’s missile tests and satellite launches. But is there a real threat from Iran? Or is it one manufactured in Washington?
The Iranians maintain that their satellite program is entirely peaceful and that since its missiles are all conventional, not designed to carry nuclear weapons, they are of limited military purpose. They are not for use against the U.S. or Europe.
Public opinion is often confused by the debate on ballistic missiles, assuming that such missiles are necessarily nuclear-tipped. They are not. At present, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 31 countries possess ballistic missiles capabilities but only 9 are nuclear-armed. Moreover, “ballistic” translates in many people’s minds to “long-range.” But at present Iran’s missiles are not long-range.
Western nations have long been happy with the fudge in their electorate’s minds. It’s rare to hear or read in Western media that it is Israel and Saudi Arabia that possess the longest-range missiles in the Middle East, and that Saudi Arabia has bought Chinese long-range missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. But there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Iran is actively developing an intermediate or intercontinental range ballistic missile or one that can be mounted with a nuclear warhead.
However, it is true that Iran has the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. It could not hit America but it could hit American bases and ships in the Middle East.
Although Iran has a space program for satellites Iran has never, as some nations have, developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) under the pretext of developing Space Launch Vehicles (SLVs). Iran only manufactures SLVs and no country yet has successfully turned an SLV program into an ICBM one. This is because ICBM development is more demanding in many ways.
Missiles carry warheads that must not only reach space, but must also withstand re-entry into the atmosphere. So Iran having a satellite program is not a shortcut to building long-range missiles.
The Europeans have also been mischievous, to put it mildly, in supporting the U.S. in its building of “missile defence sites” in Poland and Romania. They have done this not because they were convinced these were necessary to defend against an Iranian long-range nuclear missile attack, as the Americans claimed, but because they wanted to be seen to be ever-stronger supporters of a transatlantic military partnership and to join in providing additional reassurance against Russia.
While the U.S. and NATO have always denied there was any anti-Russian element in the missile defence sites it is more than obvious that a site can be used to defend against missiles attacking from different directions and different countries.
The Russians are right. These sites do break the commitments made at the end of the Cold War not to geographically advance NATO’s borders, and NATO is making a fake argument about Iran having, or having very soon, long-range ballistic missiles.
The U.S. with European support, a mixture of complicit and non-complicit, has backed Iran into a corner and, on one more front, given Russia the impression that it might be attempting, step by step, to besiege it.
One can only predict disaster.
*Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune. Copyright: Jonathan Power. Website www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com.