I want to start this piece off with an obvious, yet necessary disclaimer: I am not a scientist, therefore I have very limited knowledge on the technical details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (The Iran Deal). It is for that reason that this will be closer to a broader theoretical analysis than a point by point scientific argument on the merits of the deal. For that I will defer to Energy Secretary and key negotiator Ernest Moniz. I will instead attempt to defend the deal, or at least the core principles behind it, by examining the world in which it was crafted from one of the three levels of analysis. Those levels, or images, come from Dr. Kenneth Waltz’s seminal book “Man, the State, and War” and are the individual policy makers, the key states in the negotiating process, and the status of the international system. Due to the exploratory nature of this piece I will focus on the level, which I submit is the most important in this context, the state of the international system.
One of the constant criticisms of the Iran Deal is that the U.S. should have continued to pressure Iran with sanctions, and ultimately leading to a more favorable deal for the U.S. This however is a greatly oversimplified, if not vacuous, view of the world. The United States first imposed sanctions on firms that were suspected of enabling Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the 1990s. Following these sanctions, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found reason to believe Iran was developing a nuclear program, despite being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the international community began to sanction the Iranian regime.
About two decades of economics sanctions has not stopped the Iranian regime from pursuing nuclear energy, yet critics suggest it is simply a matter of resiliency. There are two key factors that their argument overlooks: the first is that many of the United States’ partners are not as willing to continue the sanctions on Iran. Second is the current status of the international system. Resiliency could have worked as a strategy in the aftermath of the Cold War when the United States was the unquestioned global hegemon. However, at this moment in time with an emerging China, a confrontational Russia, and a stronger, more unified Europe, unilateral action from a country still recovering from the Great Recession cannot be successful. As a self-identifying Realist I understand the concerns that Iran may not hold up their end of the deal, but it is that same Realism which leads me to believe that Iran, being the self-interested actor that we all know it to be, will avoid violating the terms of this deal for their own benefit.
The critics of the deal, many of whom were opposed to it before it was even finalized, appear to be dissatisfied because Iran did not capitulate to every single one of our demands. This was not the United States dictating binding terms to a subordinate state; this was a negotiation between equals (theoretically speaking anyway). As I conceded in my opening disclaimer my knowledge on the subject matter is very limited; however from the text of the document and various summaries available for those of us not fluent in nuclear science jargon, it seems to be reasonable.
Another main concern is not necessarily the deal itself, but our negotiating partner. I share the concerns that Iran is not a reliable partner, however it makes more sense to set up a framework and prepare for any possible consequences that may come as a result of that agreement than it does to go on without any deal in place. If they indeed have no respect for international law and are going to pursue nuclear weapons, this deal is at the very least a minor obstacle to that goal. While this is a possibility a Realist such as myself cannot ignore, and therefore will not attempt to counter this point, I will say the following: Just as we have to live with the hypothetical possibility that there might be nothing that will stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear deal if they are as committed to acquiring one as some critics insist they are, they have to live with the reality that the United States has the strongest military on earth. Not only do they have to take that into consideration, but since this was done with the backing of the international community, the consequences go beyond what the United States can do unilaterally.
Iran will have to deal with the global response if they violate the agreement and the same statement can be said of the United States if Congress does not ratify the Deal. Stepping away at this point will hurt American prestige around the world. We have a reasonable deal set in place, if Iran tries to manipulate their way out of some key provisions we should reserve the right to react appropriately. However, that does not include stepping away before it is even enforced. Foreign policy should not be a partisan issue, but with a few exceptions it seems that the upcoming vote on this will be. Debate is needed for a democracy to flourish, but once this ultimately goes through as expected it would be best for the opponents of the deal to accept the reality and for the United States to carry on as a single entity with one message on matters of national security. This is not the appropriate setting for political gamesmanship.
Dardan Gjonbalaj is a Master’s candidate at Seton Hall University specializing in foreign policy analysis and international security.
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