by Uygar Baspehilvan, student of International Relations at KCL
Nuclear Warfare. What a fun concept for a nerd to talk about. Millions of people evaporating on the spot, a huge mushroom cloud, cities erased from the map and the ends of the world and every single living being in existence. It’s funny how the idea of a nuclear apocalypse has found a considerable place in contemporary pop culture and how people treat this issue like a fun reality that will happen eventually. Well, it’s not fun and it’s definitely not an inevitable fact that will happen eventually. Our journey towards absolute non-proliferation and elimination of existing nuclear weapons will be a hard and challenging one, yet it is not impossible if we learn to trust, cooperate and try to strike deals instead of radically opposing the rights and wills of other states. Although the potential deal between Iran and United States about Iranian nuclear weapons issue showed a promising future for cooperation and most importantly trust building, the problems that arise with the response of Republican congress and newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu clearly showed that the human race has a long way to go to find solutions to such problems.
On March 24 2015, another deadline will be passed over by the American congress without an agreement on what to do with the problem of a potentially-nuclear Iran. “Post March 24 and absent an agreement, there is no mechanism left to further delay the legislative process from moving forward”. Non-proliferation talks that started in 2013, continued with economic sanctions imposed on Iran. This March, for maybe the first time, it seemed like we were close to striking a deal. However, “As another round of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 countries wrapped up in Montreux, Switzerland, on March 4th, there were still gaps between the parties.” Although Iran demands the removal of all sanctions against their nuclear proliferation and Obama is capable and partially willing to do that in face of a deal, the continuing divide between Congress and Obama is a sure problem for a progressive settlement. If agreed upon, in exchange for relief from sanctions, Iran today is ready to accept the international monitoring of their uranium enrichment program . This attractive deal, however, faces the problem where Iran, after 2025, will be allowed to expand their nuclear efforts -even though they claim it will be peaceful-. This segment of the potential deal faced massive criticism from the congress and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu who fulminated against the prospect of such a deal in his speech to America’s Congress, where he was invited without the President’s permission, on March 3rd. Claiming it merely “paves Iran’s path to bomb”, Netanyahu declared that a nuclear Iran would “put the world under the shadow of nuclear war.”
United States Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “You don’t have the right to modify an agreement reached executive to executive between leaders of a country”. Frustrated by the open letter that Congress sent to Iran saying any deal would only last as long as President Barack Obama, a Democrat, remains in office. Kerry declared, “It is incorrect when it says that Congress can actually modify terms of an agreement at any time. That is flat wrong”. This divide clearly indicates substantial problems for United States and its international legitimacy. The problem of a nuclear Iran is obviously not merely a national issue as we can see from the extensive inclusion of P5+1 in the talks and it is only irrational and counterproductive for United States to intermingle its domestic problems with an international debate. As this Republican Congress-Democrat President matter leaves for an unnecessary clash between the parties, the loser is not the including parties, but the United States capability of fast and precise decision-making and its consequent implications for international crises such as this. The Republican vs Democrat divide is getting dangerous and if Obama or the congress members do not compromise and cooperate during such problems, the image of a weak and undecided American strategy making will endure.
In addition to the domestic political divergence of ideas and its ramifications on U.S. decision making, the appearance of a direct Israeli influence in American foreign policy issues is another possible blow to American legitimacy. Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s aggressive speech in American congress greeted with raucous applause from the Republicans and further consolidated the domestic disputes in Congress. Netanyahu, in his speech, declared that “To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen. But that, my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.” This decisive stance and the response he received from the congress points out to a larger problem for U.S. legitimacy than a deal with Iran. Israel’s indirect influence on United States foreign policy definitely poses a threat for United States legitimacy. In the midst of a growing international criticism to Israel’s and particularly Mr. Netanyahu’s policies (accelerated after Gaza killings last summer), the image of a strong Israeli influence and lobbying would be detrimental for the talks and U.S. relations with other P5+1 countries. Communication is a crucial factor for Iran Nuclear deal, and neither P5+1 countries nor Iran itself would be willing to positively communicate and cooperate with a United States whose decisions seem to be made by Israeli’s controversial PM.
So, if further antagonizing Iran (if that’s even possible) and complying with Netanyahu’s wills and campaign is not the solution, what is the solution to Iran nuclear proliferation? I think that, for a moment, the Obama administration finally grasped the crucial reality of the nuclear deal when they offered a more cooperative and interdependent solution; that they can not prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons in the long term without having a direct military conflict with Iran, which is the worst possible end for United States. Firstly, any direct military action towards Iran will aggravate the belligerence of Iran’s supporters or the so-called “rogue states”, most importantly Russia and China. Secondly, by further provoking Iran- one of the few countries that actually do something about growing Islamic State threat- United States would take a risk that it can’t afford taking right now; losing the support of the Islamic society, especially Iraq. And thirdly, United States’ almost doctrinal determination to avoid an endless conflict similar to Iraq in 2003 will make a military confrontation with Iran, “the darkest timeline” for the U.S.
Is the “Obama deal”, the most suitable deal to prevent Iran from proliferating nuclear weapons? No. But it is certainly important to increase Western monitoring of Iran’s actions. I regard imposing Western wills to non-democratic countries today to be impossible without directly infringing the sovereignty of the said states. Either a nuclear deterrent or a direct military intervention is needed to stop Iran from starting nuclear testing as it is their natural sovereign right to develop technologically as it is for Western states. If we can not stop Iran from building a nuclear arsenal, the best we can do, is to make them a part of the system. Through cooperation and although it sounds extremely Utopian and Kantian right now, “trust building”, Western democratic states can at least “invest” on a deeper Iranian integration with the international society. Policymakers of both sides, especially U.S., should cease looking to this problem from a radical single-minded perspective and approach these countries as “equal sovereign states” instead of “evil and malicious” entities and act realistically and rationally towards their rights, actions and long-term strategies. U.S. can’t and should not afford militarily intervening to Iranian sovereignty right now or 10 years from now as it is not the solution. The proposed deal about sanction reliefs and monitoring was a good start for a rationalistic and cooperative agreement because radically opposing to every single proposition your adversary makes is obviously not a way of finding solutions. If you can’t fight it, integrate it. A Future Iran who is deeply assimilated into the bureaucracy of the modern society with limited space for action is the lesser of two evils and the “Obama deal” is a good start.
Sources: The Economist, Daily Republic, Reuters, Jerusalem Post, The Guardian, The Washington Post