Aurélie Lacassagne, professor of political science believes that European reaction to Donlad trump recent decision about Iran has been weak indeed. The Europeans seem unable to develop a coherent common foreign policy strategy.
We talked to Aurélie Lacassagne, PhD Associate professor of Political Science in Laurentian University, of Canada about Iran and the world affairs. Thank you very much Dear proffesor for dedicating time to us.
Q: My first question is about sanctions on Iran.
A: To assess the effectiveness of the sanctions, one should first wonder about the objectives of the sanctions. The official US discourse is that Iran does not respect the 2015’s agreement. Yet, this is a position that is not shared by all the international society of states, who wants to pursue a constructive dialogue with Iran. It is more that the current US administration thinks that the 2015 agreement was a “bad agreement” and therefore decided to not respect its terms. This is a major blow to international law, which is based on the respect of international treaties. This fundamental principle is important to ensure trust among the states and the stability of the world order. One may also think that behind the sanctions there is in fact a hidden agenda: create very dire economic conditions for the Iranians, a situation which would provoke major social unrest that would weaken the Iranian regime. In other words, the objective might be to provoke a regime change.
Q: What are European Union countries stances in front of Iran after Donald Trumps withdraw from the 2015’s agreement?
A: The major issue I think is that the Iranian question is not a priority for the EU or for the European states individually. Therefore the reaction has been weak indeed. The Europeans seem unable to develop a coherent common foreign policy strategy. The European states have not yet taking stoke of the new world order we are living in. it is as if the Cold War never ended (the proof being that NATO still exists). Yet, per se, the Europeans do not have enemies. They don’t need a military alliance with the USA. They need to develop an independent defense and foreign policy based on the European interests and these interests are the stability of Eurasia. This stability should be ensured by the development of cooperation mechanisms with various regional organizations and by the betterment of bilateral relations with states such as Iran.
Q: What are the effects of US sanctions on Iran, do the Europeans want it to happen?
A: I don’t think the European states agree with the US sanctions. I think it hinders their policy to diversify their markets and oil/gas supply. There was great hope after 2015. Many European companies were eager to resume their business ties with Iran. Many in Europe understand that Iran has a lot to offer because its population is very well educated; its industrial base is solid and could benefit from diversification that EU companies could bring. I don’t think the EU wants a regime change in Iran as such; there is enough instability in the region. As the saying goes: we know what we loose, we don’t know what we get. Of course, the Europeans hope for improvements in human rights in Iran, but they recognize that the Iranian political scene is not homogenous; that many factions and political viewpoints co-exist; that there are a very well-developed and engaged civil society and a strong workers’ movement. In all these respects, Iran is much closer to the European states than any Arab states of the region. Among the European diplomatic and academic circles, people know their history. They have a viewpoint that relies on the long duration. They know the profound impacts the Persian Empire had (and its resistance to foreign imperialism and the role played by the Shiite clergy in this struggle); they know the deep impacts the Persian poetry and philosophy had. All this tremendously rich heritage had not been swept away in the last 40 years. The problem is that the European political elites today are not the ones Europe had 20 or 30 years ago. They are professional politicians and not as well educated as before and therefore less receptive to such discourses.
Q: How much the recent oil sanction effect Iran and Europe’s relationships?
A: I think the Europeans are missing a great opportunity to change their alliance system. The European alignment with US alliance (and consequently with Saudi Arabia) is not in the interest of the EU. The EU should engage more in a policy of good neighbours with the Eurasian space. The current alliance on several issues between Russia, Iran and China (and Turkey) marginalizes the EU, puts her out of a new “Great Game”. I think the EU should make its priority the “East” (and forget about the Atlantic) because it is there that the stability of the world lays, the Heartland as Mackinder coined it. I am very much afraid that, unfortunately, the US oil sanctions are indeed going to worsen the economic conditions of the Iranians, which will translate in the next elections in a return of the conservatives in power. It seems to always be the same scenario. Bill Clinton did not do enough, did not undertake concrete actions to support Khatami’s reformist agenda; and consequently the Iranians, displeased by the lack of more bold reforms, voted in Ahmadinejad and we lost 8 years to improve the relations between Iran and Europe and to improve the lives of the Iranians. Barack Obama did not make the same mistake and managed to strike a deal with Hassan Rohani. But now all these efforts are destroyed by the current US administration. It seems that the Republicans prefer to have a conservative Iranian president because it makes it easier to portray Iran as “the enemy” as a “rogue state”. I wish the Iranians would not fall into this trap in the next elections. It is there that Europe could, should, play a role. Europe could contribute to the Iranian economy and by doing so it would, I think and hope, produce some much needed political transformations in Iran; transformations that, of course, should come from within, from the Iranians themselves.
Q: As you know the Europe is giving up what it has committed to Iran in the 2015 deal. What do you think about that?
A: I think we must make a difference between what the political actors are doing and what the economic actors are doing. It must be acknowledged that the EU (more precisely France, Germany and the UK) has done an important political gesture by creating a mechanism of barter to allow EU companies to trade with Iran – the Instex (instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges). This was a courageous, smart and bold move; a sort of first gesture of European autonomization from the USA. I am writing today (May 13) when the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is arriving in Brussels where he invited himself to a meeting of the EU Ministers of foreign affairs to put pressure on them about Iran. For the Europeans their position is clear: they don’t want another conflict in the region. They are very worried about the current situation in the (Persian) Gulf. The German minister was clear when he stated “we have a very important need to speak with Iran”. Heiko Maas also explained “In Europe, we consider that this agreement is necessary to our security. No one wants to see Iran with nuclear weapons”. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister, was also clear “The American position to increase pressure and sanctions does not please us”. Now, the Iranian authorities must remain calm and no fall in the American trap, even if it is difficult. Teheran must continue to dialogue with the EU and not launch ultimatum to the EU; the channels of communication and cooperation must remain open. The EU is doing what it can to overcome the US sanctions. But the EU cannot force the companies to trade with Iran. If the EU companies want to protect their economic ties with the USA, it is their call. One might say it is a bad call, short-sighted, but that is their decisions.
Q: I want to ask you about the recent oil deficiency and the soaring of the prices?
A: Honestly, I think we need to start thinking beyond oil (I don’t want to say “beyond petroleum” because the Iranians have a long history with that company!). There is no oil deficiency per se. The prices are soaring because the low prices these last years have finally became too dangerous for Saudi Arabia and Russia. It created a huge deficit for these two countries and we could see manifestations of timid, but yet very real, social unrest. Oil prices do not, yet, vary because of oil rarefication, but for political reasons. Of course, this must be very much enraging for Iran who is prevented from selling its oil and who could benefit from increased revenue. But I don’t believe in coincidence.
Q: I want to ask some questions about different part of the world. Do you think the extremism comes to an end once? What will happen to ISIS (Daesh group)?
َََA:There will be other ISIS. It does not really matter how they are called. You have a bunch of men with serious mental health issues who dream of power and they grow movements on the fertile soil of poverty throughout the world. It is a very old story. But more concretely I am particularly concerned by the situation in Africa where groups of disenfranchised people pledge loyalty to ISIS or to Al-Qaeda to receive more money and weapons to increase the chaos, particularly in the Sahel region. It is a highly complex issue as these groups are intertwined with mafia-type of groups. It is not so much about a “jihad” as it is about terrible social and economic conditions (worsened by the climate crisis) that push groups of people with different modes of living (nomadic with herding practices vs. sedentary farmers) to take up arms against one another. Otherwise said, there is nothing new: it is the centuries-old conflict between nomads and sedentary people that we witness. That situation is not going to stop because of the huge impacts of climate change. The more frequent and intense episodes of floods and draughts will continue to create more environmental refugees. These migratory pressures will increase the support to fascist parties in Europe. The Europeans seem to already have lost that battle against fascism. Right-wing people are ready to make alliances with the fascists. The left is in complete shambles. And as usual it seems difficult to see what distinguish the extreme-left and the extreme-right, both are using populist discourses with similar tones. We are witnessing the collapse of European Modernity, mostly because as Bruno Latour said “we have never been modern” or as Norbert Elias put it “we are late barbarians”. We have destroyed all community ties; we have transformed individuals into asocial atoms. And we are starting to pay the price.
Q: Tell us about the recent reforms from Macron. Does it meet the goals of the protestors?
A: These are vague reforms that will not bring about the deep structural reforms that France needs. The protestors are very heterogeneous in their demands so it is difficult to please all of them. Another problem is that there is a disconnection between the facts and the feelings. That is the real issue. Economically and socially the French are not doing that bad. The gap between the rich and the poor has not widened like in many other Western countries. The welfare state is still very generous in France. But the French feel that everything is falling apart; that the state is abandoning them. The social ladder does work anymore. For the first time, there is no more general upward social mobility. Hervé le Bras, a French demographer, talks about “the French paradox” and explains that “in 1970, 6% of the French went to university and there were 6 % of executives (managerial positions). Today 36% of the French went to university and there is 16% of executives”. That creates a feeling of injustice that translates in this Yellow vest movement.