The US has deliberately suspended the treaty with Iran only because the new President Trump wanted to undo everything that the old President Obama had left as his legacy. But the European Union – just like Russia and China – held on to the treaty until the very end. But now the Europeans have betrayed Iran from one moment to the next: not out of malevolence, but because they were forced to do so. Of course, there are no saints in Tehran, but power politicians who cannot understand why their neighbors, India and Pakistan – not to mention the English, French, Americans, Israelis, Russians, Chinese or even the small North Korea – are allowed to possess the bomb, while they are not. The rather dark medieval regime of the ayatollahs had been striving for nuclear armament for the last decades, but thanks to the diplomatic skills of Barack Obama, an agreement was reached in 2015 that appeared acceptable to both sides. Iran renounced the bomb, but the US and its allies would lift the existing sanctions and help Iran in its economic development.
The whole world and especially the Europeans
knew there was no justification for Trump’s breach of contract. Nevertheless, on January 14, the three leading European powers England, Germany and France decided – against better judgment and against their own convictions – to initiate the mechanism for terminating the contract. A leak from Washington tells us why this could happen, namely because of a direct call from the American administration, or rather because of a massive threat. “Either you withdraw your support for Iran or we will impose tariffs on your car exports – 25% or more“.
The threat couldn’t have been more effective
If the US were to block its market for European goods or even substantially seal it off with customs duties, this would result in a collapse of prosperity in Germany and the whole of Europe, which no government would survive. Of course, Angela Merkel, the usually integer German Chancellor, knows this only too well. And she also knows that it was of little use that she had previously made a pilgrimage to Moscow to see Putin in order to gain support against American pressure. Economically weak Russia can at best take the initiative to finish the Northstream pipeline, but for German exports it can do absolutely nothing. A simple phone call from Washington was enough to make the Germans aware of this elementary truth and their fundamental dependence. And they also understood that this is a completely unilateral dependence, because Americans have nothing to fear from a call from Berlin. If necessary, Americans could bring all trade with the rest of the world to a complete standstill. Although their standard of living would deteriorate, the lights in the cities would not fade and their cars would continue to circulate. The US and Canada have recently achieved energy self-sufficiency. This has long been true for Russia as well.
Germany is in a completely different situation
Its standard of living is threatened in two ways at the same time. On the one hand, it is based on the export of manufactured industrial goods, especially cars; on the other hand, it has to rely on the import of energy, especially of oil and gas. If even one of these two lifelines were to be severed, Germany’s current strength would evaporate as quickly as the air from a pricked balloon.
From a historical perspective, this is a quite recent development. It is only since the end of the 19th century that Germany’s prosperity has been largely dependent on exports, and only since the middle of the 20th century has it switched from domestically available coal to the foreign supply of oil and gas. Since then, Germany – and to a lesser extent the entire EU – has become increasingly dependent on the two major powers: on the US for its exports (now more and more also on China), and on Russia for its imports of energy.
The public hardly noticed this development
Free trade seemed to be an article of faith carved in stone and never to be infringed by any state. To Europeans it simply did not seem to occur that every country would become dangerously dependent if it relied on the good will of foreign states for its standard of living or even for its very survival. As an industrial power Germany is by now on the Russian drip, both in terms of oil and gas supplies. If Putin wanted to do so, the lights would go out in Germany and the heating systems would freeze. But Germany is just as dependent on the goodwill of the US (and now also of China): the destination for the majority of its non-European exports.
Completely surprised, nay, even stunned, Germans react to the fact that it is their allies, the Americans, who all of a sudden make them aware of their fundamental dependence. But is this change really so baffling? With a little foresight we could have recognized the change long ago, because the United States of today is no longer the United States of yesterday (see “Peace, War and Climate Change“).
Until two or three decades ago, the US could still afford free trade
and the generosity going with it. They were undoubtedly the richest and most powerful state on earth and were therefore able to allow their citizens to acquire many products from abroad if they were better or cheaper than domestic ones. This generosity is now a thing of the past; Trump has made this sufficiently clear by brutally putting the brakes on Chinese imports. To be sure, the US is still the most powerful state on earth, but the mass of the population is threatened by poverty, only a few top percent still profit from increasing wealth. With about a thousand military bases all over the world, the United States of America have expanded as much as only the Roman, Habsburg or British empires before them – great powers which for this very reason finally collapsed. Leading circles in the US are obsessed with the fear that they could follow the same path of decline if their debts continue to grow and their industrial base to shrink. That is the perfectly rational reason for the current president’s actions. I think there can be no doubt that even without Trump a turnaround would have occurred. It only came as such an insulting surprise because the new president is conducting his policies with unbelievable ruthlessness. Until Obama, generous America pursued a halfway decent great-power policy, at least towards the old continent. All politically vigilant observers knew even then that the Europeans were America’s vassals, but in return they were allowed to participate almost on an equal footing in common Western prosperity and, moreover, enjoyed – largely free of charge – the protection of the world’s greatest superpower. Even today, no one would seriously question the obvious truth that Western Europe during the Cold War was incomparably better off than the Russian vassals in the formerly soviet-controlled Eastern Europe on the yonder side of the Iron Curtain. But meanwhile the situation has changed dramatically. The US is overburdened with debt (and moreover with debts to its biggest rival China), it is no longer doing well – generosity belongs to the past.
The German government knows
that Iran is not to blame for the breach of contract, but it also knows that no German company will do business with Iran if it risks exclusion from the American market. In fact, Europe had already broken the treaty before Iran resumed uranium enrichment. Why should the Ayatollahs stick to the treaty if not only the US but also Europe had almost completely suspended trade and thus cancelled its part of contract obligations?
Like Europe, China too
is dependent on exports, as it has comparatively few resources of its own. So Trump is flexing his muscles with regard to the Far Eastern giant as well. Nevertheless, China is much less at risk than the old continent. On the one hand, it is reaching out like a voracious octopus with a thousand arms across the entire globe in order to gain access to world-wide resources while at the same time selling its industrial production. But even more important: China is much more aware of its vulnerability than Europe. For this reason, it has successfully upgraded its military capacity with both conventional and nuclear weapons. China can no longer be bullied even by the Americans.
Europe, on the other hand, is militarily almost without significance. While Putin’s Russia has during the last two decades resumed its status as a militarily superpower – even while remaining economically weak – binding some former satellites again firmly to its realm; and while, on the other side of the Atlantic, president Trump is pushing the military budget and the national debt to new astronomical heights, Europe lives from its high morale, which, as we now know, may at any moment be fatally shaken by a single telephone call from the American capital.
Morale is the consolation of weak states
Leading powers only care about it as long as they can afford to be generous. This can be seen very clearly in the superpowers’ relationship to climate change. American scientists at MIT were the first to recognize the “limits of growth”; one of the most important environmental organizations, Greenpeace, was founded in Canada, and Jimmy Carter was the first politician to have solar panels installed on top of his residence, the oval office; and let’s not forget, the Californians were the first environmental pioneers- so it may be said that green consciousness is almost an American invention. But now it is an American, and an American president to boot, who is indifferently declaring all scientific findings as “fake” when they do not suit him – or more precisely, when they contradict the goals of the military-industrial power complex. In Trump’s America climate change plays as little a role as the entire green movement.
As to Russia, president Putin even expressed satisfaction with global warming, because it opens up the hitherto icy northern route for long-range shipping. And for both presidents, the American as well as the Russian, climate change is not due to the activities of man – which is why politics cannot and should not do anything about it. Both Trump and Putin are convinced that they know better than scientists (only recently and in the face of overwhelming evidence have both made minimal concessions).
As usual, China is much more clever and diplomatic in this case too. While it continues to satisfy its enormous energy needs by building more and more new coal-fired and nuclear power plants, it is particularly keen to bring its huge solar and wind power plants to the forefront of public attention. China – the world’s biggest environmental polluter – thus manages to appear in front of the world cloaked in a bright green coat thus deceiving its own consciousness as well as that of the world public.
Unfortunately it is not panic mongering
but oppressive reality that 21st century humans are busy ruining the world through “progress”. Nothing is more urgent and necessary than to substantially reduce not only energy consumption but of that of all resources in general, not only because these are limited, but because we are constantly turning them into garbage, which poisons air, water and soil in ever-increasing amounts. From this point of view, the European Union’s initiative to take the first decisive steps in this direction is not only welcome but an absolutely necessary step for saving the planet.
But the leading powers, the US, Russia and China
do not even think about following Europe. Since not only China and India, but also Africa and the whole rest of the world wants to enjoy the same standard of living as Western people, we are facing a collective plundering of the planet’s remaining resources. Only those who retain the military upper hand and have enough other means of pressure will be the winners in this race between nations. I believe I am assessing the situation correctly when maintaining that the great nations, i.e. the US, Russia and China, will rather accept the ruin of the globe than the weakening of their own position: better to be the first in Hades than the second in paradise – (to slightly modify a saying attributed to Julius Caesar by Plutarch).
With the betrayal of Iran
Germany, France and England have shown the world how morality ingloriously retreats when basic interests are at stake (namely European exports and the standard of living). Wedged in between two superpowers, the US and Russia, our little Western appendix of the great Eurasian plate had already lost its independence after World War II. During the Cold War it could maintain its high standard of living only by becoming dependent on the United States, but in return it was protected against attacks by the ideologically and militarily expansive Soviet Union. This protection was taken for granted. With its highly successful industrial exports Germany then outstripped many US companies on the American market thus contributing to the weakening of the superpower.
With a single call the US showed Germany
that the days of generosity belong to the past. From now on, Europe will have to pay for its protection, either to the US or to Russia (I personally prefer the US, although the current Russian president is both more sympathetic and wiser than its American counterpart). Europe would be well advised to take the current threats very seriously – few people seem to be aware of how serious they indeed are. Up to the time of educated presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, but even up to Carter and Clinton, Americans were aware that their roots lie in Europe and that they had a moral obligation to protect it. Now, Europa has turned into a competitor like any others. A president who threatens Iran with destroying its cultural heritage would probably be able to stand idly by and watch a proxy war in Europe, especially as he declared NATO to be of no use to America. I am afraid that the man currently in office in the White House is no more interested in Europe’s than in Iran’s cultural heritage.