The Iran Deal Goes Nuclear
May 9, 2018 | Yesterday, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, known officially as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). It is news to no one that Trump and his administration have spent months railing against the treaty, calling it the “worst deal ever” and warning that it could allow Iran to create a nuclear weapon. Different analysts will give different answers about what canceling the deal will actually do to security in the region. Some say that the deal keeps the region safer by allowing the UN to monitor nuclear facilities in Iran. Iran skeptics, on the other hand, have said that the deal is not strict enough and that dropping sanctions increases the amount of resources Iran can use to develop a bomb. Regardless, the politics of security in this question are secondary to the fact that reinstating U.S. sanctions will not have the same effect without the support of other signatories, all of whom still support the JCPOA.
By pulling out of the JCPOA, the president may think he is sending a message that the United States will not support any deal with theoretical loopholes that could result in nuclear proliferation. That may be correct and a noble sentiment when dealing with an irrational state like North Korea, but the fact of the matter is that the message has minimal bark and virtually no bite. Previously, Iran has been the best example of the successes of sanctions. The United States targeted Iran with high-level sanctions with the help of powerful allies, creating a strong impact on Iran’s ability to do business with other countries and integrate into foreign markets. Iran has been more severely impacted than other targets of U.S. sanctions (read: Russia), making it a notable success of U.S. foreign policy.
This time around, the U.S. will not be successful. Not only is the United States showing itself to be unworthy of trust and partnership by flipping on yet another deal (e.g. Trans-Pacific Partnership, Paris Climate), it is kneecapping its own ability to negotiate a “better deal” in the future by going the operation alone. Furthermore, when it comes to implementing sanctions, one generally understands that the strategy behind doing so is coercive. A regime does something the United States does not like, so the U.S. sanctions the regime to try and make it change its behavior. There’s no evidence that Iran violated JCPOA, however, other than theatrical claims by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran lied ten years ago about its nuclear program—a lie already known to global powers and a key impetus for the JCPOA. Thus, the reinstatement of high-level sanctions will be strictly punitive, which is not a good incentive for pro-American sentiment in a country that already mistrusts the United States.
Meanwhile Iran has already confirmed that it will stay in the deal with the other JCPOA signatories. Iranian President Rouhani said that Iran honors its deals, unlike the United States—a clear slap in the face to U.S. diplomacy and the president. In the aftermath of the withdrawal, it will be unsurprising to see Iran developing closer links with Russia and China as further diplomatic fault lines develop between the United States and European allies. Furthermore, all eyes will likely be on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang is proved correct in its own mistrust of the United States, while Seoul scrambles to reconcile the U.S. role in North Korean de-escalation and non-proliferation efforts. Following Trump’s announcement, former President Obama called the decision “misguided.” We will all have to hope that it will not soon come to be described as “cataclysmic.”
Kenzy Seifert is a graduate student at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and former Critical Language Scholar.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror as a whole.
Photo by Bundesministerium für Europa with a CC BY 2.0 license.