Sunday, August 21

Would Europe go to war over oil?

"This morning I read that military options are now on the table. My answer to that is: 'Dear friends in Europe and America, let us work out a strong negotiating position. But let's take the military option off the table. We have seen it doesn't work',"

- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany

The question of this piece totally ignores an equally relevant question ‘Can Europe go to war?’ Europe has steadily reduced their military capabilities for years and the US has many times commented that Europe needs to spend more on defense. This did not happen in most of the ‘Old Europe’ countries, as the money was needed more for social programs and a military did not exactly fit with the utopian future that the E.U. was working towards. It also did not sit well with the pacifist nature of Europe. After all, how can you start a war without a military to fight it with? Too bad Europe’s utopian future view did not take into account that the E.U. did not encompass the entire planet and that some countries were eager to build strong military capabilities.

Anyway, the Iranian military is the 8th largest in the world, slightly smaller than a theoretical combined French-German army. Regardless, there is no chance that the E.U. could (or would) go to war. We all know this, especially the Iranians. So Europe is missing a useful tool for negotiations (with rogue states,) the threat of military action.

Negotiating with Iran is no piece of cake as we can all see. Iran has its oil exports that it can hold over the negotiators head. That is a powerful bargaining chip as most of the E.U. Countries import oil from Iran including Italy, France and to a lesser extent, Germany. Europe combined receives approximately 9% of their oil imports from Iran, averaging about 860 thousand barrels/day. In addition, Japan receives approximately 12% of their oil imports from Iran. There are no real alternate sources to replace this oil if Iran decides to turn off the tap if the E.U. negotiators attempt to push Iran on permanently halting their (alleged) nuclear weapon program.

The US is often accused of doing most anything to get its hands on more oil. So it might seem strange that the US imports NO Iranian oil. Neither does the UK and Canada. Canada and the UK are actually net exporters of oil. (While Canada and the UK import oil, they are both net exporters of oil.) This situation is to Iran’s benefit, as the major Allied military powers are not dependant on a drop of Iranian oil. So Iran can turn off the tap without the threat of retaliation from any of these countries.

The US can hardly do more to Iran without actually attacking it, already with cut diplomatic relations, frozen assets in the US and Sanctions. Provided that Iran does not get too brazen about their nuclear ambitions, until they actually develop a bomb, the threat of the military action from the US is pretty low. “No Blood for Oil for france!” might be a catchy slogan.

There have been threats that Iran’s violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT,) which it is a signatory will be reported to the Security Council for debate and possible UN sanctions. UN sanctions are not likely either as France, China and Russia will probably end up falling over each other to veto any sanctions that come up for a vote. France would most likely veto any sanctions due to its dependence on Iranian oil. China would veto for a promise of a guaranteed oil supply, and Russia simply to keep the US in check.

So what is Europe to do? We saw the first step recently when the E.U. 3 caved and presented a solution that would allow Iran a peaceful nuclear energy program. They would assist Iran to obtain nuclear energy plants, in essence, meeting their demands. The offer was ejected before it even cooled. This was followed by comments from the Iranian Government on how they fooled the E.U.3 for about a year in order to finish a phase of their nuclear program. This is a perfect example of how serious they view those who they are negotiating with. The E.U. negotiators are nothing more than tools to the Iranians.

To make the E.U. negotiators position worse, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany decided to lecture President Bush that military action is not an option in getting Iran to abide with the will of the international community. It does not appear that they have many other options left. Of course Chancellor Schroeder could have taken a moment to lecture the Iranian Government, but perhaps that slipped his mind.

The E.U.3 have another problem. They are all working to get more access to Iran for French, German, and British businesses. It must be hard to push the Iranians one minute on the nuclear issue and the next minute ask for access to more business opportunities. Could the negotiators the US is depending on compromise themselves any more than they already have?

Europe keeps lecturing the US to not act unilaterally and search out peaceful solutions through the international community. Now Europe has a perfect opportunity to solve the Iran problem on their own. The question is, can they do it before the US warms up their cruise missiles to cancel the Iranian nuclear program before Iran becomes nuclear armed. Perhaps they might want to play good-cop, bad-cop (or carrot and stick.) Simply tell the mullahs running the country to either deal with them now or deal with the Cowboy in control of the US. So lets see how Europe handles a difficult to solve problem President Bush has little faith that these negotiations will work and neither do I. I hope they do, I really do. After all it does the US no good to lecture the E.U. about how they royally screwed up the Iran issue if in the end we have to attack Iran.

See Michael Ledeen’s piece in the National Review for a sobering look at the new Iranian Government: Iran the Model - National Review

Schröder campaigns against Bush - Secular Blasphemy
Germany rejects Iran military option - ABC News Australia
Iran and EU - Captain Marlow

Update 22 Aug 05:

Opinionjournal has a great editorial laying out What two years of "non-cowboy strategy has achieved." It is a good read and points out even more reasons that the current negotiations will not work:

Iran and Diplomacy (How the negotiating strategy is working so far) -


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John Farren said...

A rough comparison of the main EU states (UK, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Netherlands) with the USA and Iran based on figures at Strategy Page Strategy Page.

Expenditure in billions of dollars:
EU7 143
USA 340
Iran 7.5

Military manpower:
EU7 1,351,000
USA 1,400,000
Iran 510,000

EU7 28,900
USA 32,000
Iran 3,500

Combat Aircraft:
EU7 2,130
USA 7,600
Iran 210

Air/Land Combat:
EU7 877
USA 2488
Iran 204

In other words, (and leaving aside some 700 nuclear weapons): the EU 7 have the capacity to stomp Iran flat.
Where they do fall short is long range sealift/airlift capacity and remote theatre logistic support for sustained operations. Natural enough, given post-WW2 history: when your main likely enemy is the Soviet First Shock Army just over the horizon, long-range transport is not a priority.

Of course, all this is moot if the states concerned lack the will to act, and thus the credibility to threaten.

John Farren said...

Clarification; "Air/Land Combat" is the Strategy Page estimate of overall combined land/air combat power.