Europe’s Response to Secondary Sanctions Threats

"The European response clearly must be no."

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire, in response to U.S. threats to apply secondary sanctions to European companies trading with Iran, asks: Est-ce que nous acceptons que les USA soient le gendarme économique de la planète ? La réponse européenne doit être clairement non.

“Do we need to accept the USA as the economic policeman of the planet? The European response clearly must be no.”

Mais bien sur. The U.S. stands in violation of an agreement not just confirmed by Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany but by the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. is now the international outlaw, demanding that others abandon their legitimate trade arrangements with Iran in order to indicate their continued submission to U.S. imperial fiat.

The abrasiveness and inconsistency of Trump himself. The contradictions within his staff and their multiple announcements on foreign policy. The manifest deference of the U.S. president to a very backward support base and the Israel Lobby.  These have little appeal in European capitals where leaders generally want peace in the Middle East, no more refugee floods, and adherence to a modicum of consultation within the Atlantic Alliance before Washington does something crazy.

Trump responds: Screw you free-loaders, avoiding your 2% NATO expenditures! We like the Saudis and Israelis more than you, and they both want confrontation with Iran. Who cares about your auto manufacturing deals or airline deliveries? You’re supposed to be on our side for god’s sake. We liberated you from the Nazis or somebody, once. Now we want you on board as we restart the pointless conflict with Iran. Why can’t you just cooperate, Angela and Emmanuel and Bruno?

The tone of dissent intensifies. Europeans are saying: Who are you, at this point, at your level of relative decline, when our EU GDP exceeds yours, when we have healthier more peaceful societies should we take your lead on Iran relations? Or back off from our lucrative deals because you object, and stupidly want war with Iran?

Maybe this will be the tipping-point. May inter-imperialist contradictions intensify, not to produce war as usual but to discourage it. A common European front against U.S. bullying on Iran, along with the rise of populist and nationalist parties in Europe and mounting discontent with the Russia sanctions demanded by the U.S. after the Ukraine coup in 2014, and growing anxiety about the madness of U.S. policy (as in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital) could weaken NATO.

Think of it this way. The U.S. effort from 1999 to expand NATO culminated in a failed effort to draw in Ukraine and the (arguably defensive and premptive) Russian reassertion of sovereignty over Crimea and support to Russian-speaking separatists in the Donbas region. U.S. leaders treated this as a crime comparable to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and demanded that Europe join it in applying sanctions on Russia. (The irony here is that Victoria Nuland, the odious State Department official who helped engineer the coup, told the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine just before the coup, “Fuck the EU!” because of differences over Ukraine’s political future. Europe has been expected to bear the pain of sanctions and counter-sanctions on their continent, demanded by the power across the ocean experiencing minimal pain from them. This is despite the fact that many Europeans sympathize with the Russian position; former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder has, for example, expressed understanding and objected to the sanctions.)

That 2014 moment, following the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia (arguably, provoked by Georgia’s crazy president Saakashvili dreaming of NATO back-up), resulted in the depiction of Russia as an “adversary.” Not because it threatens the U.S. in any way other than by sometimes trying to thwart U.S. imperial expansion.

The bullying of Europe in connection with Russia relations is joined with the bullying of Europe to accept the millions of refugees generated by USA wars.  And the bullying of Europe to spit up 2% of GDP annually on military expenditures, regardless of legislators’ views about budget priorities, in order to satisfy Washington. Even though the last thing on their minds or even imaginable to intelligent people is a Russian invasion or Iranian missile attack. The bullying of Europe to cut Iran ties under threat of secondary sanctions could be the last straw. Not so much because of the money involved. It’s the arrogance, ignorance, and strong-arming by people who don’t realize the U.S. has declined a lot from the 1950s and can no longer control its allies, much less the whole world. Europe’s a very old place with lots of proud people. So is Iran. The two are bound by an international agreement signed by the European Union itself as well as by the UK, France and Germany. The U.S. is in violation. Why should it be able to sabotage the deal?

It’s all about freedom, surely. U.S. freedom to use its market access as an intimidating tool to prevent other nations’ free trade with one another.

Secretary of State Pompeo is going today to announce the administration’s plans for “the strongest sanctions in history” on Iran (to “crush” it). He seems to assume European cooperation. May they say Fick dich! to Pompeo. May they say a loud NO! and enjoy the advantages of national independence and independent multilateral ties in what should be a multilateral world.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.