COMMENTARY: Trump’s decision on Iran nuclear accord further isolates US

The move by the Donald Trump administration to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement — formally referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — is troublesome.

In an increasingly interdependent and globalized world, the Trump White House continues to cancel previous agreements, partly due to a reflexive antipathy to anything President Barack Obama approved and partly due to a nativist populism which fails to foresee the consequences of reneging on an important multilateral agreement.

The 2015 JCPOA demanded that Iran curb its nuclear enhancement capability; reduce its uranium stockpiles; disable a nuclear reactor in Arak from which weapons-grade plutonium was created; and accept regular monitoring of facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That Iran hasn’t been charged with any major violations of the agreement in three years is why previous sanctions in most areas have been lifted.

From a political science perspective, President Trump’s announcement to rescind the Iran nuclear deal was predictable. First, the naming of John Bolton as national security adviser automatically portended an inside-out, confrontational approach to international matters. Second, the Trump administration’s February 2018 Nuclear Posture Review called for aggressive moves against antagonists while improving American nuclear capability.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Third, the canceling of U.S. participation in JCPOA follows a pattern of similar action against other international agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, and the Paris Climate Accord. Fourth, the U.S. has recently favored Israeli policy on Iran more than that advocated by JCPOA cosigners Britain, Germany and France and is engaged in a tariff war with JCPOA cosigner China.

Fifth, the U.S. withdrawal from JCPOA would fulfill a Trump campaign promise from 2016, even as a majority of Americans support maintaining the treaty in its current form. Finally, the ostensible rapprochement with North Korea means that the Trump team needs a new enemy to berate.

However, Newton’s principle of action-reaction in natural science also pertains to international interactions involving nations and their leaders. By taking itself out of the agreement, the United States risks alienating its allies who were co-signers to JCPOA.

The precedent of leaving an active agreement gives nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt a green light to continue nuclear weapons development, and will certainly lead Iran to rethink its previous position on JCPOA at the least. Meanwhile, the NEW START agreement between American and Russia on nuclear weapons expires in three years amid a dangerous race to counter missile defense systems with new offensive devices.

In the current environment, it is not easy to envision American and Iranian authorities sitting down with each other to negotiate anything, let alone unilaterally demanded changes to a multilateral agreement. However, that is the most beneficial path: U.S. personnel could secure a guarantee to extend the period in which Iran is banned from enriching uranium past 2025 in exchange for further reduction of sanctions or could explore other areas of common ground.

In the absence of a diplomatic tact, the Trump administration is hypocritical not to simultaneously confront Iran head-on at its military forays in Syria and Yemen, both places where U.S. troops have been killed by supporters of Iran.

Before disparaging of an upcoming nuclear apocalypse, we should remember that the 2017 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — the International Campaign To Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) — is busy at work along with other global groups in pushing nations to sign and ratify the recent United Nations agreement to rid the world of nuclear armaments.

This movement will hopefully build on the past success of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, and the cases of Libya and South Africa, which demonstrate the possibility and benefits of nuclear disarmament.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Director at Delaware State University. A previous recipient of a military history fellowship from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Dr. Hoff teaches and publishes extensively on foreign policy, military, and national security issues.

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