Iran Nuclear Deal & What It Means for the Future of International Security Part I: On the Brink of a Diplomatic Breakthrough?

P5+1 Talks With Iran in Geneva, Switzerland

Last Thursday was a historic day for world diplomacy as the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia + Germany) announced a framework for a deal with Iran over it’s nuclear program. Terms will not become final until June 30 but the key points are: 1) Iran dramatically reduces its enriched uranium to 3.67% (uranium needs to be enriched to 90% to make a bomb); 2) Iran’s centrifuges are reduced to 6,104; 3) Iran reduces its uranium stockpile from 10,000kg to 300kg; 4) IAEA has access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities; 5) IF Iran keeps its word, sanctions will be lifted very gradually–some will remain in place still for over 20 years.

Reactions are wide-ranging. Iranians celebrated the possible end to sanctions that prevent them from accessing basic necessities for life–food, medicine, electricity etc. Saudi King Salman, who is fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen expressed cautious hope that this leads to increased peace & stability in the region. French president Francois Hollande points out that sanctions can be reinstated if Iran does not fully comply. Unsurprisingly, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not happy, insisting any deal must include Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist, that the deal endangers the survival of the state of Israel and that his country will not accept it when the terms become final.

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Israel would appear to have little pull in stopping this deal as it is not part of the P5+1. Well, except for the catch. UN and EU sanctions are relatively easy to lift but easing US sanctions require Congressional approval. Hence when President Obama spoke about the framework he began making his case to Congress.

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The president’s foreign policy usually leaves much to be desired but he is absolutely right that “should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it’s doubtful that we could even keep our current international sanctions in place…”

Despite their skepticism, neither Congress or Netanyahu mention any viable alternatives. If there is no deal, there are only two: 1) continuation of the status quo or, 2) war.

Congress would do well to heed the president’s words and remember that the US and Iran were not the only parties at the negotiating table.This is a multilateral deal and countries are eager to do business with Iran; China and India for starters. Assuming Iran complies, the rest of the P5+1 have agreed to lift the EU and UN sanctions. We can refuse to lift ours, but the world may not follow us. Iran may even start to look like a victim. This is just one more confirmation that the US is not ‘indispensible’ anymore. The world is not afraid to oppose us like in years past as seen with the AIIB. If we push too hard we may find ourselves isolated while the world moves on. If that happens, American power really will be in decline.

The Battle Between International Law and National Interests, Part I

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With Russia-Ukraine and Israel’s military assault on Gaza, 2014 seems to be the year of international crises.  Beginning in late 2013 with chemical weapons used in Syria, global crises seem to arise routinely lately.  This is nothing new, international crises have existed since even before the establishment of the nation-state.  However what is different about this current series of crises is the lack of an international response.

This is comparable to western Europe’s appeasement of Hitler before World War II. The world was recovering from the Great Depression and the United States was apathetic to Europe’s troubles, having embraced isolationism.  The burden fell to the western democracies of Britain and France who were weary of reliving another world war, and thus did nothing.

80 years later, the world is recovering from the Great Recession in a highly globalized and interconnected world.  The world is in a phase where countries largely keep to their own borders and are reluctant to act outside them.  This is why despite Europe’s outrage with Russia going back to Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the continent’s response has been lukewarm at best.  As with Syria, the US is trying to muster international engagement in a community of nations that currently pursues national interests above international norms.

But what distinguishes this situation from previous crises is the shifting balance of power.  This trend of globalization and ‘geopolitical isolationism’ is happening against a backdrop of changing polarity.  Which leads me to conclude the world is in a unique situation–a composite akin to pre-WWI and pre-WWII.

Part of the US’ difficulty in mobilizing an international response to global crises is the rise of other powers challenging American hegemony.  Russia, India, China are rising powers who not only want a ‘piece of the power-pie’ but whose national interests lead them away from the West.  The US does not agree with their actions, but cannot intimidate them either.  Despite Britain controlling 25% of the world’s population, in 1914 Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire shared power.  The fear of losing power and the desire to gain power caused the tensions that resulted in World War I.  A century later the US is trying to maintain its influence as other countries such as the BRICS demand shared power.

 The world before WWII was one where countries largely kept to themselves, so fearful of another global conflict and out of economic self-interest.  Likewise the world today is jaded by the international interventions that dominated the 1990s and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but is also still recovering from the Great Recession.