Appeasement Debate Still Relevant Indeed! by Philipp Müller

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph by Mark Kirk, a U.S. senator, just proves how relevant the appeasement debate still is.

So when negotiations with Iran begin tomorrow, it is no exaggeration to say that David Cameron must choose between two Conservative legacies – that of Winston Churchill, or that of Neville Chamberlain.”

The first of this pair would call the offer on the table at Geneva what it is – appeasement. He would opt to maintain maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime until its Supreme Leader fully dismantles his entire nuclear programme and ends his global sponsorship of terrorism. He would not trust a barbarous dictatorship which, as he said in that 1938 speech, “derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution”.

Chamberlain, by contrast, would see a nation turning inward after years of war abroad and economic stagnation at home. He would agree to provide Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for superficial, face-saving concessions that would leave its rulers with the capability to pursue a nuclear breakout in the future. To paraphrase Churchill, he would choose dishonour and inherit war.

It is obvious from this quote that Senator Kirk has either no clue or does not care why Chamberlain was appeasing Nazi Germany. He does not seem to know the reasons behind Chamberlain’s decision, which I outlined in my previous article, and probably assumes that the Prime Minister was a fool or a coward or both. Senator Kirk may want to read my article to find out the strategic, geopolitical, legal and moral reasons why Chamberlain did what he did.

Kirk thinks that Iran is a huge threat to the United States similar to the way that Nazi Germany was a threat to its neighbours. However, Iran suffers from an economic crisis and hyperinflation, which have been caused partly by Western sanctions, and its conventional armed services are very weak. On the other hand, Nazi Germany had the second biggest economy in the world and its military was the best in the world (as it would prove during the Second World War). Nazi Germany was also bent on territorial expansion and aggression, while the Islamic Republic of Iran has not attacked a single state since its creation in 1979. The U.S. is in no danger whatsoever of losing a conventional war against Iran, unlike Chamberlain’s Britain which faced the prospect of losing a war against Nazi Germany in 1938. Even if Iran develops nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and manages to put nuclear warheads on its missiles, which is rather difficult, it will not pose a big threat to the U.S. For every potential Iranian nuclear warhead, the Americans have thousands. The U.S. is in a position of overwhelming power compared to Iran, something which Neville Chamberlain could have only dreamt of.

It is very easy to blame Neville Chamberlain for appeasing Nazi Germany if one does not know or does not consider the constraining circumstances he had to deal with. It is also very easy to say that one will not “appease” another state if you are far more powerful than it is.

A final point: Actually and ironically, it is Iran that is trying to appease the United States in the upcoming negotiations in order to avoid getting attacked by the Americans and to have all or at least some of the sanctions lifted while the U.S. is threatening with war if its demands are not fulfilled. It is the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, and not David Cameron, who has to choose between appeasement (making concessions) and resistance (refusing to make concessions). Unfortunately for him, he cannot simply agree to give away a slice of another country’s territory to appease an aggressive power.