The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a deal signed between China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union (P5+1) and Iran. The deal was initiated as an effort to promote nuclear nonproliferation in Iran for the next 15 years and would incentivize the sIran by lifting economic sanctions on it. While the effort to promote nuclear nonproliferation in Iran was commendable, the JCPOA might have done the opposite, by helping Iran secure its position on eventually acquiring a nuclear weapon, hence aiding an international security dilemma.
This paper will discuss why the Iran deal was flawed to start with and current implications of the United States withdrawal from it. The problem still needs to be addressed to determine what the next best step would be for Iran, to stay in the JCPOA or exit. Also, the United States has prompted a new agreement that would have stricter terms to Iran to be proposed in place of the current deal. Would this be a good option for the U.S?
A pivotal point in Middle Eastern history was the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. When Saddam Hussein invaded Iran over a territorial dispute, a bitter eight year war was triggered which destabilized the regions and devastated both countries.
Detriments to Iran, Iraq and global involvement finally brought about a ceasefire which ended the war, but painfully, neither actor achieved its war aims . However, according to the Journal of International Security, “The “imposed war,” as it is known to Iranians, caused Iran to view itself as isolated and on the defensive, striving for self-reliance and survival in what it continues to perceive as an unjust international order”. This war has instigated Iran to reshape its strategic outlook and hence its nuclear policies.
In 2002, the Nantanz uranium enrichment facility, a clandestine program run by the Iranian government came to light. Iran had not declared this facility to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a.k.a nuclear watchdogs of the United Nations. This in turn caused a tumbling effect in international security to the countries within the region, allies of Iran, and United States and its allies.
The P5+ 1 which comprised of China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union and Iran which formed the United Nations Security Council. Iran agreed at that point to sign the Iran Nuclear deal, better known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This effort to promote nuclear nonproliferation in Iran was commendable, however, while the JCPOA was intended to counter nuclear proliferation, it might have done the opposite, hence aiding an international security dilemma.
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Jcpoa)
The key requirements of the JCPOA are found in Table 1 of the Appendix 1. At a glance, the deal, was admittedly flawed , but was capable in deterring Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon for approximately 15 years. Under the agreement, Iran would ship 25000 pounds of highly enriched uranium (HEU) out of the country thus reducing its stockpile by 98% and dismantle two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years.
Also, for the next 15 years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67% and will not build any new heavy-water facilities for the same period of time. To monitor and verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, the IAEA will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provides that in return for verifiably abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from U.S., European Union, and United Nations Security Council nuclear-related economic sanctions.
In May of 2018, President Trump announced his exit from the nuclear deal and stated that he will reimpose all sanctions on Iran and companies around the world doing business with the country. This highly controversial move triggered a wave in the Middle East causing a plethora of reactions. Economically, people involved were highly unsatisfied as companies that bartered oil and manufacturing parts like Boeing had made billion dollar deals that were about to fall through. In addition, pulling out of the deal at this time may be an advantage to the nuclear proliferation regime in Iran.
Why Was the Deal Flawed?
While the JCPOA seemed to promote nuclear nonproliferation, the fact is, there were many escalating controversies surrounding the deal. Fast forward to today, three years from when the deal was made, we see these potential flaws come into fruition as discussed in this paper.
When the JCPOA was signed, it did not prevent Iran from eventually developing a nuclear weapon. In order to achieve larger goals in the future, Iran succumbed to the deal while in the meantime enjoying a stronger economy from lifted sanctions. The fact was that Iran was going through an economic drought.
With the JCPOA signed, sanctions relief estimated between $29 billion and $150 billion were provided to Iran. As President Trump argued in May of this year, these concessions have allowed Iran to fund their military budget that has grown almost 40%. Since this statement may be seen as an exaggeration, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute suggests that Iran’s military spending has increased by about 30% adjusted for inflation .
What this says is that with the new found income, Iran has chosen to increase its capabilities to assert regional dominance, potentially supporting terrorism and increased their capability for nuclear weapons. Nothing stops Iran from building a world-class missile arsenal – or trying to buy one. In the last few years, Iran has tested various new ballistic and cruise missiles, each demonstrating growing leaps in technological sophistication and accuracy.
Next, as a part of the JCPOA, Iran is to comply with IAEA inspections. It agreed to declare all nuclear sites, such as the Natanz uranium enrichment facility such that the IAEA would have immediate access. However, for a country that has a history of cheating and corruption, the deal seems ultimately flawed as it allows Iran to deny access to inspectors to up to 24 days.
According to Former weapons inspector, David Albright, “24 days could be enough time, presumably, for Iran to relocate undeclared activities that are in violation of the JCPOA while it undertakes sanitization activities that would not necessarily leave a trace in environmental sampling.” Also, disputes between the IAEA and Iran could easily stretch over 24 days.
According to Reuters, “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday (Sep 27,2018) described what he said was a secret atomic warehouse in Tehran and accused Europe of appeasing Iran as he sought to rally support for U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic .”
Nethayahu proceeds to urge the IAEA to ‘Do the right thing. Go and inspect; go and investigate, The reason Iran did not destroy its atomic facility and warehouse is because it is not finished with them.’ While these allegations remain un-investigated yet, it cannot be simply dismissed especially because of the clandestine history of Iran.
How is Iran an International Security Risk? Terrorism is a security risk for countries around the globe. According to an article titled Iran, Terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction , since 1979, Iran has been one of the world’s most active sponsors of terrorism.
Tehran has armed, trained, financed, inspired, organized, and otherwise supported dozens of violent groups over the years. With such controversial national goals, if Iran decides to potentially share its nuclear technology and knowledge with these extreme hostile groups, there could be severe repercussions from a security standpoint to the United States and the rest of the world. This directly serves as a threat to America and its interests.
Next, a nuclear armed Iran serves as a threat to America’s allies in the Middle East. Israel for one is at the highest risk due to its history with Iran and the fact that there have been instances where Iran’s leaders have declared that Israel “should be wiped off the map ”.
Other allies in the region like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and others would be increasingly threatened by a potentially rogue nuclear armed Iran. As a response to heightening security due to a threatened feeling, Iran’s neighbors too may seek to acquire nuclear weapons, hence the start of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. This would destabilize the already volatile and vital region.
While not likely to happen, President Trump tweeted to President Hassan Rouhani of Iran to never threaten the United States or they will face the consequences (Appendix 2) and as a response, Iran’s president warned the United States that Iran would be the mother of all wars.
These tweets and aggressive statements serve as threats to either nation but if prolonged and with increasing tension between the two countries, Iran and the United States may go to war, threatening international security.
With radical decisions being made everyday about this deal, United States and Iran both are walking on thin ice, where any sudden movement may be detrimental. If Iran exits the JCPOA, it is likely to be categorized with North Korea, hence internationally looked upon as Pariah’s. Staying in the JCPOA and abiding by the imposed sanctions may drain Iran of its economy. The next few months will reveal the true intentions of Iran and its fate in the nuclear realm.