The US is not up­hold­ing agree­ments, but wield­ing its might uni­lat­er­ally

The Guardian - Journal - - News -

The im­po­si­tion of sanc­tions on Iran is de­signed to curb its “out­law be­hav­iour”, the US says. Don­ald Trump said the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion “can­not prevent an Ira­nian bomb” when he an­nounced the US with­drawal from the treaty in May. This week his ad­min­is­tra­tion re­stored all sanc­tions lifted un­der the 2015 de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion deal and added more (al­beit with a six-month waiver for ma­jor oil cus­tomers).

But the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, the UN body polic­ing the agree­ment, has ver­i­fied re­peat­edly that Tehran has com­plied with its terms. Euro­pean co-sig­na­to­ries agree. Mean­while, Mr Trump has con­tin­ued to at­tack the “worst deal ever” – while boast­ing of progress with North Korea, which al­ready has a nu­clear ar­se­nal and is un­likely to re­duce it, what­ever its nice words. This is not about up­hold­ing rules and com­mit­ments; it is about im­pos­ing might uni­lat­er­ally.

Tellingly, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has shifted its rhetor­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to a laun­dry list of more gen­eral for­eign pol­icy de­mands which it knows Tehran will not and can­not agree to, how­ever de­sir­able some of those mea­sures might be. Its stated aim of a bet­ter treaty does not de­serve to be taken se­ri­ously. Lord La­mont, the UK’s trade en­voy to Iran, says bluntly that the sanc­tions are aimed at regime change, what­ever the US de­nials. The ad­min­is­tra­tion sees or­di­nary Ira­ni­ans as an in­stru­ment; but “ghost ship­ments” and barter with coun­tries such as China, Rus­sia and In­dia will prob­a­bly keep Iran go­ing, and while Ira­ni­ans will face real hard­ship, they are more likely to flee than rise against a re­pres­sive regime.

The big­ger pic­ture is that the nu­clear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion regime it­self is at stake, as Pres­i­dent Macron warned when the US first an­nounced its de­ci­sion. Last month, Mr Trump sig­nalled that the US was with­draw­ing from the 1987 In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nu­clear Forces Treaty, a crit­i­cal pil­lar of the arms con­trol sys­tem. Sup­port­ers say there is no point main­tain­ing a treaty when the other party is not liv­ing up to it; the counter to this is that Rus­sia has suc­ceeded in pro­vok­ing the US to end the deal, giv­ing Moscow en­tirely free rein. Oth­ers claim, not con­vinc­ingly, that the treaty could prove a con­straint in coun­ter­ing China in the Pa­cific. More sig­nif­i­cant surely is the hawk­ish­ness of sec­re­tary of state

Mike Pom­peo and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, who has a vis­ceral loathing of arms con­trol agree­ments – or any­thing that con­strains the US as an in­ter­na­tional ac­tor.

This makes the prospect of re­new­ing the US-Rus­sia New START treaty, the re­main­ing con­straint on the world’s two largest nu­clear stock­piles, even dim­mer. Some hope it might be pos­si­ble to sell Mr Trump a new agree­ment which he could claim as a per­sonal suc­cess, as with North Korea. With Mr Bolton at his shoul­der, that seems a very faint hope. If the deal lapses in 2021, the only im­ped­i­ment to a new arms race will be fi­nan­cial.

Europe is still strug­gling to re­spond. It has at­tempted to counter the weapon­i­sa­tion of the dol­lar via a Spe­cial Pur­pose Ve­hi­cle, a clear­ing house al­low­ing Euro­pean firms to side­step the Iran sanc­tions, but has yet to find a coun­try will­ing to host it. Even if it does, few firms will risk their US busi­ness for Ira­nian deals. Yet as the French fi­nance min­is­ter cor­rectly iden­ti­fied ear­lier this year, this is not only about Iran but about Euro­pean eco­nomic sovereignty. Such mea­sures, even if sym­bolic for now, mat­ter as a com­mit­ment to the in­ter­na­tional or­der and a sign of nascent al­ter­na­tives to US might be­ing wielded er­rat­i­cally and uni­lat­er­ally.

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