Security Studies Program Seminar

Europe, the Middle East and the German Perspective

Martin Klingst
Political Editor, “Die Zeit”

November 15, 2006

Today I am going to talk about Europe, its foreign policy and its relation to the Middle East which is a story of hope and despair and it is full of paradoxes. I am offering a journalist's point of view, a point of view from one who keeps an eye on what the national government (Germany), neighboring EU governments, and international communities do.

Engagement of Europe in the Middle East

There are four paradoxes:

  1. On the one hand Europe has to become a stronger player in the Middle East, on the other hand EU remains weak compared to the U.S.
  2. The U.S. and its power in the Middle East and Europe is declining. At the same time nothing will work without U.S. presence.
  3. Iran is the main key for peace in the Middle East, nothing could and should stop Iran from playing that role. However, the current government poses a real threat to Middle East security.
  4. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still in the centre. A peace treaty is necessary to settle all combatants, yet it seems to be unachievable.

EU-Iran relationship:

European states have jointly played roles in security issues. France/UK/Germany (“the big three”) take the lead in foreign affairs with Iran. Many small countries are not happy, yet there is no other way. “The big three” have the strongest economies, the strongest military powers, and the closest links with Teheran. If Iran accepts anyone apart from the US , it's “the big three” from the EU.

Upon introducing “Coalition of the Willing” – disagreements of “Old versus New Europeans” -- that didn't last long.

Soon after EU accepted the coalition of “the big three”.

The EU has grown smart and learned its lesson from Iraq disaster.

“The big three” know about Iran's priorities. To understand Iran, you must understand that Persia was once a superpower. It still possesses enormous resources; it neighbors include India, Russia, Turkey and Israel. At the same time Iran poses threat to its neighbors.

“The big three” enveloped diplomacy dealings (economic incentives) in order to influence the Iranians.

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wouldn't listen. Did Europe fail? Yes and no.

  1. If we just accept the fact that Iran didn't abandon its nuclear program then Europe failed.
  2. Another perspective is when we value the process of the talks, then Europe didn't fail. Europe and the UN rep Javier Solana reached some intermediate agreements.

Europe-Lebanon relationship:

This relationship is crucial to the peace solution in the Middle East. Many different interests and groups have evolved.

Lebanon has been led as a role model – characterized as the gate to the West, multicultural and multireligious center, as a state where co-existence of Muslims and Christians is possible.

In the recent conflict Europe and the U.S. didn't act immediately. They didn't expect Hezbollah to be as strong.

The fight lasted longer than expected. Soon EU realized it was their duty to send troops because the U.S. troops were engaged in Iraq. No other armies would be accepted by all other parties (Syria , Lebanon , Hezbollah , Israel). For example, Germany never cut its ties with Syria and Iran. At the same time Israel is an ally of Germany.

It's not clear yet if the Europeans will succeed. Success would be measured by two things – will they be able to limit Hezbollah's fighting capabilities? Will they be able to keep the borders open?

Europe – Palestine/Israel relationship:

EU is engaged as intermediary. EU is the most important financial donor to Palestinians.

EU has developed the neighborhood policy – several key corporations of Israel and Palestine are involved.

Yet there is still a pessimistic outlook for the Israeli– Palestine peace. It will remain a divided country with the Gaza strip in the West and West Bank in the East.

History teaches that there are serious doubts that the conflict could ever be solved yet all must be done to manage the conflict, give people perspectives and a chance to live peaceful lives.


Europe cannot walk alone. Europe has to lean on soft power as well as hard power. It has to develop both.

EU cannot play second fiddle to the authorities in Washington, DC. EU may build roads, schools, hospitals, send peacekeeping forces and humanitarian aid.

Without the U.S. economic and military strength, peace in the Middle East cannot be solved either (although the US committed some major mistakes in the Iraq war).

EU cannot yet offer an alternative to US security policies and their nuclear power umbrella.

There are political obstacles that prevent EU from succeeding in presenting themselves as One power – it is, after all, a conglomerate of 21 countries with vast differences of opinions (British and Dutch and Scandinavians – pro Palestine, Germany – pro Israel ).

There are also institutional obstacles. European foreign policy is carried out by three different institutions. The most important players in foreign policy are still the foreign ministers of individual countries. EU's first diplomat being sent around the world to find out whether EU organizations can help is Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Finally, there is the EU Commission that exercises control over the EU budget.

The institutional and military obstacles can be overcome.

Europe already has cultural influence in the Islamic world (Euroislamism). If Europe cannot make the difference, then who?

Soft power is not enough. If EU wants to become the leader in the Middle East peacekeeping and foreign policy, it must also acquire hard power. It must create joint armed forces.

Rapporteur: Magdalena Rieb

back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2006