By Maryam Khormaei

Why Germany turned its back on parallel coalitions in Strait of Hormuz

December 4, 2019

Germany recently announced it will not join the French-led mission in the Strait of Hormuz. This is while, not long ago, Berlin’s lack of support for Paris’s position on “the brain death of NATO” became a hot issue.

Berlin’s stance against Paris reinforces the assumption that maybe Germany, on the eve of Brexit, is trying to prevent France to become the dominant power in Europe. The assumption is largely reasonable, provided one does not forget that Germany, in a parallel action, benefits from the cooperation with France to challenge U.S. supremacy and show of power by the EU. 

Britain, from innovation to treason

Where did the idea of creating a European mission in the Strait of Hormuz come from and what countries were involved in it?

What today is known as the French initiative to secure the Persian Gulf was first proposed by Britain in response to the Iranian seizure of the Stena Impero ship in July.

This issue is related to the time before the premiership of Boris Johnson, who follows U.S. President Donald Trump in his extremist policies.

At the time, Jeremy Hunt was serving as the British foreign secretary. Hunt preferred to offer a plan that did not directly involve the EU, NATO and, above all, the United States, in the light of Britain’s ultimate intention to realize Brexit. Instead, Hunt created a far weaker coalition with the participation of the European countries like Norway, which were not a member of the EU. 

The initiative was approved by France and Germany at the beginning because these three countries, as European parties to JCPOA, did not intend to join U.S.-led maritime coalition. The countries did not want to endanger the nuclear deal by assisting the maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

But the plan changed when Johnson took office. Johnson, who was determined to carry out Brexit, did not mind to question the European coalitions and preferred to compete with France and Germany by joining U.S.-led maritime coalition in the Strait of Hormuz. 

The European coalition: From idea to implementation

On November 24, France's Defense Minister Florence Parly announced that a French naval base in Abu Dhabi will serve as the headquarters for a European-led mission to protect Persian Gulf.

Although her announcement formalized the UAE as the headquarters of European-led mission, the decision had been anticipated much earlier and was stated in the August reports.

It was reported that Italy, Spain, Norway, Belgium and Sweden were expected to accompany France, while the Netherlands was not sure to join the European-led naval mission or the U.S.-led coalition. On November 25, the Dutch government formally announced its decision to accompany its European partners. Therefore, the Netherlands will contribute a ship to the French-led naval mission in the Strait of Hormuz for a six-month period starting in January 2020. 

However, for some European countries participating in any extraterritorial mission depends on the approval of the parliament. This issue has become a challenge for Berlin in accompanying Paris. 

Germany constrained by law

From the earliest days when the U.S. was inviting states to create a maritime coalition in the Persian Gulf region, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas opposed the move and insisted on the need to follow diplomacy to reduce tensions in order to preserve the JCPOA.

Germany, like France, was also looking for a European initiative, but what is important now is that Berlin has apparently broken its promise and left Paris halfway. 

But does the decision by Germany ruin the future of the European coalition?

It should be said that, despite refusing to join the coalition, Berlin still politically supports it. What prevents Berlin from joining the coalition is the country’s constitution.

In fact, Germany has set a precondition for its support of the plan. Germany says the French-led initiative must turn into an “EU mission”.  In the current context, the initial core of the plan is still based on the British model, which limits the coalition to the will of the European countries, regardless of direct dependence on the EU and NATO. 

According to the German law, the country is only allowed to participate in a foreign mission if that mission is defensible from the perspective of a "system based on mutual collective security" within the framework the EU, NATO and the UN. Therefore, participation in the coalition proposed by France is not justified from the perspective of the German law.

On the other hand, Berlin’s reason for refusing to join the U.S.-led maritime coalition was not just to preserve the Iran nuclear deal. Legal restraint was also a matter.

Unlike France and Britain, sending forces outside Germany has to be done with the consent of parliament, and almost all German parties are opposed to joining a U.S. mission against Iran.

The fight over establishing security in the Strait of Hormuz represents a small part of the NATO disputes. Currently, there are two parallel coalitions in the Persian Gulf. Iran has approved none of the coalitions, and Germany has not participated in any of them.

At the beginning the U.S. expected 60 countries to join the coalition which was launched under the command of a headquarters in Bahrain in November. At the present time, just Britain, Australia, Albania, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have joined the U.S.-led coalition.

The European coalition has also failed at the outset due to legal obstacles in certain countries in Europe. 

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Parly affirmed European and U.S. coordination in parallel missions in the Strait of Hormuz. At the same time, Parly accused Washington of being indifferent to what happened in the Middle East in the summer, including the incidents of Fujairah port and Oman Sea, as well as downing of a U.S. drone.

The comments by Parly, in addition to what French President Emmanuel Macron had recently said about NATO's brain death, further fuels the domestic crisis within NATO.


 
 

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