Lessons from the Interim Agreement with Iran

By Dana Schwarz

As the P5+1 attempt to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Iran that limits its nuclear program, it is worth drawing some lessons from the interim agreement they signed last November. Known as the JPA, or “Joint Plan of Action”, it is a good illustration of Iran’s shrewd negotiating strategy of extracting as many concessions as possible while minimizing its own concessions to actions that can be reversed or counteracted in the future. Additionally, critical components of the nuclear program such as military nuclear activities were not covered by the agreement. The Iranian regime has been able to use the ambiguous language of the agreement to continue advancing centrifuge research and development, a factor that could greatly speed up and increase their output of enriched uranium.

Firstly, the Iranian regime is benefiting from extensive sanctions relief and a much improved business atmosphere because the P5+1 drastically underestimated the sanctions relief they decided to give to Iran. While estimated at $6-7 billion, the actual relief is closer to $20 billion. This miscalculation was mainly due to a failure to consider the role that expectations play in economics, as well as the benefits of a stronger currency value.Oil revenues have increased dramatically, as have economic activity and job creation in the auto and petrochemical industries as well as the numerous associated small industries. In the future, the P5+1 will need to be more astute in their predictions of sanctions relief, and remember to take into account market psychology. In addition, sanctions relief should be back-loaded so that the strongest sanctions are lifted after the biggest Iranian concessions have been implemented.

Secondly, the Iranian regime succeeded in extracting highly significant and irreversible concessions from the P5+1. The JPA states that any comprehensive agreement will be limited in duration, and, that after it expires, Iran will be treated like any other Non-Proliferation Treaty member. Moreover, the JPA indirectly recognizes that Iran has a right to enrich uranium up to 5{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd}, which contradicts several UN Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all enrichment. Although it is doubtful that Iran would agree to any comprehensive agreement that completely forbids uranium enrichment, moving closer to Iran’s negotiating position even before negotiations for a comprehensive deal began may have contributed to an image of weakness in the eyes of Iranian leaders.

On the other hand Iran has only committed itself to concessions that can be relatively easily reversed. Under the JPA, Iran halted production of 20{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} enriched uranium, is diluting half of the existing 20{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} enriched stockpile to 5{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} and converting the other half to oxide. This may seem like a significant concession but Iran is still maintaining its much larger stockpile of 3.5{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} enriched uranium, which is enough for at least 3 bombs. It is important to note that enriching uranium to 3.5{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} takes 75{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of the total time required to transform natural uranium into weapons-grade uranium. Additionally, the facilities and centrifuges that were utilized to enrich to 20{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} are not being dismantled or left idle, but are now being used to enrich uranium to 3.5{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd}, although this new stockpile must also be turned into oxide.

Moreover, although the Obama administration’s summary of the JPA stated that oxide is “not suitable for further enrichment,” oxide can in fact be turned back into uranium hexafluoride stock and can then be re-enriched. Currently Iran does not have a facility at which to carry out this conversion, but the regime has the resources and skills necessary to build such a facility in just a few months. In fact, Iran’s total amount of uranium oxide (300kg), if reconverted and then enriched to 90 percent, could be sufficient for one nuclear explosive device.  According to the recent agreement that extends the negotiations for another 4 months, Iran will receive access to $2.8 billion in previously frozen assets in return for diluting this uranium oxide further into nuclear fuel, which is more difficult, though not impossible, to transform back into hexafluoride. This concession is still reversible.

Furthermore, the JPA did not require Iran to address the possible military dimensions of the program, so the development and manufacturing of nuclear explosive devices and warheads is likely continuing during implementation of the JPA, although the IAEA continues to demand answers to its concerns. Of particular concern is the Parchin military complex, where the IAEA believes that Iran has conducted experiments with explosives for use in a nuclear weapon.

Thirdly, although the JPA prohibits Iran from installing new centrifuges, the language of the JPA is vague enough to allow Iran to interpret it as permitting them to continue to engage in centrifuge R & D, so long as the numbers or types of centrifuges in Natanz or Fordow are not increased. Thus Iran can advance new centrifuge technology that will help them enrich uranium 3-5 times faster and more efficiently than before, in the event that they decide to break out to produce a bomb. This factor renders the P5 +1 accomplishment of getting Iran to halt production of 20{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} enriched uranium and dilute half and convert the other half to oxide somewhat insignificant. With improved centrifuges, Iran will be able to make up for lost time rather quickly. In fact, advances made in centrifuge R & D could undermine the small delay (less than a month or so) in breakout time that the JPA accomplished.

An argument can still be made that Iranian progress towards nuclear weapons may have proceeded even more rapidly in the absence of the JPA. Nevertheless, the interim deal is an essential lesson in Iranian negotiating tactics. The principle negotiating strategy of the regime is to maximize the amount of concessions they receive from the P5+1, while limiting Iranian concessions in such a way that the regime preserves its core nuclear capabilities particularly with regards to uranium enrichment and plutonium production. In line with this strategy, no centrifuges were dismantled and no uranium was shipped out of Iran under the interim agreements. Moreover, Iran continues to insist on an industrial scale nuclear program. While the P5+1 insist that Iran scale back its centrifuges to a number in the low thousands, in a recent speech this month, the Ayatollah Khamenei insisted Iran envisions having 190,000 centrifuges in the future. An agreement is unlikely to be concluded due to Iranian recalcitrance to limit their nuclear infrastructure. The Iranian regime may then seek to extend the flawed JPA indefinitely. Therefore, added leverage against Iran is needed to facilitate an agreement. Passing crippling sanctions that would go into effect after 4 months have expired and no agreement has been reached, could force the Iranian regime to change course.

The experience of the JPA illustrates that the Iranians have been able to use loopholes, reversible compromises, and ambiguous language to avoid making serious concessions, all the while appearing conciliatory and gaining significant sanctions relief.

Looking to the future, it must be understood that failing to cover certain significant aspects of the Iranian nuclear program such as potential military dimensions and ballistic missile development is tantamount to acceding to the status quo. If not dealt with in the comprehensive agreement, it is highly unlikely that these issues will be resolved in the aftermath, after sanctions have been lifted.  In order to avoid the pitfalls of the JPA, the P5+1 should not be fooled by Iranian compromises that seem like concessions but are actually easily reversible paths to producing a bomb. Finally, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure including its centrifuges and stockpiles should be dismantled and limited to such an extent that Iranian breakout time is extended by years rather than months, in order to give the international community enough time to discover an attempted Iranian breakout and coordinate an effective response before a nuclear weapon is produced.

Dana has a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in Security and Diplomacy Studies from Tel Aviv University. In the past she has coordinated State Department-sponsored professional exchange programs. She is currently an intern on Capitol Hill, and has expertise in Middle East affairs and nuclear non-proliferation.

Banner photo: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, from left center, prior the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and US) and Iran, Tuesday, 17. June 2014 in Vienna, Austria.’  Credit: Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, https://www.flickr.com/photos/minoritenplatz8/14464223293/in/photostream/ 

By Elizabeth Pond

Willy-nilly, the Ukraine crisis turned German Chancellor Angela Merkel into the geopolitical as well as financial leader of Europe.

President Joachim Gauck, in the company of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and newly-minted Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, started to campaign for a more muscular German foreign policy at the Munich Security Conference last February. But it took Russia’s seizure and impending annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in March to make Merkel drop her instinctive leading from behind, a style that was especially conspicuous in foreign policy.

The chancellor’s uncharacteristic summons to a robust Western response was issued in the Bundestag on March 13, two days after the new government that had been installed in Crimea by force of Russian arms declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join Russia—and three weeks after Russian security officials were implicated in the shooting of more than a hundred peaceful demonstrators for democracy in central Kiev.

“Relations among European states were marked for centuries by rivalry, changing alliances, and over and over again by terrible bloodshed” that culminated in the Shoah, she began. The fact that this “terror” was succeeded by more than a half century of European integration and resulting “peace, freedom, and prosperity […] still borders on the miraculous.”

For the daughter of an East German pastor who won a doctorate in physics and entered politics only in her mid-thirties after the Berlin Wall fell and the two Germanys were unified as a single democracy, this was no boilerplate. It was a statement of sorrow that that miracle of peace had been shattered by the first military land-grab in heartland Europe since 1945—and of determination that this recidivism to might-makes-right must be stopped from spreading.

Despite the interdependence of today’s globalization, Merkel explained in her somber speech, the seizure of Crimea reverted to the “conflict of spheres of influence and territorial claims” practiced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, “a conflict we thought we had overcome.” The forthcoming referendum on Crimean secession on March 16 was illegal under the Ukrainian constitution and violated the country’s territorial integrity. “The law of the mighty is being pitted against the might of law.”

Neither the European Union, the United States of America, “nor indeed Russia, none of us can still confine itself in the twenty-first century to thinking only in its own interest” regardless of others. Any country that does so “will harm itself sooner or later. […] The action of Russia in Ukraine is an unambiguous breach of the principles of international law,” she proclaimed.

Both the U.S. and the EU flatly ruled out military intervention in Ukraine, which had puny armed forces clustered in the west rather than on the eastern border with Russia, was not a member of the NATO alliance, and lay on the “borderlands” where Moscow had both a vastly higher stake in the outcome than the West did and a looming powerful army that would dominate any escalation of violence. The West therefore countered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s near-term conquest in Crimea with financial sanctions that could bite only in the long term. The challenge would be to calibrate the response in the indeterminate medium term by walking a fine line that avoided both historic mistakes of sleepwalking into World War I in 1914 and appeasing a bully in 1938.

To keep the balance, Merkel would have to perform four roles. She must coax the EU’s twenty-eight diverse members to unite in a fraught and costly common task of rescuing the economic and political basket case of Ukraine, a task they shrank from. She must coordinate Europe’s Ukraine policy with an American president who tended to view foreign policy as a distraction from his primary domestic calling and from constituents who had wearied of being the world’s policeman. She would soon be, in effect, the only Western leader still able to communicate with a Russian president who was bent on revenge for the Ukrainians’ humiliation of him in making an empty shell of the Eurasian Union he had designed to restore Russian greatness. And at home she would have to revive what American analyst Paul Goble calls the “potent alliance within Western countries” that existed during the Cold War “between those concerned with the promotion of democracy and human rights and those concerned with the pursuit of economic profit.”

Europe and Ukraine

The European Union promised at its formal inception two decades ago that all European countries that met its high free-market and democratic standards were welcome to join the club. Six Central European countries that had belonged to Moscow’s external empire during the Cold War and the three Baltic states that had belonged to Moscow’s internal Soviet empire rushed to reform their economies and governance after the Berlin Wall fell and by 2004 and 2007 were accepted for membership. At that point President Putin distinguished between the West’s NATO military alliance and an economic European Union that had only hesitant embryonic military pretensions. The former he viewed negatively, the latter positively, as a potential partner in a “Greater Europe” that would let Russia preserve or reestablish its hegemony over Ukraine and the post-Soviet Central Asian states.

The European Union experienced growth pangs with its new members and shied away from adding to them the manifest problems of a Ukraine that had a larger population than any existing member other than Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Spain and could easily overwhelm the balance in internal decision-making. After the peaceful “Orange” street revolution in Kiev protested rampant voting fraud in 2004 (when Soviet-style Viktor Yanukovych claimed victory) and forced a rerun of the election that the Orange candidate won, the EU humored Kiev and opened talks about a far-off candidacy for membership. The Orange leaders squabbled among themselves, however, and alienated their electorate so thoroughly that Yanukovych won the presidency in a fairer vote in 2010. He quickly stole the Orange clothes and called for signing an exploratory free-trade “Association Agreement” with the EU—provided that he could do it his way and would not have to reform Ukraine’s oligarchic system or kleptocracy to do so. He just as quickly acquired a reputation as the most extravagant beneficiary of state wealth in the country, a man who seemed never to have learned the folly of killing the golden goose. By 2014 economists calculated that the money siphoned off the state during his term in office by the president’s family and friends could pay off Ukraine’s entire budget deficit of $30 billion accumulated in the same period.

Under the circumstances, Angela Merkel was the most skeptical voice in the EU about the provisionally scheduled signing of the Association Agreement with Ukraine last November. In a stance that critics saw as an excuse for rebuffing Ukraine, she insisted that the minimal rule-of-law precondition for association was release of the ailing Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival and former Orange prime minister whom Yanukovych had jailed on flimsy charges.

In the end the EU was spared a final decision. Yanukovych, despite being a Putin loyalist, angered his patron by trying to start a bidding war between Brussels and Moscow for Kiev’s favor. Putin famously viewed the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the twentieth century’s greatest catastrophe and never perceived post-Soviet Ukraine as a real state.  Along with many other Russians, he regarded Ukrainians as younger and more rustic east Slav brothers who should defer to their Russian elders. He suddenly scotched the Ukrainian attempt to leave the Russian orbit by offering new loans to Kiev while threatening to raise the price Ukraine had to pay for crucial imports of Russian gas. Under this pressure, Yanukovych withdrew his application to the EU.

By then Putin viewed the EU as negatively as he did NATO. The European Union, long since resigned to being deprecated by its own citizens as little more than a bureaucratic labyrinth, was astounded to discover that Putin now regarded the EU as a serious geopolitical challenge to his pet project of a Eurasian Union that critics see as the reconstruction of a Soviet Union lite.

What happened next astonished the EU even more. A generation of young Ukrainians who had grown up in the country’s first durable state in history were so passionate about their love for the EU that they set up a tent city in Kiev’s Independence Maidan (square) to fly Ukrainian and EU flags, demand association with the EU as well as democratic reforms, and protest against Ukrainian corruption. An estimated million participants maintained a vigil at “Euromaidan” over three months of below-freezing weather. By 22 January 2014 Yanukovych grew impatient with the standoff and authorized his riot police to use lethal force; three demonstrators were shot dead.

In the next three weeks six more protesters were killed in Kiev, but instead of intimidating demonstrators, the violence simply spread protests to other parts of Ukraine. On a German initiative—and with the prod of phone calls from Merkel to the resistant Yanukovych, as well as to Putin, President Barack Obama, and other EU leaders—the German, Polish, and French foreign ministers met in Kiev on February 21 just after the bloodiest night of all to mediate between Yanukovych and Euromaidan. Snipers had killed more than seventy demonstrators and riot police had been pushed back from the Euromaidan’s burning barricades by street fighters armed with little more than wooden shields, staves, and Molotov cocktails. After the chancellor told Yanukovych bluntly that this was his last chance to end the confrontation peacefully, he agreed to early presidential elections, a return to the less autocratic 2004 constitution, and formation of an interim coalition government. The Russian representative whom the EU had invited Putin to send to the mediation sat in on the talks but declined to sign the agreement.

Yanukovych’s followers in his clientelist Party of Regions quickly deserted their leader and voted with the erstwhile parliamentary opposition to appoint the new caretaker government. Police vanished from the government district in Kiev. On February 22 Yanukovych fled across the border to Russia, and parliament appointed an interim president and set a vote for May 25 to elect a new one. On March 1 and 2 Putin began sending masked special forces in uniforms without insignia into Ukraine’s Crimea. The outgunned Ukrainian armed forces on the peninsula did not resist. On March 13 Merkel delivered her somber warning to the Bundestag.

Deterrence and Sanctions

Ukraine and the West did not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, nor did the UN General Assembly. They tacitly accepted it as a fait accompli, however, and a special case, given the original quixotic gift of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s.

For the Western alliance, crisis management now turned to the riddle of how to deter any further Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory without putting its own boots on the ground. The issue became increasingly acute as Putin branded the interim Ukrainian government illegal and fascist, ordered Russian military exercises on a 300-degree arc around Ukraine’s northern, eastern, and southern borders, talked of “Novorossiya” as Russian, and in April began sending into eastern Ukraine the same kind of masked, well-armed “little green men” who had installed a pro-Russian government in Crimea. “Novorossiya” was Catherine the Great’s term for a territory that covered eight of today’s oblasts in southeastern Ukraine.

Deterrence was relatively simple on the borders of new NATO members that felt endangered by Putin’s threat to “protect” Russian ethnic minorities (or even just Russian speakers) in Ukraine and other neighboring lands. President Obama rejected Warsaw’s appeal to establish a permanent NATO base in Poland—a step the alliance had avoided in deference to Russia ever since NATO’s first eastern enlargement in 1999. He did, however, deploy eighteen additional fast jets and 600 extra troops to rotate into and out of Poland and the Baltic states.

Other NATO members, including Germany, contributed to the modest buildup. This time around, there was no repetition of Merkel’s 2011 refusal to join NATO enforcement of a United Nations-approved no-fly zone in Libya that extended even to abstention on the key UN Security Council vote and withdrawal of German air force members temporarily from the alliance’s multinational AWACS surveillance crews.

Deterrence of further Russian military encroachment on non-NATO Ukraine was a much harder problem. For various military reasons—including the Russian army’s recruitment cycle and hardening of wet spring earth to support tanks, on top of apparent Russian military caution about mounting an invasion that would succeed quickly but could lead to a lengthy quagmire of guerrilla warfare—Russia’s window of greatest opportunity and Ukraine’s window of greatest danger would be the month leading up to Kiev’s presidential election on May 25.

The West’s main answer to the conundrum was financial and travel sanctions. American intelligence eavesdropping over the previous decade had improved to make digital financial transfers easier to trace. Longstanding Western sanctions finally seemed to be having a positive effect on Iranian nuclear negotiations. And Russia’s economy was sufficiently globalized by 2014 that it would suffer tangibly from financial sanctions over time.

The problem with using this blunt tool for immediate deterrence was threefold. It would take time for the effect of sanctions on the Russian economy to become apparent. It would take even more time for the economic damage to become apparent to Putin, who surrounded himself with an inner circle of fellow ex-KGB hardliners and rarely let economic advisers get through the carapace to tell him about the effect of the Ukraine crisis on capital flight from Russia or the drying up of new foreign investments. Moreover, it would be almost impossible either to fine-tune or, eventually, at a discreet moment, to drop the sanctions, especially in the U.S. Congress.

For these reasons, Merkel wanted to proceed more slowly with escalating sanctions than some in the Obama administration. She wanted to postpone ratcheting up sanctions on individual persons and firms to draconian sectoral levels in order to keep intermediate levels of tougher measures in reserve for signaling. Inevitably, her preference for restraint was interpreted by many in the American commentariat as an attempt—at the cost of principled transatlantic toughness on the geopolitical issues—to protect the huge €79 billion two-way annual German-Russian trade and the 6,000 German firms and 300,000 German jobs that depend on it. Nonetheless, she lobbied successfully with Washington for her preferred course of action.

After a transatlantic spat in early February in which a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State cursed the Europeans for refusing to join the U.S. in threatening sanctions if Ukrainian leaders killed any more Euromaidan demonstrators, the allies made up. The outcome was an initial set of travel bans and freezing of assets held in the West by individuals close to Vladimir Putin (who was held responsible for the violence once Yanukovych deserted his post), followed by two rounds to date of tougher sanctions on select individuals and firms that circled ever nearer to Putin himself. The U.S., Canadian, Japanese, and European lists were coordinated and displayed considerable overlap, but were not identical. Some in Washington argued that imposing ever higher costs on the Russians at a fast pace would impress Putin more, but Merkel managed to persuade Obama to allow for a breathing space and set the May 25 Ukrainian election as the next target date for measuring Russian behavior and responding accordingly.

Merkel and Putin

Tactically, a further advantage of gradualness was to keep Putin engaged in an exchange with the West during the dangerous window of opportunity for any invasion of Ukraine. While talking did not necessarily prevent shooting, it at least inhibited it at the margins. And every additional day in which the Russians did not invade gave Putin one more day to rethink his original rage and humiliation over the Ukrainians’ treason in seeking a European rather than an East Slav and Eurasian identity—and, perhaps, to begin hearing what his own economic advisers were telling him about cost-benefit analyses of the damage that even the initial sanctions are already inflicting on the Russian economy through the fall of the ruble and the projected fall of 2014 GDP as well as capital flight and stalled investments.

Initially, all the major Western heads of government and their foreign ministers participated in a free-for-all of phoning their counterparts in Moscow. The first joint Western attempt to play for time was the April 17 meeting in Geneva to defuse tensions that brought together the foreign ministers of Russia, the provisional Ukrainian government, the U.S., and the EU. Besides getting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to sit at the same table as the foreign minister of a Ukrainian government the Kremlin was still calling illegal, the diplomats reached an agreement to disarm illegal militias, return illegally occupied buildings to their proper owners, grant amnesty to those separatists who did not have blood on their hands, and start “a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and political constituencies.”

The ragtag local pro-Russian gangsters and mercenaries who had been handed buildings in eastern Ukraine by the little green men who had captured them in order to set up the self-declared People’s Republic of Luhansk and People’s Republic of Donetsk in April paid no attention to the Geneva agreement and did not evacuate their premises. Western skeptics therefore dismissed the Geneva exercise as a failure. They dismissed as well the roving “round tables” set up for Kiev and oblast officials to discuss what kind of reasonable local self-government might eventually let oblasts in the east take more local initiatives as an alternative to the kind of decentralization that pro-Russian separatists in the east were championing as a precursor to seceding and joining Russia.

What the skepticism missed was that every added day in which the Russian tanks on high alert did not roll over the Ukrainian border was a gain. It also missed three other points. The first was that while Putin’s denial that Russian soldiers were involved in the original seizure of buildings was easy to disprove, the groups of locals from both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border who then occupied the buildings had their own agendas. They were freelancing by such acts as taking hostages—including OSCE monitors—to use in bargaining with their Russian handlers to obtain more weapons. The second was that Putin may have begun entertaining some doubts about how far he really wanted to go in empowering these deniable but fractious freelancers who might one day bring blowback to Russian border areas. The third was that—according to Ukrainian government officials—Putin may have believed the Russian propaganda about Ukrainian persecution of ethnic Russians in the east and expected them to rise in rebellion in all of Novorossiya, including Odessa. Instead, pro-Russian agents were able to destabilize only two of the eight oblasts.

Merkel was intensely interested in all of these developments, especially as she had to intuit whom she could negotiate with to gain the release of the captured German OSCE monitors (as she did).

A source familiar with some of the content of her subsequent phone conversations with Putin described them: “She never poses the grand questions” about the difference between the European and Slav worlds. Nor does she ever offer “a profession of faith [about freedom], like the Americans.” Instead, she is almost apolitical. She asks with good common sense, “Where can we cooperate? What can we do together?” This pragmatic approach has “served her well” both in the amorphous give-and-take of the European Union and in dealing with Russia. In addition, when Putin argues that financial sanctions on Russia will hurt Germany, she tells him again and again that that is true, but Germany is ready to pay that price, and in the end his present course will hurt Russia more than Germany.

The source continued, “Merkel knows she must not close one door without leaving another door open. It makes no sense just to say no. She has shown herself as not only shrewd, but also intelligent. Putin lies or expounds on the holy Russian culture, and that doesn’t help. It’s unbelievably frustrating. […] But however frustrating it gets, there is no alternative to Europe. […] Ukraine must always remain on the strategic and geopolitical map of Europe.”

He concluded, “Merkel wants to save face for Putin, but the longer the crisis goes on, the harder it is.”

As for Merkel’s final leadership task of reviving Paul Goble’s alliance between Western captains of industry and promoters of human rights, the German chancellor has only begun to fight. She has started to tell the powerful German business association that defends Germany’s €79 billion trade with Russia that it must now subordinate its profits to the higher priority of restoring a rules-based system of peace in Europe. There is little in the public record so far to show that German exporters and importers accept this demand (or that French exporters of helicopter carriers to Russia or British investors of Russian oligarchs’ wealth do either). Already, however, a few German CEOs are said to be acknowledging this necessity in private. And if push comes to shove, Merkel has an 80 percent majority in the Bundestag for enforcing this priority.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s geopolitical leadership of Europe may not be military, but it is robust.

This article was first published by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at John Hopkins University and can be viewed in its original format here: http://www.aicgs.org/publication/merkels-leadership-in-the-ukraine-crisis/

Elizabeth PondElizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist, the author of The Rebirth of Europe, and a former AICGS Fellow.

By Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller and Dr. Daniela Schwarzer

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its efforts to destabilize the transitional government in Kyiv have reframed the relationship between Europe and Russia in Europe’s eastern neighborhood from an uneasy geopolitical balancing into full-on systemic conflict. The competition over Ukraine also puts the rest of the eastern neighborhood at significant risk. The EU together with the United States must now do what it takes to protect Ukraine’s right to choose its future path. The Europeans will have to pay a price for Ukraine’s transformation, and some EU member states will be more vulnerable than others to pressure from Russia. But the cost of not countering Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine would be even higher. Germany will be a key player, given its economic and political power in the EU, its geographical location, and its special ties with Russia.

The immediate task is to stabilize the transition in Ukraine. This will mean incentives and support for Ukraine; effective, targeted sanctions against Russia; and protection for vulnerable states in the neighborhood and in the EU. For the medium-to-long term, the West should prepare for two possible scenarios for its relationship with Russia: a de-escalation scenario, and a “Cold War II.” In both cases, the EU should overhaul its Eastern Partnership policy, providing much stronger political and economic backing for democratic transformation and association with the West. In the latter scenario, the EU should reduce its own vulnerability to Russian action and increase its capacity to project soft and hard power in the region. The external threat has the potential to give decisive momentum to European integration, e.g. in the areas of energy and defense.

Click here for the related publication.


Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller has been a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin since 2009. Before, she served as the director of the Berlin office from 2005 to 2009. 

From 1994 until 2005, Constanze Stelzenmüller was an editor in the political section of the Hamburg weekly DIE ZEIT. From 1998 onwards, she was defense and international security editor; previously, she covered human rights issues, humanitarian crises in Africa and the Balkans, as well as international criminal tribunals. Stelzenmüller holds a doctorate in law from the University of Bonn (1992), a Master in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (1988), and a first state examination in law from the University of Bonn (1985). From 1988-1989, she was a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School. She was a GMF Campus Fellow at Grinnell College in Iowa, a Woodrow Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar in Washington, DC, and a member of the Remarque Forum (a conference series of the Remarque Institute at New York University).

– See more at: http://www.gmfus.org/expert/experts_dirc/constanze-stelzenmuller/#sthash.BZBYsgNG.dpuf

Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller has been a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin since 2009. Before, she served as the director of the Berlin office from 2005 to 2009.

From 1994 until 2005, Constanze Stelzenmüller was an editor in the political section of the Hamburg weekly DIE ZEIT. From 1998 onwards, she was defense and international security editor; previously, she covered human rights issues, humanitarian crises in Africa and the Balkans, as well as international criminal tribunals. Stelzenmüller holds a doctorate in law from the University of Bonn (1992), a Master in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (1988), and a first state examination in law from the University of Bonn (1985). From 1988-1989, she was a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School. She was a GMF Campus Fellow at Grinnell College in Iowa, a Woodrow Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar in Washington, DC, and a member of the Remarque Forum (a conference series of the Remarque Institute at New York University).


Daniela Schwarzer is the Director of the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). She joined GMF’s Berlin office in January 2014.

Before joining GMF, Dr. Schwarzer headed the European Integration Division at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs), Europe’s largest foreign and security policy research institute, from 2008 to January 2014. SWP advises the German government and Parliament in international and security affairs. She joined the Institute in 2005. In 2012-2013, she was a Fritz Thyssen visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and a non-resident fellow of the Transatlantic Academy at GMF. She has been an adjunct faculty member of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin since 2010 and has taught in graduate programs in universities in Europe and China since 2001.


This was originally published by the German Marshall Fund.