Europe is in the grip of a uniquely virulent and pernicious disease that threatens the wellbeing of its peoples and of the world: not Coronavirus, but appeasement. Anglo-French foreign policy in the 1930s was also dominated by appeasement — of Nazi Germany — a policy that failed to prevent one of the greatest catastrophes that ever engulfed civilisation and that led to the deaths of millions.
Now, Britain and France seek to appease the three powers that most threaten the world today: Iran, China and Russia. As permanent members of the UN Security Council, last week both Britain and France genuflected to their arch-enemies by refusing to support their greatest ally, the United States, in its resolution to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. The US resolution was of course opposed by China and Russia, both of which intend to sell advanced conventional weapons to Iran as soon as the embargo runs out in October.
Back in the 1930s, the aggressive intentions of Nazi Germany were clear. Although appeasement of Hitler was inexcusable, the main reason was perhaps understandable: a prevailing attitude of “peace at any price” following the unexampled butchery of World War I, then still so fresh in everybody’s minds.
Today, the intentions of Khamenei’s Iran are just as clear, and have been frequently demonstrated in imperial aggression across the Middle East, especially against Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as in its unwavering threats and military actions against Israel.
Even if European countries were so blinkered as to overlook these distant aggressions, how could they ignore the multitude of terrorist and assassination plots mounted by Iranian proxies on their own soil in recent years? As well as the murder and attempted murder of Iranian dissidents, these have included a failed bomb plot against a Paris convention in 2018 and the stockpiling of tons of explosive materials in London in 2015. Only a few years earlier, I was involved in discussions in Downing Street about the killing of British troops in Iraq by Iranian proxies and encountered a widespread reluctance to take any meaningful action.
The excuses for British and French timorousness are less compelling today than they were in the 1930s. They include the hangovers from recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, although compared to the Great War, these affected hardly anyone in Europe. This paralysis is compounded by long-standing and ingrained colonial guilt, exploited for decades by the left to undermine national self-confidence and promote a spirit of appeasement of Middle Eastern countries. Growing Islamic radicalism in both the UK and France, which each have tens of thousands of known jihadists living amongst them, has also served to encourage pusillanimity.
As the economic legacy of the Great Depression fuelled appeasement in the 1930s, today’s commercial entanglement of Europe with China and Russia, combined with apprehension over the post-Covid economic landscape, scare European governments and institutions from alienating either of them.
A further factor perhaps weighs even heavier on the minds of our bewildered European politicians. Britain, and even more so France, had deep concerns over former US President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the JCPOA, which is directly responsible for the crisis about to engulf the UN Security Council. Both countries, as well as Germany and the EU itself, knew only too well that, rather than its stated purpose of denying Iran a route to nuclear weapons, the JCPOA in fact paved Iran’s pathway — not just to acquiring nuclear capabilities, but doing so legitimately, effectively, and with the blessing of the UN Security Council.
Against their better judgement, they acceded to the JCPOA because it was President Obama, whom they venerated, that demanded it of them. US President Donald J. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal threw them into a quandary. They despised Trump as much as they revered Obama and, although they knew he was right, could not possibly bring themselves to follow his lead.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fired the starting gun in New York for the snapback provisions which underpinned UN support for the JCPOA in Security Council Resolution 2231. He did this because the council rejected the extension of the UN arms embargo on Iran. Its effect will be to reimpose all previous UN sanctions against Iran, including the conventional arms embargo. It will also ban international support for Iran’s missile programme, development of nuclear-capable missiles and nuclear enrichment activities; and reimpose travel bans on sanctioned individuals in the Tehran regime. Snapback will effectively end the JCPOA in a way that will be beyond repair in any form.
Snapback is justified under the terms of Resolution 2231 because of Iran’s violations of their JCPOA undertakings as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA reported in June that Iran has enriched uranium and increased low-enriched uranium beyond its allowances, stored excess quantities of heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges and re-commenced enrichment at its Fordow plant, all in breach of the agreement. The IAEA also specified that Iran continues to refuse access to nuclear sites to international inspectors, and may be concealing undeclared nuclear materials and processes.
Britain and France of course know this only too well and in January themselves initiated, together with Germany, the JCPOA dispute resolution mechanism in protest at Iran’s violations. Yet still they rejected the US demand to extend the arms embargo and are planning not only to deny support for the US snapback but actively frustrate it at the Security Council, in support of Russian and Chinese attempts to do so, cheered on of course by Germany and the EU.
Like Iran, these countries are expecting, and hoping, that President Trump will lose at the polls in November and that the nuclear agreement will be salvaged by his successor. Whoever wins the election, that will not be so easy. A 30-day period of delay and obfuscation at the Security Council now begins. Iran’s supporters are desperate to prevent snapback on the grounds that the US, having withdrawn from the JCPOA, no longer has standing to demand it. Unfortunately for them, they are wrong. That will not stop them going into endless convulsions, however, while attempting to bend the terms and precedents of the Security Council to their will.
The end result is likely to be the success of Pompeo’s snapback. The re-imposed sanctions will then leave China, Russia and the European countries with tough choices about whether they observe them or take the damaging consequences to their own trade with the US. Along the way we could see irreparable damage not just to US-European relations but also to the UN itself, an institution already under heavy fire from many in the US.
And for what? Perhaps for the benefit of Russia and China, whose weapons sales to Iran will both bring financial benefit and extend their influence in the region at the expense of America and Europe.
As for Europe, they may hope to gain some twisted kudos in standing up against the evil Trump and the US, and perhaps some meagre pickings from trade with Iran. Definitely it will not advance peace or global security. There may be benefits for the warmongering Ayatollahs in Tehran, but there will certainly be no benefit for the Iranian people or other countries in the Middle East. Many decent Iranian people want nothing more than a swift end to the repressive ayatollahs who have turned them into pariahs and forced them into destitution. If US snapback sanctions succeed, that can only hasten the end of the terrorist regime in Tehran. It will also boost confidence and security among the Arab countries, increasingly fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran.
European appeasement in the 1930s was ended almost single-handedly by one man: Winston Churchill. Britain’s prime minister today, Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of Churchill, would be advised to reflect on what would certainly be his reaction to this dire situation, and get alongside our American allies at the UN Security Council.