American Enterprise Online
February 13, 2006
By Alan W. Dowd

History doesn’t offer many second chances, but maybe what’s transpiring in the Middle East is the historical equivalent of a mulligan for the transatlantic community.

If the European Union has learned that diplomacy is a means to an end rather than an end in of itself, and if the US has learned that building nations can be harder than winning wars, then the two sides of this essential partnership will be able to overcome the twin terrors in Iran and proto-Palestine. Given the ongoing challenges in Iraq and the go-slow approach with Iran, let’s stipulate that Washington has learned a lesson from the past three years. But has the EU?

Smirking for the cameras, Hamas officials seem to think their democratic victory has inoculated them from any sanctions that might be levied by the EU. Likewise, Iran’s leaders appear undeterred by the distant threat of military action (a reasonable response given the situation in Iraq) or the more imminent threat of diplomatic censure (again, a reasonable response given the West’s dismal diplomatic performance leading up to war in Iraq).

Now, as the Palestinian leadership finally unmasks itself and the UN Security Council belatedly prepares to tackle Tehran’s outlaw nuclear program, Europe should make it clear that neither its aid largesse nor its trade links are entitlements. And before going wobbly, its leaders would do well to remember the constructive contributions a determined Europe can make in the world.

It pays to recall that European governments have, in the past, flexed their economic muscle to force rogues and outliers to change behavior. In fact, our European allies have even helped carry out regime change (gasp).

Consider the case of South Africa. In 1985, what was then the Common Market joined Washington in imposing sanctions against the ugly apartheid regime. Under the initial battery of sanctions, Western Europe embargoed oil, military hardware and expertise, and nuclear technology. Later, import bans on South African gold, iron and steel were added. Not only did the embargo stigmatize South Africa, it also hit the government and its patrons where it counted—in the wallet. Prior to the embargo, iron, steel and gold exports to Europe accounted for $700 million in South African income. 

Thanks in large measure to international sanctions, South Africa was peacefully transformed, and apartheid became a part of history.

Likewise, Western Europe played a central role in transforming Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism. By giving Eastern European governments a range of economic, political, human rights and military standards to achieve, the EU (and its forerunner, the European Community) helped resuscitate what communism had left for dead. And by giving Eastern Europe aid and trade opportunities, the wealthy West gave the once-orphaned East hope.

In 2004, the EU added ten new countries, most from Europe’s eastern half. Just fifteen years earlier, eight of those countries were under communist domination. Three of them (the Baltics) were still lashed to the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

This impressive feat of European enlargement has been successful precisely because the EU set standards for acceptable behavior, aid and assistance.

In a similar manner, the EU wielded its aid-and-trade stick to force Belgrade to hand over Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2001. Using the carrots and sticks of possible membership or possible isolation, the EU is now pressing the Serbs to turn over other architects of ethnic cleansing. In nearby Kosovo, the EU has worked with NATO, the OSCE and UN to build an economy, hold elections, stand up a government and midwife the war-torn province toward something close to statehood. 

With the power of the purse and the promise of investment, the EU is promoting political and economic reforms from the borders of Russia to the shores of Africa. For instance, the EU’s Mediterranean Partnership is laying the groundwork for a free-trade area that could unite virtually every nation bordering the Med. In Ukraine and Georgia, the EU has exerted its will to ensure free elections and regional stability along Europe’s still-volatile borderlands.

But why stop there? Holding the keys to 15 percent of Iran’s exports and almost 30 percent of its imports, Europe can punish Tehran for its nuclear gamesmanship. And since the EU accounts for about a third of the Gaza government’s budget, Europe can use more than words to condemn the ghastly designs of Hamas.

Simply put, in partnership with the US, Europe has the capability to effect real change. It also has the right and the responsibility to set standards of acceptable behavior for its trading partners and aid recipients. Now it must summon the will to enforce those standards and promote our shared values in the Middle East.