Britain said on July 11, 2019, that Iranian military vessels tried to "impede the passage" of UK oil tanker "British Heritage," but were warned off by British warship HMS Montose – pictured here in 2005 – in a dramatic escalation of tensions with Tehran in the Gulf. Photo: AFP / HO / MOD

The crisis in the waters of the Persian Gulf is causing waves across the European continent. Against a background of attacks on tankers in the Gulf, the seizure by Iran of a British-flagged vessel off its own coast has sparked a debate on the best way to handle the still-escalating crisis. The approach of the US administration has been to increase its military presence, inflicting what it has called “maximum pressure” on Iran. In Europe, opinion is split between favoring a military or diplomatic approach.

These are not only tactical questions about how to handle one particular crisis, however. The Gulf crisis highlights a much wider debate on defense within and among European countries. As Europe prepares for a shift in leadership, a new generation is grappling with this sudden shipping crisis in a way that could determine the future military posture of individual countries, and perhaps even of the European Union.

Divisions over what to do in the Gulf have emerged both among and within European countries. It was Britain’s former foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who last week suggested that Europe could lead a separate naval mission in the Gulf from America’s Operation Sentinel. The European concern – especially in Germany – was that a US military-led approach could drag European countries into a war of Washington’s making. A European-only force could use different tactics.

This week, Hunt’s successor, Dominic Raab, upended that separate approach, saying a Europe-only approach was not “viable.” In that change can be discerned a broader difference in the UK’s approach post-Brexit, from Hunt’s approach of keeping Europe close as a partner to Raab’s jettisoning of the continent to follow in the wake of the United States.

In Germany, the government is also divided. On Tuesday, it was revealed that the US had formally asked Germany to join its naval mission. Whether or not to join will be determined by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new defense minister and Angela Merkel’s successor as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, who has not ruled it out.

The CDU is in coalition with the Social Democratic Party, which is much cooler on the proposal. Germany’s foreign minister, who is part of the SPD, has publicly said Germany does “not subscribe to the US’s policy of maximum pressure.”

Once again, this specific disagreement highlights a wider difference on the future role of Germany’s military. In the few days that she has been in office, Kramp-Karrenbauer has taken a more forceful military stance than Merkel, pledging to increase the country’s military budget to 2% of gross domestic product, a significant increase from last year’s 1.23%. Heiko Maas, the foreign minister, has said he would raise the amount, but only in five years, from 2024, and not to 2%.

The differences matter because Europe is preparing for a shift in leadership as a new European Parliament begins to sit, the United Kingdom prepares to leave the union, and Merkel, the dominant European politician of the past decade and a half, departs

The differences matter because Europe is preparing for a shift in leadership as a new European Parliament begins to sit, the United Kingdom prepares to leave the union, and Merkel, the dominant European politician of the past decade and a half, departs.

Raab is barely a week into his new post, Kramp-Karrenbauer just two, but the actions of both will be scrutinized for hints of their respective countries’ political futures. Raab represents a strain of hardline Conservative Party thought that, after an election, could easily govern the UK for half a decade; Kramp-Karrenbauer is often spoken of as Germany’s next chancellor.

European leaders do need a new approach to the Gulf, but it is not the one indicated by Raab. That would simply mean using European military assets as part of American tactics. Nor would it help the Middle East. The United States’ maximum-pressure approach, if not backed by diplomatic means of ending the standoff, will instead destabilize Arab countries, particularly Iraq, as Iran seeks to use its leverage in those countries to pressure the US and its allies.

Instead, Europe could look to its own northern waters to see how to tackle threats in the Gulf. Concerned by the threat of Russia in the Baltic Sea, Germany last year began beefing up its military presence in the region, staging major exercises and building a permanent military headquarters in the German port city of Rostock.

Then in May, the UK inaugurated a new defense organization called the Joint Expeditionary Force, including eight European countries bordering the Baltic Sea, to patrol the region. Separate from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States, the JEF, as a British navy official put it, “fills a hole in the security architecture of northern Europe between a national force and a NATO force.”

Something similar could work in the Persian Gulf: a maritime force that complements the US but also keeps leadership of the force and its tactics within the European domain. The essence of the policy ought to be to split the military and political pressure. Separate European and US naval forces in the Gulf would maintain military pressure on Iran, but also offer a choice of political interlocutors, ensuring that European policy was not simply subordinated to Washington’s saber-rattling.

Such a policy ought to find favor in London and Berlin: Kramp-Karrenbauer is keen to forge a new role for Germany’s military, and the JEF was a creation of Britain’s Conservative Party. It may also find favor in Brussels; it was the new EU commissioner, Ursula von der Leyen, after all, who as Germany’s defense minister pioneered a new northern military policy and sent warships to the Baltic Sea.

Deciding how to deal with the Gulf crisis is a chance for new European leaders to indicate how they see their future military role. Simply steering their ships of state into the wake created by the United States would be a mistake. If Europe wants its own priorities and policies to matter, it must maintain an ability to chart its own military course.

This article was provided to Asia Times by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

31 Comments

  1. Right now it seems like Expression Engine is the top blogging platform out there right
    now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

  2. Hello are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world
    but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you require any coding knowledge to
    make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

  3. I am curious to find out what blog system you have been using?
    I’m having some small security issues with my latest site and I would
    like to find something more secure. Do you have any recommendations?

  4. Great goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous
    to and you are just too fantastic. I really like what you have acquired here, really like what you’re saying and the way in which you
    say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it sensible.
    I can not wait to read much more from you. This is actually a terrific web site.

  5. Every weekend i used to pay a visit this web page,
    because i wish for enjoyment, as this this site conations in fact pleasant funny material too.

  6. Please let me know if you’re looking for
    a article writer for your site. You have some really great posts and I believe
    I would be a good asset. If you ever want to
    take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some articles for your blog
    in exchange for a link back to mine. Please blast me an email if
    interested. Thank you!

  7. Hi, I do think this is an excellent website.

    I stumbledupon it 😉 I will come back yet again since i have book-marked it.
    Money and freedom is the best way to change, may
    you be rich and continue to help other people.

  8. Hmm it looks like your site ate my first comment
    (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I
    submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any tips for newbie blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

  9. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is needed to get setup?
    I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% sure. Any tips or
    advice would be greatly appreciated. Kudos

  10. Hi, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, terrific blog!

  11. My partner and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might as well check things out.
    I like what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward to exploring your web page for a second time.

  12. Thanks for any other magnificent post. The place else could anybody get that type of information in such an ideal means of writing?
    I have a presentation next week, and I am on the search
    for such information.

  13. whoah this weblog is fantastic i love reading your posts.
    Stay up the good work! You realize, a lot of persons are looking around for this information, you could aid them greatly.

  14. I am not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this info for
    my mission.

  15. This design is steller! You most certainly know how to keep a reader
    amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
    I really loved what you had to say, and more
    than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *