Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CFSP is a Mirage, Iran Shows

Back in January, I concluded a post on Iran and the use of ad hoc groups in international politics with this reflection:
[T]he Iran situation has already demonstrated what should have been clear all along for the small EU states about the CFSP - the Common Foreign and Security Policy - project. The formation of the E3 [UK, France, Germany], as proposed by the UK (via Mandelson) before 9/11 is itself an ad hoc. While it is definitely true that common EU foreign policy stances cannot be had without the consent of the E3, their going it alone without the veneers of an EU emissary goes a long way to show the difference between lofty words and the necessities of realpolitik. Not that surprising of course. But it is a healthy reminder for all of those who insistently and intuitively always start their analyses about international politics with calls for formal insitutionalizations and - oh, the ring of it - international law.
Back then, the starting point for the post was that the E3 had hinted -- as part of their trilateral diplomacy with Iran and the United States -- that they in case of non-cooperaion on the nukes would consider going for sanctions against Iran outside of the UN. Now, two days ago, President Chirac of France has hinted that he is opposed to sanctions against Iran, thus weakening the aggregate negotiation position ahead of the possible talks.

This is interesting, because the concept of the CFSP is especially dear to France as it should enable the Europeans to speak with one, weighty voice. The Iranian issue is the leading case for a claim about CFSP success because the European negotiation track has the backing of the US. So why the different stances?

Since few countries participate in the US economic policy vis-à-vis Iran there is nothing weird about the French not doing so either. According the French Foreign MInistry, France has a healthy bite of the Iranian imports: 8,5% of the total and is therefore the third-largest exporter to Iran (wonder who number 1 and 2 are. China and Germany, probably). French exports have more than doubled since 1998 (this NYTimes-article is from 2004):

Undeterred by Iran's pariah status in the United States and by the shortcomings of the country's commercial climate, French companies have been increasing their presence in the country in the last few years. (...) The Iranian business of Société Générale, one of a handful of French banks with small offices in Tehran, has grown roughly 20 percent a year in the last five years, according to Jean-Michel Meunier, the bank's Tehran chief. (...) Despite such potential, many Western companies doing business in Iran do so clandestinely, worried they will cross the United States, which has imposed strict sanctions on Iran since 1996. At least one major French company in Iran with significant United States operations has not registered with the French embassy. The front door to its office in Iran says simply, "French company."

While American officials have not said anything publicly about Renault, they did complain about Total's recent deal and said they would look at possible actions under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. "We do not encourage investment in Iran's petroleum sector," said Richard A. Boucher, a State Department spokesman, according to an Associated Press report in February. "We have laws that affect our attitudes toward these investments. And we will have to look at those laws appropriately." State Department officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But trade experts said they did not think the act, which allows for the imposition of penalties on foreign companies for certain large investments in Iran, had ever been invoked. "As to whether the U.S. has actually sanctioned any firms for prohibited investments in Iran, there is not much of a track record,'' said Donald A. Weadon Jr., a Washington lawyer specializing in foreign trade sanctions. "But companies are investigated, and pressure is brought to deter investment."

This background makes it interesting to note the timing of Chirac's comment and the Iranian news agency's
announcement of a new deal today:
TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Despite the U.S. sanctions and business restriction on Iran, the coming Wednesday is to witness the inking of a finance agreement between National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and French Societe General Bank for development plans in oil- and gas-rich southern Iran. The $2.7b figure is going to finance the development projects at phases 17 and 18 of the South Pars Oil and Gas Field and the capital return will be satisfied by the revenues coming from gas and condensate sales, Tehran Times said.
At the face of it, this new items serves to underscore the fact that Europeans have more investments in Iran and thus more to lose than the US from a confrontation. The timing on the other hand cannot be said to be chosen wisely by the Iranian intelligence service it indeed they did so -- unless they wanted to destabilise the US-Europe front by hurting Chirac in the eyes of the US.

But the final conclusion has nothing to do with either Iran or France: it concerns the CFSP. There is no CFSP and there will be no CFSP as long as the European countries have disaligned interests in foreign policy. And one of the central interests a country has in foreign policy is related to its identity: to be different, to be recognized, to have a voice. Even (especially?) countries want to be told that they look pretty. Therefore, just for the need to stand out, for the sake of glory, love or money, the CFSP is likely to be pretty dead in the water. As the proposed show case situation with Iran indicates.

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