Engagement and multilateralism have become mantra among European policymakers. There is seldom a problem, they believe, that cannot be solved by dialogue. At the urging of her European counterparts, on May 31, 2006, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, acquiesced to join the European engagement with Iran. "To understand our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance the prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with out EU-3 colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives," she said.
While European foreign ministers got their wish, there is no more dangerous ideology than the assumption that dialogue is always healthy or appropriate, or that the process of multilateralism trumps unilateralism regardless of its substance.
European engagement with Iran began in earnest in 1992 as a German initiative. Berlin argued that the Islamic Republic would moderate in response to trade and dialogue. Theory did not conform to reality. According to a Berlin court, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani-the same pragmatist upon whom European leaders now place hope, personally ordered assassinations in Vienna and Berlin. Long before the Iraq-born antagonism between Washington and Brussels, Rafsanjani redoubled Iranian efforts to develop a covert nuclear program.
Multilateralism sounds good in theory, but it is no substitute for reality.
Many policymakers, academics, and policymakers bend over backwards to rationalize developing countries' positions. In an atmosphere of growing anti-Americanism and antipathy toward Bush administration unilateralism, many accept arguments that Iran's program is defensive. After all, U.S. troops are now in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran's neighbors. The only problem is that Iran's nuclear program predates the Bush administration. In many ways, it is the product of hard currency won through failed European engagement initiatives.
Former EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten argued, "There is absolutely no dispute on the importance of opening [trade] negotiations with Iran." European officials soon augmented the failed German initiative with additional trade. In 2000, bilateral trade between Europe and the Islamic Republic exceeded $12 billion. Over the next five years, European Union trade with Iran nearly tripled. Rather than bolster Iranian reformers, EU hard currency killed them. During the tenure of reformist president Muhammad Khatami, government-equipped vigilantes attacked student dormitories. Persecution of Jews, Christians, and Baha'is increased. Instances of capital punishment doubled. On June 8, 2002, three days after Islamic Jihad killed 17 on a public bus in Israel, the Iranian government bolstered its payments to the group by 70 percent. Rather than bolster human rights, European money convinced Iranian leaders they could get away with murder.
Rather than use its hard currency to invest in schools, hospitals, and civil society, the Iranian leadership has invested heavily in its weapons program. In March 2001, Khatami traveled to Moscow to sign a $7 billion arms and nuclear reactor deal, even while state workers marched for unpaid wages. Iranian biological weapons labs now stock Swiss, German, Italian, and Spanish lab equipment. European officials stay silent as Tehran budgets perhaps $200 million per year for Lebanese Hezbollah, even as that group remains in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Throughout this period, Iranian officials misled or outright lied to their European counterparts and international inspectors. Their actions should have indicated to European leaders the Iranian leadership's true intentions.
The Iranian leadership not only takes advantage of European goodwill, but also assumes that there will be no consequence for failure to abide by its diplomats commitments. Take the case of author Salman Rushdie. On February 14, 1989, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a declaration calling for his death for insulting Islam. Then president Ali Khamenei, who today is Supreme Leader, demanded that Rushdie apologize in exchange for cancellation of a religious edict ordering his murder. Rushdie apologized, but the Iranian government kept the bounty in place, using the apology as evidence of his guilt. Bad faith and Iranian lying should not surprise; what should is how often European governments repeatedly fall prey to such deceptions. On September 24, 1998, Tehran acceded to London's chief condition for the restoration of diplomatic relations and announced that it would cancel the bounty on Rushdie. Less than five months later, though, Iranian security officers reaffirmed their intention to carry out Rushdie's death sentence. And, on May 19, 1999, a day after London and Tehran agreed to once again exchange ambassadors, an official Iranian government radio commentary called Rushdie an "apostate," reiterating that his murder would be legal.
Multilateralism sounds good in theory, but it is no substitute for reality. Not all states are sincere. Both politicians and international organizations can be venal. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans died as the United Nations--and its then-peacekeeping director, Kofi Annan--stood aside. The UN's Oil-for-Food program diverted billions from baby food for Iraqi children to luxury cars for UN officials and their contractors. Billions in European aid to the Palestinians have been wasted, not because of Israeli actions, but rather because of Palestinian corruption. No European auditor has yet sought to recover the hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts and property held by Yasir Arafat's Paris-based wife, Suha.
For engagement to be effective, the substance of diplomatic grievance must be rectified. Incentives must change behavior, not encourage intransigence. After all, if every impasse is met with additional aid, why not provoke an endless cascade of crises? Even after the Iranian regime won U.S. recognition and billions in aid and investment, it did not abandon its nuclear weapons program. In finding Iran in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Safeguards Agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency detailed a litany of unresolved issues, not the least of which was Iranian willingness to account for all its imported uranium or to adequately explain the inspectors' discovery of weapons-grade uranium traces.
Many European officials call for more talks. On September 10, 2006, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, called for more discussion. "These (talks) have been worth it," he said. From a European and American standpoint, diplomats scramble to find a magic formula of new incentives. But multilateralism should not be synonymous with bribery. Tehran should not be rewarded for its failure to ratify the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol. Nor should the onus of Tehran's non-compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty's Safeguard's agreement be on European or American taxpayers. It is not the job off the International Atomic Energy Agency or European diplomats to compromise on commitments or reduce standards to avert conflict. That is the formula not for peace, but rather for more conflict.
Diplomacy must be responsible. It should not create precedents which encourage states to flout treaties for financial gain or exemptions from both European and American democratization and human rights concerns. It should be about more than opening opportunities for European and American businessmen. The most recent European and American initiative to Iran may be celebrated among diplomats in Brussels, Berlin, and Vienna, but it risks becoming a textbook model for the triumph of short-term diplomacy over long-term results.
So what can be done? European officials are right to question the efficacy of military actions and the effectiveness of sanctions. Most often, those American and European commentators who argue against such tactics engage in straw man arguments, drawn from the realm of their own imagination rather than the reality of a more nuanced American policy debate. Perhaps it is time for Europeans to take a second look at the neoconservative model. While "neocon" has become a slur in European parlance, incorrectly associated with secret cabals and military force, at its heart, neo-conservatism argues that foreign policy should be tied to human rights rather than cynical realism, and that governments accountable to their people tend to promote security.
Here, left-leaning Europeans and right-leaning Americans should be able to find common ground. Trade unions, for example, exist to make governments accountable to their citizens. Europe and the United States should, together, pursue a Gdansk model for rogue dictatorships. Independent unions force regimes to be accountable to their people. Rather than invest its money in nuclear centrifuges, the Iranian leadership might pay the back wages of workers in government-owned factories. Textile workers in Gilan, bricklayers in Tehran, and refinery workers in Abadan all deserve respect. U.S. and European silence in the wake of the Islamic Republic's imprisonment of the leadership of the Islamic Republic's first independent trade union, the Vahed Bus Syndicate, is shameful. So too is the silence that met the wife of its leader, Mansour Osanlou, calling for outside involvement to release her husband from prison. If labor activist are willing to stand up for their rights, so should we. They are indigenous movements, not exile-imposed. Western governments should, at least, offer them moral support, and not predicate strategy only on subsidizing and engaging the governments against whom they struggle.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.