European States and Gulf Security

Published: April 13, 2013

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Editor’s Note:

Today SUSRIS provided a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Gulf security which examined the missile and nuclear balance. CSIS also recently distributed an important analysis of the role European states play in the challenge of Iran to the United States and the Gulf. The report, published by CSIS’ Burke Chair in Strategy breaks down the assessment in terms of: the broader European Union states; the “EU3″ consisting of the UK, France and Germany; and non-EU European nations. This analysis fills in an important piece of the understanding necessary to assess the challenge of Iran in the Gulf for as the authors state in this Executive Summary, “Experience has shown that US-EU unity presents a formidable challenge to Iran, while division provides the Islamic Republic space to advance its interests.” Among the roles played by European powers in dealing with Iran has been the imposition of economic pressure through sanctions. A recent study by Kenneth Katzman at the Congressional Research Service provides an excellent review of “Iran Sanctions.


US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Impact of the EU, EU3, and Non-EU European States
By Robert M. Shelala II, Brandon Fite, and Nori Kasting
April 4, 2013

The P5+1 talks with Iran in Kazakhstan in February included representation from the UK, France and Germany.

The various states that comprise the EU and non-EU Europe play a critical role in the competition between the US and Iran. Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapons threshold capability – and evidence that it may be seeking to deploy nuclear armed missiles – has led to enhanced policy coordination between leaders in the US and Europe. In the face of a growing Iranian threat, Western governments have stepped up their efforts, including strong economic sanctions, to pressure Iran to fully comply with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The role Europe plays is laid out in detail in a new analysis by CSIS entitled,  “US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Impact of the EU, EU3, and non-EU European States.” This analysis is available on the CSIS website [Link Here]

The analysis shows that the EU states – and particularly the EU3 (the UK, France, and Germany) – are Washington’s most consistent allies in seeking to roll back Iran’s nuclear efforts. Although the approach of the EU and individual European states have differed from that of the US, disagreements with the US have focused more over tactics and timing than over the need to take strong steps to halt Iran’s progress towards nuclear weapons.

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The UK and France also provide military support to the US and the Arab Gulf states. While their force projection capabilities are limited and slowly dropping under the strain of budget reductions, British and French forces still play an important role in the Gulf and Red Sea, and their military advisors remain an influential factor in the competition between the US and Iran.

There are, however, important differences in approach and perspective. Many European nations are far more reluctant to risk the use of military forces than the US. Iran’s oil exports are important to several European states, in part because of easier credit terms and pricing. Additionally, most European states are less sympathetic to Israel than the US.

Iran has attempted to exploit these potential fault lines between the US and Europe. The Iranian leadership, and particularly President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, frequently state that Iran seeks partnership with Europe and tries to encourage Europe to pursue energy and trade deals that would separate it from the US.

Nevertheless, the US and EU approaches to Iran have steadily converged since 2002, following the discovery of Iran’s clandestine nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak. In the years that have followed, the EU – under the leadership of EU3 – began a series of negotiations to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment and provide greater transparency as to the purpose of its nuclear program. After several years of failed bargains, EU negotiators gradually began to take a harder line toward Tehran, until the rhetoric and polices of European governments closely resembled those of the US.

The EU has unilaterally implemented punitive measures against the Islamic Republic’s defense and energy sectors. Working in partnership with the US as part of the P5+1 (comprised of the US, the UK, China, France, Russia, and Germany), the EU3 have supported UN sanctions and lobbied both non-Western members of the Security Council to approve of UN resolutions targeted at Iran’s nuclear program.

European countries outside the EU play a smaller role in US-Iranian competition. Their presence can be felt most strongly when they work to broker compromise between both parties, when they broadly track with the EU and by extension the US, or when they pursue opportunistic policies in opposition to the established order.

The EU, and the other European states that share its strategic views, remain committed to a dual track approach to Iran consisting of sanctions and incentives, but they have also largely sided with the US and resigned from mediating between the US and Iran. Experience has shown that US-EU unity presents a formidable challenge to Iran, while division provides the Islamic Republic space to advance its interests.

The sanctions on Iranian oil imports that the EU agreed to in early 2012, and subsequent sanctions later in 2012, have reinforced Europe’s status as an invaluable partner of the US. The EU states have both adapted to reflect US positions when they have proved valid, and played a role in persuading the US to see the merits of incentives and flexibility in dealing with Iran’s legitimate needs.

It is important to note, however, that US and European cooperation is centered on pursuing diplomatic options and sanctions. There is no unclassified indication that any discussions have taken place between the US and EU over preventive military options if diplomacy and sanctions fail, or what level of discussion may have taken place at a more restrictive level between the US and key allies like the UK and France. Many European states may not support, or may actively oppose, any shift to the use of force. Europe and NATO have actively begun to plan for missile defenses, but there has been little public discussion concerning the trade-offs involved in containing Iran, deterring a nuclear Iran, and options like “extended deterrence.”

The contents of the analysis are as follows:

  • EU 5
  • Evolving US-EU Relations 6
  • Political Cooperation Based on Mutual Interests 6
  • Interdependent Economic Relations 7
  • NATO and the EU Security Apparatus 8
  • The Impact of European Arms Sales 9
  • Figure 12.1: European Arms Transfer Agreements with Iran and the GCC, 2008-2011 (in millions) 10
  • Figure 12.2: European Arms Transfer Deliveries to Iran and the GCC, 2008-2011 (in millions) 10
  • Evolving Iran-EU Relations 11
  • Iran-EU Political Relations since 2000: A Decade of Decline 12
  • Iran-EU Economic Relations 15
  • Figures 12.3 and 12.4: EU-Iran Trade, 2007-2012 18
  • Figure 12.5: Chronology of EU & US Approaches to Iran 20
  • Figure 12.6: Cancelled European Land-based System 24
  • The UK and the Broader Role of the UK, France, and Germany in “The Six” 25
  • The UK and Power Projection in the Gulf 27
  • France and “The Six” 30
  • France and Power Projection in the Gulf 31
  • Germany and “The Six” 32
  • Germany and Power Projection in the Gulf 33
  • Switzerland 34
  • Belarus 36

This report is part of a comprehensive survey of US and Iranian competition, it is currently being updated, and the revised versions will appear shortly. The current version does, however, provide an analysis that is current in most respects. Comments and suggestions would be most helpful. They should be sent to Anthony H. Cordesman at


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