Wednesday, April 6, 2016
The Missiles of Spring
The 2015 Iran negotiated six-party agreement (endorsed in U.N. Resolution 2231) was all about eliminating nuclear weapons development as an exchange for lifting the economic sanctions. Hardliners on both sides of the transaction lambasted the agreement, with GOP candidates pledging to kill the deal and rein in Iran with renewed sanctions over that country’s missile program.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has unabashedly courted the Republican majority in Congress, continues to lobby his GOP allies to put the kibosh on the Iran nuclear weapons deal. If a Republican should win the White House, no one expects the U.S. to hold to that agreement, but unless the remaining signatory-nations agree to re-impose sanctions, a unilateral action by the U.S. is unlikely to dent Iran’s economic aspirations much.
Nonetheless, Iran is testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, a fact which has disturbed Western powers and the U.N.’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, alike. Within Iran itself, there is a struggle between religious leaders and the militant Revolutionary Guards, on the one hand, and the more moderate factions of the popularly-elected government (past and present), on the other. The ultimate power, however, always lies with Iran’s religious leader.
“Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported last year's nuclear deal with world powers but has since called for Iran to avoid further rapprochement with the United States and its allies, and maintain its economic and military strength.
“‘Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors,’ Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, was quoted as saying by his website… ‘If the Islamic Republic seeks negotiations but has no defensive power, it would have to back down against threats from any weak country.’… His comments may have been directed at former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the de facto leader of a more moderate political alliance, who last week tweeted ‘the future is in dialogue, not missiles.’” Reuters, March 30th.
Having made concessions to current President Hassan Rouhani in approving the nuclear containment accord, Khamenei is now seeking to placate his right wing hardliners with tough talk and a strong missile program, walking a fine line between maintaining military strength and violating the accord.
On the practical side, using the United Nations to reinstate sanctions based on Iran’s development of missile with a primary value of delivering nuclear warheads might be a non-starter. The move would have to be implemented through the Security Council.
“The United States and several European powers said the tests defied a U.N. Security Council Resolution that calls on Iran not to test nuclear-capable missiles, in a joint letter seen by Reuters on [March 29th].
“However, Washington has said that a fresh missile test would not violate a July 2015 accord under which Iran has restricted its disputed nuclear program and won relief from U.N. and Western financial sanctions in return…
“U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that Iran's ballistic missile had caused ‘alarm’ and it would be up to the major powers in Security Council to decide whether fresh sanctions should be applied… But Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, said the tests did not violate Resolution 2231.
“‘You may like it or not that Iran launches ballistic missiles – but that is a different story. The truth is that in the 2231 resolution there are no such bans,’ Interfax cited Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the ministry's department for non-proliferation and arms control, as saying… Iran has consistently denied its missiles are designed to carry nuclear weapons.” Reuters. A Republican President would likely interpret Iran’s moves as a violation, notwithstanding the above, and move to reinstate the sanctions, however ineffective such a move might be without either support from the U.N. or all of the other five nations in that six-party accord.
There is a belief among Western supporters of the Iran nuclear accord that rapidly-rising economic growth in Iran likely from the end of sanctions will imbue that country with way too much to lose in embracing a policy of military conflict with the West. Since much of the world perceives the United States as an inept bully – having effectively used its military might in two huge losing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan – U.S. foreign policy credibility hangs in the balance. A go-it-alone reinstatement of sanctions, without garnering support from the other treaty signatories, is a futile gesture, since Iran would otherwise be free to trade with the rest of the world, and it unlikely that the U.S. would stop doing business with nations like China, the U.K., France and Germany.
Policy without practical impact, actions that do not remotely accomplish the stated goal, undermine our credibility. If we want to have an impact and avoid becoming isolated and decreasingly relevant in world affairs, the United States must learn to embrace a leadership role consistent with the goals of the overwhelming majority of our allies. Go-it-alone or in conjunction with one other national interest just doesn’t cut it anymore. It just sinks our ability to operate on an international stage and forces us to embrace really costly military action on our own, an unsustainable path.
I’m Peter Dekom, and while we most certainly need to pressure Iran to reduce its overall military capacity – particularly in the destabilizing arena of ballistic missiles – we need to operate in concert with the global forces that parallel our efforts.