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February 13, 2004

A Triumph for Soft Power

European plans to supplant the US in terms of foreign policy influence through the adroit application of soft power are now being thwarted by Iran months after Europe proclaimed success in getting Iran to sign the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, and to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

Much self-congratulation was in the air despite the ethereal nature of the victory. Victory over whom? Why the Americans, and their Hard Power strategy, of course. Considering that Europe would be within range of an Iranian intermediate-range missile long before America was ever threatened, we would assume that verifiable measures on the IAEA agreement and enforcement provisions would have been in the self-interest of the Europeans and a metric by which to guage success would have been a central condition of the agreement. Alas, the substance was less important than the symbolism.

The Anglo-French-German engagement in Iran has led to a sudden surge in confidence in the efficacy of European soft power and in Europe's ability to forge a common foreign policy. This has led some to herald a far more definitive role for European diplomacy in conflict resolution. The French newspaper Liberation states: "Seen from Paris, the diplomatic efforts that helped to reach an agreement with Tehran must serve as a diplomatic strike force to seek political negotiated solutions in other regions of the world.... The European troika should, according to Paris, intervene to save the Middle East process." Similarly, Le Point opines that the Iran initiative can serve "as a precedent in the delicate area of nuclear proliferation."

What enforcement measures were included in the agreement? What stick will the Europeans use to encourage Iranian compliance? What harm comes to the Iranian regime if they renege on the agreement? Apparently, the Iranians felt secure in pursuing their nuclear ambitions and have breached their agreement with the IAEA for it is hard to identify the severe downside risk to them.

UN inspectors discovered designs for a centrifuge that can produce bomb fuel twice as fast as the machine the Iranians are currently assembling. The centrifuge designs were not reported by the Iranians, and constitute an apparent breach of their commitment to reveal all, although the significance of the finding is being played down by IAEA officials.

What was so compelling about the application of soft power that got the Iranians to agree to restrictions supervised by IAEA officials?

The negotiations were "very tense and difficult" and at one stage Mr Fischer threatened to walk out. The bargain struck in Tehran was that Iran would freeze its ambitious and extensive uranium enrichment activities in return for technology transfer for a civilian nuclear programme from Europe's three biggest generators of nuclear power - Britain, France and Germany.

Well, having Mr. Fischer threatening to walk out must have put the fear of the Americans in the souls of the Iranians. Seeing how an agreement was finally reached, it seems that Mr. Fischer did come back to the table and flexed his soft power muscles. How well did he do? In exchange for a transfer of nuclear technology to Iran he got a promise from the Iranians to cease their enrichment activities.

What would be the consequences for the Iranians if they broke the promise? Why the Europeans would be upset, of course. How could anyone have foreseen the possibility of the bribed party not honoring the bribe? Perhaps the Europeans can put the genie back in the bottle and reclaim the nuclear knowledge they transferred to the Iranians. Hmm, maybe not. Perhaps, the Europeans can find solace with their phyrric victory.

One would think that after witnessing the successful negotiating strategy of Slobodan Milosevic (promise the moon, get what you want, break promise, act contrite, repeat as often as needed) the soft power proponents would have learned a few lessons.

Oh yes, the triumph of Soft Power still awaits a circumstance in which it can trump American Hard Power. This Iranian incident is a how-to guide of what not to do.

Posted by TangoMan at 10:39 PM