Charles Krauthammer

Iran has pulled off a tidy little success with its seizure and subsequent release of those 15 British sailors and marines: a pointed humiliation of Britain, with a bonus demonstration of Iran's intention to push back against coalition challenges to its assets in Iraq. All with total impunity. Further, it exposed the utter futility of all those transnational institutions -- most prominently the European Union and the U.N. -- that pretend to maintain international order.

You would think maintaining international order means, at a minimum, challenging acts of piracy. No challenge here. Instead, a quiet capitulation.

The quid pro quos were not terribly subtle. An Iranian "diplomat" who had been held for two months in Iraq is suddenly released. Equally suddenly, Iran is granted access to the five Iranian "consular officials" -- Revolutionary Guards who had been training Shiite militias to kill Americans and others -- whom the U.S. had arrested in Irbil in January. There may have been other concessions we will never hear about. But the salient point is that what got this unstuck was American action.

Where then was the EU? These 15 hostages, after all, are not just British citizens, but under the laws of Europe, citizens of Europe. Yet the EU lifted not a finger on their behalf.

Europeans talk all the time about their preference for "soft power" over the brute military force those Neanderthal Americans resort to all the time. What was the soft power available here? Iran's shaky economy is highly dependent on European credits, trade and technology. Britain asked the EU to threaten to freeze exports, $18 billion a year of commerce. Iran would have lost its No. 1 trading partner. The EU refused.

Why was nothing done? The reason is simple. Europe functions quite well as a free trade zone. But as a political entity, it is a farce. It remains a collection of sovereign countries with divergent interests. A freeze of economic relations with Europe would have shaken the Iranian economy to the core. Yet nothing was done. "The Dutch," reports The Times of London, ``said it was important not to risk a breakdown in dialogue.'' So much for European solidarity.

Like other vaunted transnational institutions, the EU is useless as a player in the international arena. Not because its members are venal but because they are sovereign. Their interests are simply not identical.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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