Revival of US unilateralism and the Atlantic Alliance
Scarcely a day goes by that the Middle East does not make the headlines with yet another catastrophic development. It has been in turmoil one way or another since the end of the Cold War, if not before. The latest move by the U.S. to transfer its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was preceded with its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, which came after the shootout between Israel and Iran over Syria and continues clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protestors in Gaza since the end of March. It seems that the “Trump factor” has become a constant in all the negative news coming out of the region lately.
Unfortunately, most of his moves regarding the Middle East have been part of his election campaign, though many around the world had hoped he might change his mind once he receives guidance and intelligence from the institutions that make up the United States’ presidential administration. Yet, time and again, Trump has acted on the most outrageous promises he had made during his election campaign, one of which was withdrawing from “the stupidest deal of all time.”
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany on July 14, 2015 to curb Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. It was also a milestone for Iran’s reintegration into the international system after years of isolation.
It seems Iran used the time since the signing of the deal to strengthen its hand in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and that the easing of the economic sanctions have allowed a more powerful Iran in the region, which irks many in the Trump Administration, along with several regional actors including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Thus, withdrawing from the “hated legacy of the Obama” was not only an obsession with President Trump, but also a strong signal that the U.S. is now returning to its dominant position in the Middle East.
Though we know from the historical experience that the U.S.’ approach of meddling does not usually bring much joy to the region but increases the risk of military escalations, it seems it is already eagerly approved by two of its staunchest regional allies, i.e. Israel and Saudi Arabia, and condoned by the others such as Egypt, Jordan and countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The single regional U.S. ally that has not yet aligned with the stronger American position in the region is Turkey.
Admittedly, most of the European allies in the U.S., as well as the rest of the signatories, have condemned Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal, and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini expressed the union’s commitment to the “preservation of the nuclear deal.” Tough, even the unified EU-Russia-China stance will not be able to change the U.S. decision; however, it might still keep dialogue channels open with Iran for the time being.
Since Trump has taken office, the transatlantic relationship has experienced ups and downs, and the latest rift will no doubt damage it further as the U.S. is moving towards another “unilateral moment” in international affairs, reminiscent of the George W. Bush era.
Trump’s criticisms of NATO and ambivalent stance on the U.S. security umbrella over Europe have already triggered questions about the value of the transatlantic alliance. The collapsing Iran deal and what would undoubtedly follow it in Middle Eastern politics—i.e. more conflict and suffering for the region—would be a real test for transatlantic ties. Prevention of the EU from having a unified stance against the U.S. relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem by its three “newish” members and the similar division within NATO show the untested grounds the western alliance system has found itself. Let us hope the renewed U.S. unilateralism does not break it.