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Diplomatic Fallout: Europe’s Struggle for Strategic Competitiveness, Part I

Monday, Nov. 25, 2013

The European Union, most often preoccupied with its economic problems over the past few years, grappled with two strategic challenges last week. The first involved a tug-of-war with Russia over Ukraine. The second centered on Geneva, where the union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, chaired talks on Iran’s nuclear program. The EU appeared to fail the first test, as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych stepped back from approving an association agreement with the bloc under pressure from Moscow. By contrast, the Geneva negotiations culminated in seeming success, as Tehran agreed to temporarily curtail its uranium enrichment in exchange for mild sanctions relief while talks for a comprehensive deal continue. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lauded Ashton’s “stewardship” of the process.

The two episodes offered something that European foreign policy debates often lack: excitement. Discussions of Brussels and the world frequently oscillate between grand statements of principles and institutional minutiae. Yet the stakes in Ukraine and Iran are real and significant. Ukraine has become a trial of the EU’s ability to manage its unruly neighborhood and stop Russia from reasserting control over former Soviet states. Iran has tested Europe’s ambitions to project diplomatic clout in the wider world. ...

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