It’s in the name: reading the nuclear agreement as a shift in power in favor of Europe

P5+1 or EU3+3?
Initially referred to as P5+1, especially by the US, the name used about the Iran nuclear negotiations signaled that this was an agreement with all the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany on the same side, trying to reach a deal with Iran. The British, however, have for a long time referred to the negotiations as EU3+3, signaling something significantly different- the European countries plus EU on one side, and the US, China and Russia on the other side. This is a detail, and an important one. It signals a divided interest, where Europe sees itself as one party, with its own interests against the other parties to the deal. In the end Europe got its will. The final text of the agreement consistently refers to E3/EU+3.
What does this imply? Setting aside the nuclear issue which is what the agreement explicitly deals with, the agreement is at the same time a deal between the great powers about the balance of power in the region and beyond. Consider the parties: China, Russia, the US, the UK, Germany, France and the EU. All powerful actors, and all historically and presently in tension with each other, not just in the Middle East but also in countries such as Ukraine, Syria, and Israel/Palestine. While the deal establishes a certain order between these actors, particularly between the US and Europe, it also establishes a power balance in Europe’s favor. Europe is not only more strongly represented in the deal – with three independent members (Germany, the UK and France), but the EU as a union has performed the important role as facilitator for the negotiations and for the final deal. It will particularly be interesting to see what this implies for the relationship between the US and Europe, considering that the Middle East has long been a source of transatlantic tension between them about both policy and influence. During the Cold War the common red enemy and the American hegemony in the region left little space for tensions to have significant consequences.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall Europe has made a comeback in the region. Not only did the end of the Cold War mark an end to the US’ hegemony in the region, it also created a void to be filled- and this void has for a while now been dominated by an anarchy-like tension between all powers who are also parties to this deal. Europe now seems to succeed in its aspirations as a superpower. This has partly to do with the EU itself, which has put more emphasis on the union’s geopolitical aspirations beyond Europe. The catastrophic failure in Iraq has also had the US acknowledge and invite European involvement in the region. It remains to be seen how this involvement will play out, and how the differences within the EU will influence its policy making in the region.

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