Iranian Saga and Global Insecurity: Coping with Deepening Mésentente and Declining Détente and Entente


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Like many other nuclear weapon states in the world, Iran wants to acquire nuclear capacity, nuclear capability, and therefore, global nuclear status. But this is not the wish of the nuclear club members. Allegedly for fears of state irresponsibility, and perceived incapacity to manage eventual nuclear radioactive accidents, the international community has been hostile to the development of nuclear weapons, but favourably disposed to nuclear development for peaceful purposes only. Thus, the Iranian ambition is necessarily challenged by the non-nuclearisation policy of the international community. This is the rationale for the 2015 agreement done with Iran (vide infra). This also explains why contemporary international politics is increasingly characterised by mésentente and declining détente and entente, for other reasons that are not far-fetched.

On the one hand, the sermon of sovereign equality is preached. The gospel of democratic freedom is given. However, political governance is largely predicated on manu militari policies. It is the dictatorship of the powerful which the weak does not voluntarily accept. The weak grudgingly complained that no country has the right to have anything to the exclusion of others. Iran, like North Korea, for example, does not want to accept any policy prescription that will constitute an impediment to the scientific development of its people.

Thus, the post-World War II era, and particularly as from the end of the post-Cold War period in 1989, the centre of gravity of global security is being threatened. International politics is gradually shifting from the quest for balance of power to imbalance or inconsistencies in the logic of political governance. In fact, the world is currently witnessing an imbalance between error and terror, that is, between error in policy calculation and terror of national protectionism. The balance of power defined by conventional war exigencies is giving way to ill-defined struggle against imbalance in nuclear status.

And true enough, the world has unprecedentedly become unstable and insecure as at today. To put it mildly, a new Cold War appears to be in the making. Re-alliance is increasingly becoming a major feature of international politics, especially in light of Brexit politics. For instance, the umbilical cord tying the United Kingdom to the European Union is expected to be replaced with a new and stronger string uniting the United Kingdom and the United States. What the British are expected to lose as a result of the act of brexiteering is to be gained from a closer rapprochement with the United States.

The politics of deceit that has come to characterise denuclearisation agenda is another major dynamic of the deepening of global insecurity. The 2015 Iranian nuclear deal is a manifestation of this politics of deceit. Besides, there is the Syrian imbroglio and there is also the challenge of North Korea’s nuclear threats which have become a noisome problem in the relations between Washington and Pyongyang. The disagreement between the United States and Russia over mutual perception of non-respect for the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, is a different manifestation of power rivalry and nuclear threat to global security.

The essence of mentioning the foregoing crises and conflicts is because they occur in a manner that makes détente and entente very difficult to achieve. They only enhance renewed mésentente and yet the global community has remained a helpless observer. This helplessness must be arrested if another world war, not to say an unprecedented nuclear war, is not to be precipitated. The triangular misunderstanding among the United Kingdom, the United States and Iran over the attachment of an Iranian vessel, Grace 1, in Gibraltar is the newest of the threats to global security, and will therefore be given further attention.

In this regard, how do we bring about détente? Détente, a French word introduced into the international relations lexicon in 2012, is essentially about the easing of political disputes and strained relations. It is basically a Cold War terminology that got its prominence during the post-World War II Cold War era, particularly in the context of the United States-Soviet Union relations.

Today, ties between Iran and the United States are characterised by tension after tension, especially following the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal. The misunderstanding at the level of Tehran-Washington relations is impacting considerably on Iran’s relations with the European Union, and notably on ties with Britain. And also ipso facto, ties between London and Washington are affected as the United States has attempted to prevail on the United Kingdom to ensure the attached Iranian Grace 1 is prevented from being released in spite of a Gibraltarian court ruling.

What again is noteworthy about the foregoing cases of threats to global security are their profound causal factors. The first is the don’t care attitude towards the requirement of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other sovereign states. Big powers frequently interfere and intervene in the conduct and management of domestic affairs of smaller or weaker states. When the weaker states attempt to resist, a situation of misunderstanding is quickly created and its management has not always been easy. A second factor is that of unilateralism of action, as exemplified by the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal, as well as from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

This unilateralist action should be understood in the context of United States’ allegations of non-faithfulness to international agreements or the rule of pacta sunt servanda (sanctity of agreements) by Iran and Russia in both cases. A third factor is the free application of the principle of reciprocity, without due considerations for the implications for other states. The mutual attachment of oil tankers by Iran and Britain provides a good illustration of this observation.
And more significantly, in which way is Nigeria not affected by global developments? Should Nigeria not seek to learn from and prepare for implications of the current international developments in light of the Cold War in the making.

Protectionism and Insecurity
Protectionism is what is driving current threats to global security as manifested in the controversy over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I-RNFT or INF) at the level of Russo-American relations and the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. The I-RNFT was done by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, on December 8,1987 as an instrument of arms control. The agreement, which entered into force on June 1, 1988 and expired on February 2019, does not allow for the possession or production, as well as flight-testing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 km. It is within this framework that a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles were destroyed on June 1, 1991.

In 2014, the United States began to complain every year about non-compliance with the obligations of the agreement by Russia. It was on December 8, 2017 that the Donald Trump administration first came up with an integrated strategy as a response to the alleged violations by the Russians. In fact, on October 20, 2018, the intention to terminate the INF treaty on grounds of Russian non-compliance with the INF and development of China’s intermediate-range missile arsenal was announced.

And perhaps not surprisingly, the US not only suspended its obligations under the INF treaty but also formally withdrew from it on August 2, 2019. Russia not only contested the allegations of violations but also announced that Russia would similarly withdraw from the INF treaty. In sum, the INF treaty has now been thrown into the dustbin of history. Both the United States and Russia are free from any nuclear obligations under the INF treaty. The implication as at today is that both countries are not only free to manufacture and possess the prohibited missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 but are also actually on record to be producing better missiles with greater capacity. This is how global security is under threat by policies of nationalism and protectionism. What about the factor of unilateralism?

Unilateralism: the London-Washington-Tehran Saga
The misunderstanding between and among Britain, United States and Iran, as a result of the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the Iranian Nuclear Deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is the foundation of the problem and the first expression of unilateralism. The JCPOA was done by the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and Iran (P5+1) on the one hand, and Germany and the European Union, on the other.

What is relevant about the JCPOA here is the structured stages of implementation: finalisation day, July 14, 2015, which was the day of conclusion of the 20-month negotiations and the signing of the agreement; the adoption Day, October 18, 2015, reflecting the 90 days required after the adoption by the UNSC on July 20, 2015; implementation day, January 16, 2016, when the certification by the IAEA that Iran had been compliant with the provisions of the agreement was required; the transition day, scheduled to take place in October 2023, is when the missile restrictions placed on Iran are expected to be lifted by the United Nations. This transition day is quite significant in light of the fact that Iran would be required to sign the Additional Protocol and when both the United States and the European Union are to put a stop to their sanctions against Iran; and the termination day, which by computation, is meant to be ten years after the day of adoption.

In the context of this 5-stage implementation of the JCPOA, the withdrawal of the United States from the agreement on May 18, 2018 took place after the certification by the IAEA of Iran’s compliance in 2016, that is, only about 27 months after, and before the 2023 transition day, which is about four years to the time. The United States argues that Iran has not been complying with the obligations provided for in the agreement but the European Union has generally lent support to the position of Iran that there have not been breaches on the part of Iran.

The problem with this conflicting positions is that the United States opted to continue to place sanctionary measures against Iran, especially in terms of frustrating its efforts at economic survival. Iran is being prevented from selling its crude oil in order to limit its foreign exchange earnings. It is in this context that the attachment of Iranian vessel, Grace 1, carrying crude oil to Syria by the United Kingdom, should not only be understood, but the eventual last minute effort by the United States to stop the release of the vessel by the Supreme court of Gibraltar should be explained.

Put differently, on Thursday, July 4, 2019 Iranian super tanker, Grace 1, was attached by the Royal Marines in Gibraltar, an overseas territory of Britain, allegedly for carrying oil to Syria in breach of European Union regulations. The British government flew 30 marines to Gibraltar to assist in the attachment of the Iranian super tanker. And true also, the European Union has placed sanctions on Syria. In the words of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Government of Syria ‘has deployed chemical weapons against its own people. This means that both the United Kingdom and the European Union have exercised their sovereignty in the act of attachment of the Iranian vessel. The act of attachment falls within the purview of unilateralism and collective security. In the same vein, the reaction of Iran to the attachment of its vessel was not only unilateral, but also very consistent with the rule of legitimate self-defence. More importantly, it also falls within the application of the rule of reciprocity in international relations.

On Friday, July 19, Iran reciprocated by also seizing a British flagged-ship, but Swedish-owned, Stena Impero London, allegedly for ‘violating international maritime rules.’ Iran further said that the ship almost or actually collided with a fishing vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, which lies at the south coast of Iran and considered as part of international waters. Germany and France reacted by instructing Iran to quickly release the ship but Iran never gave importance to the instruction.

What is relevant to the discussion of unilateralism again is that, for various diplomatic considerations, the United Kingdom got the Iranian ship released by the Supreme Court in Gibraltar on the written understanding that the cargo would not be delivered to Syria in violation of the European Union sanctions. The goodness of the written undertaking by Iran is better explained in the context of the release of Britain’s own ship by Iran. If the Iranian
vessel had not passed through the territorial waters of Gibraltar, there would have been a legitimate basis for the attachment of the Iranian ship. The same argument would be valid for the seizure of the British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in Iran. In these cases, what is the implication for global security and Nigeria’s foreign policy?

Beyond Mésentente: Détente and Entente

After the Supreme Court of Gibraltar had ordered the release of the Iranian oil tanker the US Department of Justice attempted to secure the confiscation of the vessel. Britain refused but accepted to be part of a US-led taskforce in the Gulf to protect merchant ships. The European Union is also planning to lead a taskforce in the Gulf for the same purpose. Sanctions against Iran have been tightened.
The insecurity in the Gulf is now to the extent that Britain has not only planned to provide a Royal Navy escort for all British-flagged ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, but have also advised all ship owners to indicate their routes for the purposes of possible escort by the frigate HMS Montrose. This is because of the rising diplomatic tensions in the Gulf region. Instead of détente, it is increasing mésentente, but to what extent can this be carried too far?

Will the use of military power by the European Union or by Anglo-American alliance ever bring a situation of an entente in the Gulf by trying to take out life from Iran as a sovereign State? Whatever is the case, the European Union, Britain and the United States should always make efforts to remember that what is often referred to as World Wars are essentially not World Wars by universal scope, in origin or execution. Polemologically, they are basically European wars in which the dependent territories of the warring colonialists were used to assist the war efforts of the colonialists. In other words, Europeans were responsible for causing the so-called World Wars. A nuclear Cold War is carelessly in the making. And most unfortunately, again, Europeans are stoking the embers of another World War, which the world does not need. For purposes of global security, the encouragement of people’s power to change governments in Africa should be stopped. Giving development assistance to African governments should also be reviewed because it conflicts with local development initiatives.

It does not allow African leaders to engage in self-reliant development strategies as development assistance deepens dependency. If African leaders are compelled to face the anger of their people, they will learn to see more clearly on how to respond to the development needs. In fact, foreign development assistance only serves as a catalytic agent of corruption in Africa. Consequently, entrenchment of true democracy and pillars of good governance is what the people of Africa currently need. There is the need to go beyond sustaining situations of mésentente in the conduct and management of international politics. Let the spirits of entente and détente prevail in the resolution of the dispute over the Iranian Nuclear deal. The same is required in addressing the deteriorating ties between North Korea and South Korea.