The President is Right about Iran

When President Trump is right then he is right. I don’t mean his political or economic views. I mean his opinion about Iran. He is only stating the obvious that international agreements depend upon every signatory abiding by the agreement. History abounds with examples of countries that have negotiated and signed agreements but afterwards have found that the other signatory or signatories have interpreted the wording and meaning of the agreement another way. After the fact crises analysis refer the postmortem in rare instances to genuine misunderstandings maybe in translations while for the main part there is a premeditated intent to gain an advantage through ruse.

The political systems of countries play an important role. Agreements between democracies have more longevity that those between non democracies.  In the latter few agreements outlive the life of the leader who signed it. In the former circumstances might have changed, or sometimes the relative strength of the signatories has changed.

To be sure an agreement between democracies and non democracies poses the most challenging and the Iran Nuclear deal of 2015 is no exception. American President Trump on taking office voiced that the deal was the most embarrassing in history. Various options from outright cancellation, renegotiation, new sanctions and more became headline news.

This was no surprise because back in 2015 when the agreement was reached by the former administration of President Obama it was known that sanctions against Iran were not effective and if the Iranians wanted to build a nuclear weapon, they would do so. So while the agreement in essence ended sanctions against Iran it gave no assurances that Iran would abide by its side. However it could be assumed that Obama weighed the risk involved in going to war against Iran as being too high (militarily, financially, and politically) while the probability that Iran would end its nuclear program was a possibility.

So it would have only been someone really naïve in 2015 at the time of the signing of the agreement who would really have believed that Iran would terminate entirely its missile and nuclear research and development program even if they didn’t build weapons. Now in 2017 it is clear that they have continued their missile program even if the nuclear program is shrouded. The potential threats from Iran are real today as they were then.

So what does this indicate about international agreements such as the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal that has military and economic components? Maybe there is some sort of assumption that such an agreement is justified by the concept of economic leverage. In lifting all sanctions against Iran America could have leverage over Iran economically who would then prefer economic to nuclear might! But this tends on fantasy and illusion because Iran could have both and there is nothing that America could do to prevent this other than war.

The inherent weakness of such an international agreement can be debated further on the same line. There is no certainty that in renegotiating the agreement Iran could be sufficiently punished or coerced to abandon their course. Another uncertainty or illusion is whether the Iranians would build a nuclear bomb if the agreement were to be suspended as is the uncertainty that if the agreement were to continue that it would stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

This leaves President Trump as being right but it doesn’t provide a solution. What can be done? None of the parties to the 2015 agreement have the facility to turn to a court to request a judge to determine if they are upholding their part of the deal and to enforce the others to uphold theirs. There is no such international court or judge.

Either Iran having a nuclear bomb is unacceptable or it isn’t. If President Trump persists down the route of presenting Iran as a threat then he faces the stark choice of accepting Iran as a nuclear power, or waging a war. Now as it was in 2015 it is not a question of whether to have an international agreement because this is a weak option but whether to have a war.

President Trump must now make a decision on how he will proceed as must Israel. If a military strike or full scale war to effect regime change isn’t the chosen option because the 2015 agreement has not assured anything; then Iran can proceed unhindered to research, develop and manufacture nuclear weapons for delivery by its missile program.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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