Years of painstaking discussion and 18 days of diplomatic frenzy akin to the hothouse environment of a college all-nighter have labored to produce—an abortion.
It is painful for an “ancien combattant” of the arms control wars, well aware that publicly known information is akin to tip-of-the-iceberg so far as the negotiating reality is concerned, to come to this conclusion. But let me compare what is publicly known of the Iran agreement with the textbook case of arms control success: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The nuclear agreement negotiations have some points in common—and some defining differences.
For the INF treaty, the United States and NATO Alliance negotiated with a hostile, threatening USSR. Moscow had deployed advanced, mobile, medium-range missiles viewed by Europeans as both militarily threatening and designed to split NATO’s alliance between its far away North American components (USA/Canada) and those directly threatened (NATO’s Europeans).
The Iran agreement, designed to defer at least (prevent at best) Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, is regarded as uniquely destabilizing for states in the Middle East. These are notably Israel, which regards Iranian nuclear weapons as existential threats, but also other regional states concerned over burgeoning Iranian regional power.
There were fits and starts in the INF negotiations; Moscow broke off when Washington began deploying countervailing intermediate range systems. Not until a substantial portion of the NATO Alliance had accepted such missiles did Moscow resume negotiating.
Nor was there instant agreement upon resumption, but rather a long, tedious process to hammer out agreement to eliminate all medium and shorter range nuclear systems with comprehensive arrangements to review the destruction of these weapons, inspect the bases where they were located, and examine production from a key manufacturing facility.
Then, the Treaty was submitted for Senate ratification; it ran indefinitely. Although a popular proposal, it was hardly a foregone conclusion with hardcore opposition hostile to any agreement with Moscow. Consequently, approximately six months passed from Presidents Ronald Reagan’s and Mikhail Gorbachev’s Washington signatures to Senate approval.
But it was a bedrock agreement, leaving us with the classic sobriquet, “Trust but verify.”
In contrast, the Iran nuclear agreement as announced is akin to a half-completed skyscraper.
- It destroys nothing. Most of the centrifuges designed to enrich uranium at best are mothballed. There is no clear agreement in the future for the overwhelming bulk of the already enriched uranium (10,000 kilograms supposedly to be reduced to 300 kilograms.)
- Verification appears feeble. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not a particularly strong reed. Inspections will not be performed by the United States or the other P5+1 members. Iran’s ability to cheat on previously agreed IAEA inspections is legendary; “anywhere anytime” is not the parameter for contemplated inspection, but rather “managed” inspection with built-in, negotiated delays is.
- President Obama rejects Senate approval. Unlike a Treaty, an “Executive Agreement” doesn’t require Senate approval; instead there will be a 60-day congressional review with Obama promising to veto any negative reaction. Operative still is the earlier Republican statement that the Agreement could be canceled by a subsequent president. Bluntly, Obama knows securing two-thirds Senatorial agreement for an Iran treaty is problematic at best.
- The agreement is not indefinite, but rather one lasting for 10–15 years. Unless there is a comprehensive regime change in Iran, the country would then be free to resume all of the nuclear work that theoretically would be in abeyance; it would be one year away from nuclear capability.
- The fate of sanctions remains unclear. Lifting appears phased but with early, major financial relief.
In media flailing, one tends to forget that Iran has sought nuclear capability since the Shah’s regime. Opposition political figures are as committed to the nuclear program as is current leadership. Only an existential Iranian regime change akin to the decisions by South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina to terminate their nuclear programs would mitigate regional concerns. Otherwise, Iran can be expected to move to nuclear capability when the official agreement ends.
The U.S. approach appears similar to the story of the man facing death from a vicious ruler. The man said, “Give me a year, and I’ll teach your horse to sing.” The ruler agreed, but promised death under protracted torture if he failed. The prospective victim shrugged: “In a year, I may die; the ruler may die; the horse may die; or the horse may learn to sing.”
We are betting on equine arias from Tehran by the time the agreement expires.
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.