European Council on Foreign Relations

Iran and the E3+3: waiting for Mr. President

Late last month, the electoral campaign for the 11th Iranian presidential elections scheduled for 14 June officially began, opening the floor to the competing candidates to promote their views in TV debates, in an attempt to gain the Supreme Leader and the voters' endorsement.

The Council of Guardians – a 12-member body charged with overseeing the compatibility of presidential hopefuls with constitutional criteria – concluded its vetting process on 21 May, saying that just eight out of 686 candidates can run. In view of the eight men's profiles, it seems likely the candidates’ standpoint on the nuclear issue and on Iran's strategic posture toward the West might be the main issue in the vote in June. Three of them have been involved – in different degrees and under different administrations – with the nuclear dossier and have held negotiations with the E3+3 (Britain, France,

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Asian strategic competition on the stage

A seat at the table of the Asia security summit, more commonly called the Shangri-La Dialogue, allows one to watch the strategic dance that is being played on the public stage of the meeting, and more discreetly in the hallways. Over the years, the Shangri-La has become the main venue for defence ministers and other high officials from Asia-Pacific countries – with an increasing participation of European, and particularly British and French, officials. But it is a peculiar exercise, where these officials also compete with each other on stage, with a limited but real range of questions addressed at each of them: not all defence ministers excel at this Q&A game.

This year, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a life-long politician, won the game easily. Shirking black suit and matching tie for a sports jacket, joking about his own limited expertise, he painted a picture of the DoD

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Arming Syria’s rebels is a red herring

Yesterday’s focus on the arms embargo issue at the European Foreign Minister’s meeting was something of a red herring. Despite the decision to drop the embargo, there are no plans to consider arming for at least two months, while any eventual arming will be extremely limited and subject to export license and other restrictions that apply to conflict situations. Any weapons flow will also be severely constrained by domestic political caution driven by fears of potential blowback. Given that the impact of such arming will therefore be relatively minor, the meeting was akin to a very public discussion of how best to bluff a weak hand in a poker match – not a good idea.

The West is, quite simply, ill-equipped to win a proxy arming race if its support for rebels prompts Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to increase their military backing of the regime. And that is exactly what has happened.

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Assessing the French White Paper

In the follow up to ECFR’s recent European Strategic Cacophony Brief co-author Olivier de France was interviewed by Bruxelles 2’s Marine Formentini about the new French strategic defence review and some of the brief’s main conclusions. The interview originally appeared in Le Club de B2

It was kindly translated by Laure Taillandier and Sandro Luytens.

MF: So what exactly should a national white paper look like?

OdF: A white paper or strategic defence review is only useful if it frames the strategic goals of the country in light of future and existing risks and threats. This in turn should help to define and adapt the optimal size and configuration of their armed forces, in light of the most recent geostrategic developments, and within the limits of the funds a country wishes to allocate to its defence.

Strangely, most national white papers in Europe do not fulfill such

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Attention on Bahrain


Before the Arab Awakening, perhaps the only reason outsiders would take note of Bahrain was the country's annual Grand Prix. Accordingly, since the outbreak of revolutionary fever in Bahrain in 2011 and the ensuing state crackdown, the country's opposition has lobbied hard for the organisers and sponsors of the annual F1 Grand Prix to withdraw their support and cancel the race. The push comes as part of wider efforts to push back against broad governmental and commercial support the Bahraini government has received in the aftermath of the country's stifled uprising.

Aside from the absurd wittering of F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone who offered to mediate between the country's polarised groups and the steady outrage and documentation of Bahrain's human rights groups, it is not clear whether protests will refocus international attention on the country's ongoing political crisis. The

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