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May 14, 2018

Nathalie Tocci: Saving the JCPOA is the Place to Start for the EU

An interview by Erik Eenlo, BNS.

Nathalie Tocci

Director, Istituto Affari Internazionali

Nathalie Tocci participated in a panel discussion entitled "More EU, Less NATO?" at LMC 2017.
Nathalie Tocci participated in a panel discussion entitled "More EU, Less NATO?" at LMC 2017. Photo: Annika Haas

Erik Eenlo: Where are we heading in Syria and what is going to be the next chapter in this war if we take into account the fact that the country is divided between Western, Turkish, regime/Russian and džihadist controlled zones? What role can the EU play to bring hositilites to an end?

Nathalie Tocci: Whether we like it or not, the civil war in Syria has already been “won” by the Syrian regime and its allies Iran and Russia. The recent strikes by US/UK/France only served to underline this fact. The question and risk are whether the end of the war in Syria will lead to a broader regional conflict pitting Israel against Iran, bringing down Lebanon, Syria and Iraq as a result of it. Of all international actors, Russia is the one with greatest ability to prevent and contain this eventuality. Neither the EU, nor the US for that matter, have the power to prevent such conflict. The best (and only) thing the EU can do for the region and beyond is to save the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – Iran nuclear deal – BNS) at this point, ending the dangerous appeasement of what is ultimately a regime change agenda in the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran.

It seems that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have tried to use the destabilisation of the Middle-East brougth about by the Arab spring to their advantage. By now though, the rivalry between Ar-Riyad and Tehran has become a destabilizing factor itself. What could be done to move towards a rapprochement between the two arch rivals that would save the region from further bloodshed?

The situation of Iran and Saudi Arabia is very different. Iran has been skillfully and cynically exploiting the errors made and voids left by others in the region (US in primis). Saudi is jittery about Iran’s incontrovertible ascendance and is irrationally making one strategic blunder after another (Qatar, Hariri, Palestine, Syria, Yemen). Consequently whereas Iran, from a position of strength, would like to engage in dialogue with Riyadh (hence, Zarif’s [Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif -BNS] repeated calls to this effect), Riyadh has repeatedly turned this offer down.

The naive would say this is because Saudi is banking on the US changing the balance of power in the region in its favour (good luck with that…). The cynic would say Saudi Arabia, whose old social contract “no taxation and no representation” is no longer tenable, is seeking a new social contract featuring “security for no representation”. Keeping the flame of conflict with Iran alive is essential for the perceived validity of this new social contract between MbS (Mohammad bin Salman – Saudi crown prince – BNS) and the Saudi people.

How do you assess the implementation of the EU global strategy adopted in June 2016 that is largely based on your ideas (if i am not mistaken) ? How can the EU make its economic and diplomatic heft more effective on the global stage?

Implementation of the EUGS went way beyond anyone’s expectations, above all in the field of defence. But the success of 2016 and 2017 (crowned by PESCO at the end of last year) are only the beginning. The work has become more difficult now, not least because of the Trump administration efforts to undercut the EU. If Europeans are serious about their strategic autonomy now is the time to demonstrate it by standing united behind their shared interests. Saving the JCPOA is the place to start.

What needs to be done to calibrate the different strands in Western defence architecture – NATO, EU defense arm and PESCO, Britain-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) – in a complementary way now that PESCO has been activated and France is proposing to create an European intervention force outside the EU?

I am extremely sceptical of the ability of any MS, France included, to successfully pursue a genuinely European defence initiative outside the EU framework. Beyond words and letters of intent, institutions are necessary for action to happen. The Challenge is therefore that of making PESCO the framework to incentivise European defence cooperation and spending, while doing so in a manner that can facilitate to the extent possible cooperation with the UK (as well as other non EU NATO allies) and be therefore to the benefit of NATO too.

Nathalie Tocci is Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Honorary Professor at the University of Tübingen, and Special Adviser to EU HRVP Federica Mogherini, on behalf of whom she wrote the European Global Strategy and is now working on its implementation, notably in the field of security and defence.

The views expressed in this interview are the respondent’s personal views, and do not reflect the position or views of her employer.

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