Denuclearisation: Beyond the International Politics of Iran’s Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The currently very fragile global insecurity is unfortunately being further threatened, more than ever before, by politics of denuclearisation. Denuclearisation should not be confused with non-nuclearisation. Denuclearisation implies that a country has either acquired nuclear capability or is on the path of acquiring it, and therefore, it is being required to put a stop to it. Non-nuclearisation, on the contrary, implies outright non-engagement in the acquisition of nuclear capability in all its ramifications. The politics of denuclearisation dates back to the time of Sovieto-American and Sovieto-Cuban nuclear missiles crisis of 1962 while the origins of nuclear weapons are traceable to the deployment by the United States of the Little Man and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both Japanese cities, in 1945.

Besides, the politics of denuclearisation is largely predicated on double standard in design and dishonesty in application. It is politics in which countries that are already strong refuse the acquisition of nuclear strength by others, arguing that others cannot be trusted with caution and rationality-induced policy making on its use.

Explained differently, the nuclear powers, as defined in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, do not want any new acquisition of nuclear power status by others. They want to remain the only countries to be so recognised. As defined in the treaty, only countries that have successfully tested nuclear missiles are referred to as nuclear powers. These countries happen to be the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC): France, Great Britain, China, Russia which succeeded Soviet Union, and United States (P-5).

Two points are noteworthy about the P-5 at this juncture. At the time of the making of the United Nations Charter, many countries challenged the restriction of permanent membership of the UNSC to the P-5, but the challenge was to no avail. In the thinking of the P-5, one needed to belong to the club of the Great Powers or be among the lead winners of World War II in order to qualify to belong to the nuclear club. The club does not have any known constitution. It does not operate as an institution but operates on the basis of gentlemen agreement when individual interests are at stake.

In fact, it took France a lot of efforts to be accepted as a great power during the Yalta discussions in 1945. France was jokingly told to have not less than two million armed men to be considered great. Charles de Gaulle later argued that France lost the battle but not the war. The immediate implication of this was the greater emphasis placed on the development of atomic and nuclear weapons at the inception of the French Fifth Republic in October 1958. The French atomic tests in the Reggane area of the Sahara in 1960, which prompted the straining of diplomatic ties between Nigeria and France in 1961, is a good illustration of this observation. Put differently, the attitude of the United States, United Kingdom, and the former Soviet leaders prompted France to seek nuclearisation.

The second point is related to the first. When preliminary discussions on nuclear non-proliferation began in 1963, France and China did not show interest in them. In fact, both countries did not sign the initial agreement. It was after both countries had perfected the testing of their nuclear missiles that they came back to become apostles of nuclear non-proliferation. How do we explain the position of France and China? Is their position in any way different from that of North Korea? The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is making peace with South Korea and is expected to hold official talks with Donald Trump on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. But this development is taking place after North Korea has shown satisfaction of perfection of its nuclear missiles after six tests.

It is useful to recall here that North Korea did sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty before jettisoning it thereafter for obvious reasons. North Korea wants to acquire nuclear capability and status first before coming to adhere to its non-proliferation agreement. This attitude is not different from the policy stand of Iran. Many countries are secretly engaging in nuclear enrichment even though they might have also signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

However, the nuclear powers, particularly led by the United States, have not been favourably disposed to accepting new members. Aspiring new members have also been resisting in a manu militari fashion the policy stand of the P-5. As a result, peacemaking has now become difficult and far-fetched in contemporary international relations. The alleged use of Weapons of Mass Destruction by the Syrian president, the nuclear imbroglio between North and South Korea, on the one hand, and between North Korea and the United States and its allies, on the other hand, remain clear manifestations of the threats to global security. It is within this context that the Iran nuclear deal, the politics of it, often generally referred to as the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (JCPOA), should be explicated and understood.

In other words, what is the joint action plan about? What is the politics of it? How do we explain the decision of the United States to withdraw from the deal? Is the withdrawal a resultant from anti-Barak Obama policy of Donald Trump? What are the likely scenarios of the post-withdrawal relationship in terms of ties with the European Union? And perhaps more importantly, in which way is the Iran nuclear deal and the United States withdrawal from it likely to affect global security, especially in light of the division of Western allies over the matter? Can Donald Trump provide leadership of the world without its traditional allies? Can the United States stand alone frontally and confront Russia or China in the new Cold War that is already rearing its ugly head?
Whatever is the case, Vie Internationale contends here that, for as long as global governance is largely driven by dishonesty, holier-than-thou, double standard, and subjectivity of purpose, declared quests for international peace and security, as well as its maintenance, cannot but be a recidivist dream with a beginning but without end in sight. In this regard, the theory of Von Clausewitz, according to which whoever wants peace must always prepare for war, can only continue to strengthen the arguments of the power school of thought in international relations. Let us investigate the Iran nuclear deal at this juncture in order to show its limitations, and more importantly, to show why there is the need to go beyond the politics of denuclearisation in the maintenance of international peace and security.

The Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran nuclear deal can be explained and understood from many perspectives: fear of potential risks of Iran as a major nuclear power in the Middle East, conflict of national interests at the level of the signatories to the deal, and dynamics of the deal in terms of sustenance. Before explicating these aspects, what really is the deal about in terms of obligations created?

First, obligations are created for both the signatories and Iran essentially. Before the deal was done, Iran had two nuclear facilities: Natanz and Fordo. Enrichment of uranium was then low, with in between 3% to 4 % concentration of U-235 that could be used for the production of fuel for nuclear plants. Weapons grade uranium was 90% enriched. More importantly, Iran had as many as 20,000 centrifuges, which are said to be enough to make about ten nuclear bombs, as at July 2015. Consequently, the would-be signatories to the Iran deal began to suspect Iran’s intention to develop nuclear capability, and particularly for belligerent purposes but Iran vehemently denied any such bellicose purposes. The P5 +1 did not believe in the Iranian claims and therefore sought for a common understanding on the future directions of Iranian nuclear programmes. This was the background to the making of the Iran nuclear deal.

In this regard, Iran was required to limit its sensitive nuclear activities; accept monitoring by international inspectors in exchange for the suspension of economic sanctions, placed on it within the framework of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In other words, Iran’s stockpile of uranium was to be reduced by 98% to 300 kg for 15 years. It was expected that this measure would prevent the enrichment of uranium normally required for making fuel for reactors and nuclear weapons.

And true enough, Iran’s uranium stockpile has been reduced by 98% to 300kg. This quantity is not only to be maintained until 2031, the level of enrichment is also not supposed to exceed 3.67%. In other words, and in the spirit of the JCPOA, Iran has reduced its number of centrifuges in Natanz and Fordo and has also exported most of its low-enriched uranium to Russia. The centrifuges left are only to be used for the production of radioisotopes for purposes of medicine, agriculture, industry and science. Iran has not only been redesigning its Arak reactor in order to stop the production of weapons-grade plutonium, and under an existing nuclear deal done in 2013, not to commission or fuel the reactor, but also accepted to respect the Additional Protocol to their International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguard Agreement.

Additionally, Iran also accepted the obligation not to engage in nuclear activities, including research and development, which could facilitate the making of a nuclear bomb. It was on the basis of this mutual understanding that the Board of Governors of the IAEA decided to review its policy stand on the possible use for military purposes of Iran’s nuclear programme.
Secondly, at the level of fears of potential risks of Iran, the United States, for instance, does not believe in Iran and whatever it is saying. The consideration is that carelessness in the handling of radioactive materials can be devastating in effect. In countries where nuclear missiles have been successfully carried out, there are still problems of maintenance and protection. Chernobyl case in Russia is a case in point.

Besides, there is the argument of failed states, authoritarian leaders, who may not be rational in policy making. The fear of nuclear technology also getting into the hands of terrorists and enemies of the West is part of the strategic calculations as to why non-proliferation of nuclear arms has to be a desideratum without reservation. More importantly, Israel and Saudi Arabia are two strong allies of the United States. They fear that a nuclearised Iran has the potential of destabilising the region, especially in terms of Israelo-Arab conflict. It should be recalled that, since the 1917 William Balfour Declaration by which the Israelis and Palestinians were promised homes for national settlement, only the promise of an Israeli Jewish home has been fulfilled. The Arabs have been embittered about the non-fulfilment of the promise for the Palestinians. Iran, in this particular case, is very supportive of the Palestinian case. The challenge therefore is how to prevent a nuclear Iran from possibly threatening the small but powerful Israel.

Thirdly, regarding conflict of national interests at the level of the signatories to the deal, there is nothing majorly concrete to suggest that, severally or collectively, the signatories have common interest to defend, including the quest for peace. There are seven parties to the Iran deal. The first and, of course, the most important, is Iran, the problem state. There is also the P5+1 signatories, that is, the UNSC P-5, and Germany. The European Union is also a major player in the matter.

The United States under Barak Obama signed the deal in 2015 in the strong belief that doing so would contain and prevent Iran from actualising its nuclear dream. The United States under Donald Trump holds a different view. Donald Trump argues that the deal was ‘defective at its core.’ and has opted out of the deal in a manner incompatible with the tradition of sanctity of agreements or pacta sunt servanda.

Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain support the withdrawal of the United States for various reasons. For example, Saudi Arabia has it that its ‘past support for the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 was based on its firm belief in the need to work on everything that would limit the proliferation of weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East and the world.’ However, Saudi Arabia further submits, Iran has been destabilising the region, supporting terrorist groups, which used the capabilities transferred by Iran to target civilians in the kingdom and Yemen … in flagrant violation of the resolutions of the Security Council.’ In light of this, Saudi Arabia supports the US withdrawal from the deal, especially in light of its consideration that the deal does not address Iran’s quest for regional hegemony and use of terrorism and subversion to achieve the inordinate ambition.

The argument of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is not different. As noted by its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Anwar Gargash, ‘Iran’s rhetoric and aggressive regional actions were the background to a flawed deal. The veneer of Tehran’s compliance contradicted its bellicose policies. President Trump’s decision is the correct one.’ Consequently, the UAE has called on the international community to ‘heed Mr. Trump’s call for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of Mass Destruction.’

Germany, which the United States is cautiously sponsoring to become a permanent member of the UNSC along with Japan, is opposed to the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. It wants the deal to be preserved by all means. As put by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, ‘it is necessary that Iran stays in the agreement. It is in Iran’s interest too, to keep the agreement alive.’

In spite of this position, Germany prefers to wait for more details from the United States on its fresh sanctions on Iran. This German attitude of wait-and-see can be understood in light of the United States ultimatum of between 90 and 180 days given to Europeans to opt out of their current contracts with Iran. The United States has also banned them from signing new contracts, to do so is to await US sanctions.

For France, the withdrawal of the United States was a non-acceptable error. As explained by the French Finance Minister, Mr. Bruno Le Marie, the United States cannot play ‘economic policeman of the planet,’ and therefore, France has to do the needful to preserve the Iran nuclear deal.

As for the United Kingdom, the strongest ally of the United States in Europe, its Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson, has said that the United Kingdom does not have any ‘intention of walking away’ from the deal. Donald Trump should simply allow the UK to hold on to the deal or he comes up with an alternative new agreement because the deal is ‘vital for our (British) national security and the stability of the Middle East.’ In the eyes of the British, Donald Trump’s decision ‘makes no difference.’ More important, Boris Johnson has also said that ‘for as long as Iran abides by the agreement – and the IAEA has publicly reported its compliance, Iran’s compliance, nine times so far, – then Britain will remain a party to the JCPOA.’

From the foregoing, different issues have been raised to the detriment of the maintenance of international peace and security. Beginning with the British and Donald Trump, Great Britain has asked the American leader to provide an alternative agreement and has specifically noted thus: ‘the responsibility falls on them to describe how they, in Washington, will build a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns.’ Shared concerns are not limited to the Europeans in this case, but also Iran, China and Russia, as well as member states of the Gulf Council.

A second issue is the nature of the shared concerns, not to say interests. The interest of the United States is more political than denuclearisation. It is how best to protect Israel, in particular, Saudi Arabia and other allies in the Middle East that remains the main pre-occupation of the United States. Besides, Donald Trump is fighting tooth and nail the decline in power of the United States in international politics. The Europeans are particularly interested in their own business interests.

For instance, it should be noted that France is required to supply 100 airbus to Iran at a cost of $20 billion. The Total Oil, in collaboration with the Chinese, CNPC, is also to invest $5 billion to exploit Iran’s South Pars deposit. Other European countries do have similar vested economic interests. How should the conflicting interests be reconciled?

Beyond Denuclearisation Questions

The quest for global peace and security cannot be achieved by preparing for war. Denuclearisation is quite far from it. Democracy, whatever the type of system of government considered, is also far from it. For as long as global governance remains largely predicated on policies of injustice, unfairness, and dishonesty, no part of the world can have political stability and peace. In Nigeria, for instance, justice is often delayed. Court judgment does not mean much for the executive arm of government. The Holy Bible has it in Ecclesiastes 8:11 that ‘because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.’

The way the denial and delay of justice, as well as encouragement of acts of gross misconduct in the public service has not enabled Nigeria to be united and develop, is precisely the same way it cannot but also enable global unrest to deepen and remain recidivist.

Other issues going beyond denuclearisation include the ex-territoriality of US economic policies and the foreseeable decline in US global influence. As regards ex-territoriality, the United States, as a sovereign state is threatening to sanction other sovereign states in international relations, even with arrogance. Why is this so? Whatever is the case, the threat of sanctions is already bringing the battle to the doorsteps of the Americans.

For instance, many Member States are already negotiating and promoting the use of the euro, rather than the dollar, in their economic transactions with Iran. The examples of France and Italy are noteworthy. If the world is to know and have peace, the consideration of nuclear powers being more responsible than others in the management of nuclear materials should first be thrown into the dustbin of history. The whole world should be made completely free of nuclear weapons. It is by so doing that global governance can be based on objectivity and fairness of purpose and that all efforts at denuclearisation can be fruitful.