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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2676

The Seizure of British Tanker by Iran: is the influence of fragmented West on the wane?

Hemantha Yapa Abeywardena writes from London…

Britain and Iran are on a confrontational path over the seizure of Stena Impero, the British tanker captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards off the Strait of Hormuz, the latest flash point in the Middle East region.

The timing of the incident appears to be hardly accidental: In Britain, Theresa May, the prime minister has almost relinquished her official role; the two contenders of the ruling Conservative Party are vying for the votes of the influential party-faithful for the leadership; by making their displeasure known over President Trump’s comments on the ‘squad’ – the four American congresswomen - Mrs May and the two contenders, who compete for her position , did not curry favour with the White House.

Against this backdrop, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the all-powerful Iranian Supreme Leader, accused Britain of ‘maritime piracy’ this week over the seizure of the Grace 1, Iranian tanker, off Gibraltar. He warned Britain that their action would not go unanswered.

Just two days later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized the British tanker, citing violation of ‘international maritime rules’. It’s clear that the Iranians made the move by strategically testing the political waters.

 

 

On Saturday, France and Germany extended their support for Britain by asking Iran to release the tanker. President Trump, meanwhile, said he would talk to Britain over the incident. He, however, did not forget to add the fact that there would be a new prime minister in Britain - for him to work with, of course.

There is very little surprise at the sentiment expressed by Mr Trump; his relationship with Mrs May, the outgoing British prime minister, deteriorated in the last few days. In short, the US response has been unexpectedly muted, despite Britain being the closest ally of the former in Europe.

At home, the public are angry at the way the Royal Navy shrunk in the recent years in terms of the number of warships, personnel and of course, the budget. The defence minster admitted that the institution that once ruled the oceans is not in a position to provide every single tanker with security that passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

Although the United States started tightening screws on Iran by imposing heavy sanctions and reducing oil exports to zero, the former does not appear to be prepared to foot the bill, when it comes to providing security to the oil tankers that have come under increasing threats from Iran. Nor does it show any willingness to lead from the front, as it used to do in the previous conflicts around the world.

There seems to be little change in the attitude even for the best ally – in its hour of the need. This may be the reason why most of the European allies maintain a mysterious silence over the issue.

Even NATO is quiet about the incident, perhaps waiting to sense the direction of the wind from Washington, before making a statement.

The US Administration under President Trump has been complaining about the lack of financial contribution by NATO members in proportion to their respective GDP. Apart from Britain and five more European countries, the US does not see the contribution it expects of them. The frustration of the administration is clear when it says that the nations must share the burden of policing the Strait of Hormuz.

nato spending

The US, however, sent a fleet of stealth fighters and military personnel to Saudi Arabia at the request of King Salman. The Saudis must have promised to share the cost of military operations in the event of a conflict being broken out.

In short, the conduct of the US – on military front or otherwise – is now almost business-like. This is what President Trump kept repeating during his campaign to be the president of the US; judging by what we see now, it’s clear he really meant it.

Even when President Trump raises his military rhetoric against Iran, he hardly mentions the need of allies, including the NATO, or any other nation – militarily or otherwise. The US administration seems to be prepared to go it alone, leaving even the NATO in a lurch.

Iran may well take into account the fragmented West and muted NATO, when it makes the next move in the coming days, especially when it is being pushed against the wall by the US.

The unpredictability of the mode of action of the US, meanwhile, turns most of the US allies to passive, reluctant spectators in the emerging scenario, rather than active participants embracing a coherent policy.

- Asian Tribune -

The Seizure of British Tanker by Iran: is the influence of fragmented West on the wane?
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