Testing Time: For Europe's Nonproliferation Strategy

By Meier, Oliver; Quille, Gerrard | Arms Control Today, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Testing Time: For Europe's Nonproliferation Strategy


Meier, Oliver, Quille, Gerrard, Arms Control Today


Members of the European Union, shaken by their failure to unite on a pre-war strategy toward Iraq, decided in late 2003 that they needed a new approach for dealing with future challenges from countries with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. In the realm of stated policy, the European Council in December 2003 adopted the landmark "EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction."1

More immediately, three European nations-France, Germany, and the United Kingdom-plunged into negotiations with Iran to prevent escalation of a nuclear crisis with Iran from creating a fresh diplomatic debacle.

The next few months will provide a yardstick for measuring how successful the EU has been in these efforts to shape a coherent approach for dealing with nuclear, chemical, and biological threats. European negotiators are engaged in intensified talks with Iran that seek peaceful means to resolve concerns about Tehran's nuclear program. At the same time, in a key test of its strategy, the EU has struggled to craft a unified approach to this month's 2005 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York. Success will depend on the EU's ability to overcome the basic tension that surfaced in the Iraq debate, which was the need for European diplomats to pursue two potentially contradictory goals simultaneously: the development of a unified transatlantic approach on proliferation issues and the strengthening, or at least the preservation, of multilateral weapons of mass destruction (WMD) control regimes.2

The Iran Intervention and the EU strategy were the result of an intense desire by European leaders to rebuild intra-European relations after the Iraq crisis.3 Pre-war diplomatic debates had revealed a deep split among Europeans on the value of multilateral arms control inspections as well as on the use of force to enforce compliance with disarmament obligations. More deeply, a unified and coherent strategy was also seen as necessary to counter the new, largely unilateralist U.S. security approach, which emphasized counterproliferation, that was unveiled after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Europeans generally felt uncomfortable with the U.S. inclusion of pre-emptive military action as a nonproliferation tool but had few new approaches to offer as alternatives.

The WMD strategy made nonproliferation a central goal of the EU's Common Foreign and security Policy (CFSP), stating that "our objective is to prevent, deter, halt and, where possible, eliminate proliferation [programs] of concern worldwide."4

The Iran Test

The first major test of the new approach has come in Iran. Revelations in August 2002 that Iran possessed clandestine uraniumenrichment and heavy-water production facilities led to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation and concerns, particularly on the part of the United States, that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons. The resulting IAEA investigation revealed serious breaches of Iran's safeguards obligations.

Talks between the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the EU-3) and Tehran began in October 2003 as a crisis management exercise. They intended to find a means outside of the UN security Council of addressing these concerns. No European country wanted a repeat of the Iraq experience where security Council members had been unable to forge a common position before the U.S.led invasion, splitting such EU members as the United Kingdom and France.

Still, such direct negotiations are a new type of activity for EU members. Although European nations and the EU have in the past been involved in brokering peace deals and assisting disarmament processes, for example, in the Balkans, Europe has never before taken the lead on such a high-profile nonproliferation issue.

Throughout the talks, U.S. officials have pressed IAEA member states to refer the case to the security Council. …

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