No let-up in Donald Trump’s bellicose policy towards Iran and Tehran’s retaliatory anti-N-deal moves militate against EU’s endeavours to arrive at an early resolution to the crisis that threatens to jeopardise the world economy, despite the stark reality that neither of the warring parties is willing to get involved in a full-scale military confrontation
Displaying an independent streak not to disturb the global peace, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives yesterday voted to shackle President Donald Trump’s ability to authorise a military strike on Iran. “Frankly, what it (the defence Bill) will prevent is what this President promised to the American people not to do — to get into another endless, costly war in the Middle East (West Asia),” Representative Ro Khanna, the Democrat who led the amendment, told the House.
The heartening news comes in the wake of Trump narrowly aborting a missile strike on Iran in retaliation for the downing of an American drone on Iranian airspace last week. However, Trump is not going to be browbeaten into accepting anything that winks at Iran’s adventurism at the cost of America’s interests. Economic, military threats are handy tools in the hands of the US President to achieve intended goals.
In the case of Iran, the Trump Administration believes that the Obama-era 2015 multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — a deal signed by the US, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief —failed to curb Tehran’s pursuit of advanced ballistic missiles and its “brazen” support to militias that fought against American interests in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Therefore, the US unilaterally withdrew from the Iran deal in May 2018 to embark on the mission to exert optimum pressure on the theological state to agree to a more comprehensive deal to prevent it from building its nuclear and other war arsenal as well as disengage it from the regional affairs inimical to the American interests.
In the name of “America first”, the Trump Administration’s disdain for multilateral treaties and organisations has been conspicuous of his presidency. He has pushed for unilateral actions, and gone for bilateral deals by breaking off America’s engagement with multilateral agreements and bodies. Within a year of taking up the reins of the office of the US President, the Trump Administration announced America’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, Unesco, Paris Climate Accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and drastically reduced the contribution to the UN Population Fund. In the economic arena, save some political reasons, there have been no immediate economic concerns for the US to provoke the Trump Administration’s hostility to multilateral trade agreements.
Seen in this perspective, the Trump Administration’s contempt for the Iran nuclear deal is a natural extension of his unilateralism. The vital importance Iran holds for the US foreign policy is its historical challenge to America’s privileged status and manoeuvring role in the oil-rich Gulf. Although the US doesn’t solely depend on petroleum imports from the Gulf any longer — 75 per cent oil demands are met by domestic sources — America’s grip over the region that fulfils the energy needs of the world gives the US geopolitical advantage. Therefore, the US has taken upon itself the responsibility to ensure the free flow of oil from the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz to the world in the purported aim to avert disruption of energy supply that can destabilise the global economy.
However, retorting to the threats of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran has already threatened to block oil traffic via the Strait of Hormuz, the sea passage between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. If Iran feels forced to squeeze the oil supplies even for a few days, the resultant international energy crisis will tarnish the hegemonic geopolitical image of America. Therefore, the US considers the theological Islamic state an obstacle in its superpower role. This is the reason why the Trump Administration is backing Iran’s bête noire Saudi Arabia, even rejecting the UN report of indictment of the Crown Prince in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
The Iran crisis also exposes European weakness and has depleted the reservoir of trust between the EU and the US. Although the disagreement between Europe and the US on Iran began after the Islamic revolution, the Trump Administration unilateral decisions are collapsing the transatlantic alliance. The 2015 deal was symbiotic for Iran and the EU as the sanctions relief unlocked for the latter a new market of 80 million people for European farm products, medicines and services. The US move has also jeopardised the EU-Iran defence deal for 120 aircraft, besides developing the world’s largest gas field in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s retaliatory threat to enrich uranimum beyond the 2015 deal level every 60 days unless the US lifts renewed sanctions is aimed at European audience to bring the US to the negotiating table for a peaceful resolution. The EU and the US are at variance over the utility of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. While the Trump Administration claims that Iran pursued its nuclear ambitions under the guise, Europe strongly believes the deal was successful in providing an agreed mechanism for curbing nuclear proliferation. The disagreement reached to such a level that pro-Trump politicians like then UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson openly criticised Trump’s move.
Although European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini criticised the US withdrawal from the Iran deal by calling the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “crucial for the security of the region, of Europe and of the entire world”, the EU has not been able to exert itself in any meaningful way to find a resolution so far.
The Trump Administration’s scorn for multilateralism is also at stake in the Iran crisis. Although, Trump is threatening a military campaign against Iran, a war is not even a distant possibility as it won’t remain a bilateral affair. In the changing military alliances, some staunchest allies of the US don’t want to be dragged into a war. Besides, Hezbollah is ready to exploit the situation and drag Israel into the crisis. “When the Americans understand that this war could wipe out Israel, they will reconsider (Iran deal). Our collective responsibility in the region is to work towards preventing an American war on Iran War,” Hezbollah leader Nasrallah said on Friday.
However, considering Trump’s firm stand and Europe weak response, it seems Iran will be pushed to re-negotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in return of sanctions relief. A nuclear Iran will certainly trigger a race for nuclear bombs in West Asia, therefore a comprehensive deal that prevents such competition is required to be sealed amicably. However, if the agreement is born out of coercion, it is unlikely to last long, and is replete with possibility of vengeance in the future.
(The writer is Associate Editor & News Editor, The Pioneer)
Sunday, 14 July 2019 | Swarn Kumar Anand | in Opinion
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