by Reza Nasri
Opponents of the Iran nuclear accord (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA)—both within and outside the U.S. administration—are setting the ground for President Trump not to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal in October. In doing so, they contend that European allies would ultimately follow the Trump administration’s lead on the issue, force Iran to renegotiate new arrangements, and eventually accept new concessions. These opponents believe that they can predict European reactions to a declaration of non-compliance (and follow-up policies) with a great degree of certainty and precision.
But the president’s declaration of Iranian non-compliance, absent persuasive evidence, is likely to have a serious impact on how the rest of the world views the U.S. ability to enter international agreements from now on. In other words, the rest of the world would likely not view U.S actions through the prism and paradigms that neocon opponents of the deal suggest. In fact, technocrats, analysts, and experts within European foreign ministries and around the world would judge such actions rather harshly. After all, the JCPOA has mitigated tensions in the Middle East, it was endorsed by the U.N Security Council, and it still enjoys the overwhelming support of most international actors, states and technical organizations alike.
The EU’s assessment of a U.S attempt to kill the deal is fairly predictable.
First of all, Europe and the international community would likely view the U.S. political establishment—even more than before—as flawed and outdated and unable to abide by the simple principle of “state continuity” in modern international relations. In fact, they would see a political system that allows one administration to make important Security Council-endorsed commitments on a crucial global issue on the international plane, and the next to easily revoke that commitment in complete disregard of withdrawal procedures outlined in the agreement itself or under contemporary international law.
They would view the U.S as a state that quite arrogantly considers the violation of its international obligations as “leverage building” or a “legitimate strategy” to pressure other parties to re-negotiate or concede to its new demands—or as Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, put it, to “open up potential space to finally address Barack Obama’s fatally flawed agreement.” So much for “good-faith” as a fundamental principle of an international order supposed to be governed by the rule of law, or the notion that norms, customs, and principles regulate the behavior of states vis-a-vis their international obligations and responsibilities.
The postmodern European states, with their highly sophisticated system of governance and codified self-enforced rules of behavior, would likely look at the U.S as a bizarre state whose leaders genuinely believe that their domestic law easily preempts international law, and are not shy to present this position as a legitimate justification to exit or torpedo international agreements. “Many people confuse the requirements of the deal [JCPOA] with the requirements of U.S. law” says Nikki Haley, the US representative to the U.N during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. The Corker-Cardin law is a “third pillar” of Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, she continues, completely disregarding the fact that American domestic law cannot be imposed on the rest of the world to unilaterally “supplement” the terms of international agreement. Nor can it be invoked as a justification for failure to perform one’s international obligations, as per a well-established international norm.
Europe would look at the U.S as a broken system of governance that inexplicably disregards the assessments and recommendations of its own intelligence agencies and foreign-policy establishment on crucial global security matters, and devises policies based on politicized assessments and alternative facts. EU allies would observe that authoritative U.S intelligence agencies may issue assessment reports after assessment reports, stressing with “high confidence” that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon program, and yet the U.S. officials still insist that Iran must be crushed under sanctions to abandon such ambitions.
Finally, Europe would view the U.S. as a dysfunctional and archaic state whose sworn president can easily lie and deceive a nation about an other country’s compliance with an international agreement—in complete disregard for all available facts, objective assessments and official reports issued by competent national and international organizations – without facing as much as a small obstacle, let alone perjury charges or impeachment.
For European countries, as for many others around the world – including risk assessment departments in private firms—this “flaw” in international agreement-making, would not be attributed to the person of Donald Trump as some optimists may hope, but on the U.S. system of governance as a whole, with all the negative consequences that this may ensue.
Reza Nasri is an international law expert from Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (HEI). He specializes in Charter law and the legal aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and has written on the role of the Security Council in the Iranian nuclear dossier, among other subjects. Photo: EU High Representative Federica Mogherini (Wikimedia Commons)