The P5+1 members have signed a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic of Iran they claim “will ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful, and mark a fundamental shift in their approach to this issue.” Predictably, there is significant disagreement over the treaty between liberal and conservatives and between the United States and certain Middle East allies. International relations are complex, though, and sometimes difficult deals must be made.
For example, President Reagan signed an important arms control agreement with the Soviet Union on intermediate nuclear forces. President Reagan’s negotiations were an important step in bringing down the Soviet Union by giving Gorbachev room to implement glasnost and perestroika, which ultimately brought about the dissolution of the “Evil Empire.” That bit of realism on the part of Reagan was also comparable to Nixon’s working with Mao Tse Tung, another murderous tyrant, which helped promote American interests in the region. Like these deals, the current nuclear agreement must be measured by the results, although positive outcomes are unlikely considering the nature of the Iranian regime.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, has openly admitted that Iran wants regional hegemony and global influence. In Foreign Affairs he wrote that “Iran seeks to enhance its regional and global stature; to promote its ideals, including Islamic democracy…” In addition, “Any objective analysis of Iran’s unique attributes within the larger context of its tumultuous region would reveal the country’s significant potential for a prominent regional and global role.” Any realist could have noted this would happen as they assume all states seek regional or global hegemony, but it is important that Zarif openly acknowledges this. Combined with the fundamentalist version and revolutionary zeal of Iran’s Shia Islam, though, makes this a potent and dangerous mixture. Iran already support terrorists throughout the Middle East, and a state that openly claims a desire for regional hegemony will most likely not allow a nuclear deal to stand in its way.
The deal, at least theoretically, is a give and take. The United States, United Nations, and European Union will remove their sanctions and embargo (immediately removing the ban for defensive weapons, in five years for offensive weapons, and in eight years for ballistic technology) in return for Iran’s nuclear program to be placed under international inspections. Furthermore, according to the deal, Iran will only seek peaceful development, which is a right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cannot inspect facilities anywhere at any time, something typically needed for a trusted nuclear agreement. The IAEA will have to give justification for going into a site, but requests to search contentious ones will have to go through a review board. There will also be restrictions on Iran’s nuclear material that supposedly will make Iran at least 12 months away from nuclear weapons for ten years by limiting enrichment levels, a cap on stockpiles of low enriched uranium to 300 kg (about 30% of the required amount for a bomb), and reducing their centrifuges by over 6,000. If there is a violation, the parties have 65 days to resolves the issue before sanctions “snap back.” The important part of the snapback procedure is its design because it allows the snap back to occur with a veto by a permanent member of the Security Council rather than being stopped by one.
Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Secretaries of State, adroitly understood how the deal would take shape even before the final agreement, and they noted several problems would arise because of it. They argued that the deal, “beginning in a decade, will enable Iran to become a significant nuclear, industrial and military power after that time—in the scope and sophistication of its nuclear program and its latent capacity to weaponize at a time of its choosing.” Also, they stated that others in the region, like Saudi Arabia, would seek equivalency with Iran in capabilities because the United States has “traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony.” This could cause a significant imbalance in the region or lead to a war for regional hegemony between the primary Sunni and Shia states.
The nuclear deal is not entirely terrible, if the United States has the will to follow through on the issues. There are problems with verification, but they have included a sanctions regime that could punish Iran for violations. However, there are two problems that the U.S. must deal with if it wants the agreement to truly have merit. First, America must being willing to go beyond the sanctions regime if it feels that Iran is threatening our interests or regional stability. This means President Obama and the next president must be willing to use kinetic action to push back against Iran, including bombing nuclear sites, military targets, and strategically important locations. Second as Kissinger and Shultz state, “Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached, the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region.” America has essentially agreed to Iran’s ascendency over the next decade, and policy makers must establish a grand strategy in the region to prevent complete Iranian political and military domination and encourage stability. If the U.S. can establish a strategy and be willing to use force when necessary, then perhaps the nuclear deal can be compatible with our interests.