With talks between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iranian officials underway, it is appropriate to assess the dynamics between Iran and the international community and how recent political changes may alter future negotiations.
Although the IAEA’s mission statement declares the organization an “independent intergovernmental, science and technology-based organization,” it is formally part of the United Nations (UN). Created in 1957 to promote safe and peaceful nuclear ventures, the IAEA has 154 members, including Iran. Iran joined the IAEA in 1958. Two years later, Iran signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a treaty that aims to not only prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology but to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy with the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament. In 1970, Iran ratified the NPT.
Subject to the obligations associated with membership in the IAEA and as a signatory of the NPT, Iran is in a less than desirable situation. With a realist-driven government seeking to develop and maintain its status as a regional and world power, it is not surprising that Iran is pursuing nuclear power. However, it is important to differentiate between a nuclear-power program and a nuclear-weapons program. Despite international hysteria concerning Iran’s alleged attempts to create nuclear weapons, there are no facts justifying these claims. Although Iran is not in direct violation of the terms of the NPT, international fears are not completely unwarranted as Iran’s actions have undoubtedly violated the spirit of the NPT, specifically not allowing the IAEA access to all nuclear facilities and continued nuclear development despite UN sanctions. Iran’s actions are concerning.
With a forthcoming American presidential election, and an incumbent who favors liberalist negotiation over realist action, it is not President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign that will guide this week’s talks and potential UN resolutions. Although Americans should be concerned their president has proposed allowing Iran to enrich uranium up to 5% and still has not defined under what conditions he would seek a military solution to the Iranian quagmire, global citizens should be concerned with the drastic change in key United Nations Security Council (UNSC) players. Specifically, the world must concern itself with how France’s recent election of a socialist president will affect how France, as a leading member of the European Union (EU) and as a permanent member of the UN, will sway international interactions with Iran.
Before assessing how French President Francois Hollande’s politics will affect the Iranian nuclear situation, it is important to understand how the UN functions. Comprised of 193 states, the UN is the world’s largest, and arguably most powerful, intergovernmental organization. Among the organization’s six main organs are the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). All UN members are represented in the UNGA, and only fifteen states are represented in the UNSC.
Although the UNGA can pass non-binding resolutions under Chapter 6 of the United Nations Charter, such recommendations are not enforceable. One of the sole reasons a country chooses to adhere to a Chapter 6 resolution is to preserve its credibility in the international community. Without international recognition and credibility, a country not only ostracizes itself but also risks the possibility of becoming failed state. In modern times, no state can exist, for long, without successful relationships and interactions with other countries. No state is capable of providing everything for its people. Consequently, even with an abundance of natural resources, such as oil, a country needs to conduct business outside its borders. Trade, imports and exports, are essential for a country’s survival and prosperity. A country that chooses to ignore the international community’s recommendations will, most likely, find itself with few allies and the inability to sustain itself.
Although it is in Iran’s best interest to cooperate with the international community, which is overwhelmingly represented by the 193-member UN, Iran has proved less than agreeable. Apart from Iran’s copious human rights violations, which receive little news coverage, Iran’s nuclear ambitions receive much international attention and are at the forefront of UN concerns. Supporters of Iran’s policy argue Iran’s right to nuclear power as an alternative energy source. While opposition to Iran’s nuclear program is significant, arguments against Iran’s nuclear ambitions do not contest Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program. Rather, the group cites Iran’s violation of the spirit of the NPT and unwillingness to cooperate with the international community as a sign of its government’s less than admirable nuclear intentions.
With the knowledge that the UNGA has no authority to force Iran to comply with its resolutions and understanding that under Iran’s current leadership’s realist mentality, geared toward establishing itself as a regional and world power, will not waver, it is essential to understand how the international community can contain the potential threat of Iran crossing the nuclear threshold. The UNSC is the only UN body able to pass binding resolutions, and is thus the premiere way in the current international system to deal with Iran. Resolutions, passed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, include sanctions and military force.
Article 43 of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter states:
All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.
While the possibility of military force has not been tabled, with recent political changes in key UN players, the likelihood of such a resolution passing in the UNSC is unlikely. Fifteen states comprise the UNSC. Ten spots in the UNSC are non-permanent. These countries are elected by the UNGA to serve two-year terms in the UNSC. The remaining five positions in the UNSC are held by permanent members: The United States, The United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China.
Resolutions require a minimum of nine UNSC members to pass. However, permanent UNSC members have the authority to veto a resolution. Should one or more of the permanent UNSC members veto a resolution, it cannot pass. Although UNSC Chapter 7 resolutions are intended to protect international security, which nuclear weapons would threaten, it is undeniable that UNSC permanent members let personal interests affect their voting.
In recent years, China, who purchases approximately 20% of Iran’s crude oil exports, has been hesitant to impose harsh oil sanctions on Iran. Despite his harsh rhetoric and decision to keep the option for military force on the table, American President Barack Obama has relied heavily on the liberalist power of negotiation opposed to rushing to impose harsher sanctions and other methods of curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. With an unsuccessful “outstretched hand” initiative promoted by American leadership since President Obama’s term began in 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been the UNSC’s biggest champion of harsher actions against Iran. Sarkozy’s tough stance against Iran included proposals (that did not pass) for an Iranian oil embargo and tougher sanctions.
With China’s reliance on Iranian crude oil and American President Obama clinging to hopes for a successful diplomatic resolution, French President Sarkozy seemed to be the sole UNSC hardliner when it came to the Iranian nuclear issue. The recent French election of a socialist president who shares President Obama’s views about diplomacy and agrees with his proposal to allow Iran to enrich uranium up to 5% raises the question of whether liberalist diplomacy will succeed in reaching an agreeable solution between the international community and Iran. Alternatively, Iran may view the shift in UNSC leadership as an opportunity to dismiss, or at least skirt around, international requests.
The Iranian nuclear issue is more complicated than whether or not Iran should be allowed to have a nuclear program and/or nuclear weapons. One of the underlying issues is how the international community deals, or does not deal, with issues of international security. With nearly two hundred countries in the world, it may be necessary to consider restructuring, or redefining the powers of, the UNSC in favor of a more multilateral structure that does not vest enormous power in countries, that may not always have the best interest of the international community in mind, solely because they were victorious in World War II.