The Trump Administration has just walked away from the United States’ commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known in the American media as "the Iran Deal."
But it’s not an informal “deal;” it’s a formal international agreement, endorsed by the Security Council of the United Nations, full of rigorous safeguards, duties, terms and conditions crafted through sophisticated, smart diplomatic hard work on the part of the international community. It can’t be easily set aside without undermining the UN, the international community, and the U.S. Constitution.
One of the dangers recognized by the drafters of the Constitution was that short-term partisan interests of a populist nature, or an individual state, could encourage overturning complex or unpopular treaties entered into by the government of the United States. This led to the inclusion of the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, which stats that “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
One fully ratified treaty the United States is bound by is the United Nations Charter. The so-called “Iran Deal” was formally endorsed by the Security Council of the United Nations, the correct international organ to approve the JCPOA. In throwing it out, not only has the Trump administration disregarded its allies and friends, it has diminished the weight of the UN system, and thus the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, and thus one of the foundations of the United States. This is a serious matter indeed.
By pulling out of the deal, the United States violated an international agreement it solemnly entered into, putting it in a class with nations that pointedly disrespect international cooperation, the rule of law, peace, and nuclear nonproliferation. It’s not just a deal between the U.S. and Iran; by virtue of the UN Security Council resolution the deal is between Iran and the entire world. U.S. withdrawal demonstrates callous disregard for world opinion, and diminishes the world’s trust in America’s word, honor and commitments.
How ugly is this action? Let me count the ways:
1. It rejects the existing means of ensuring a peaceful nuclear program in Iran.
2. It breaks the U.S. long-standing tradition of cooperating with and honoring our solemn promises to partners such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the entire European Union.
3. It obliterates technical obligations placed on Iran included in the general text of the agreement and five additional “annexes”.
4. It dismisses the value of Iran rolling back its nuclear program by decreasing its nuclear stockpiles. Under the deal, Iran removed the core of its Arak heavy water reactor and filled it with cement to ensure it could never produce weapons grade plutonium. It reduced its centrifuges, including removing the centrifuges in its underground Fordow uranium enrichment facility and refraining from enriching uranium there for 15 years.
5. It discounts the value of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s competencies, expertise, and professionalism to monitor the agreement.
This list could be extended. The full cost of the withdrawal to international peace and security remains to be seen. Will it help to set the stage for military conflict with Iran, or other use of force to influence or destabilize it? Will it lead to more formal rejections of the UN system to come?
It is likely that as the U.S. imposes sanctions on Iran, our allies and European partners will grow farther apart from the U.S. In the eyes of many nations, Russia and China may look like far more credible and reliable partners.
The Trump administration has presented its abrogation of the Iran Deal like a well-scripted reality show, playing to the audience it knows. But this is not a script; it has real consequences. It endangers the U.S.’s standing in the world, invites war mongers to fill the vacuum left by voiding the agreement, and threatens further destabilization to a region of the world already eyeing collapse.
Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute, and United Nations Representative and Senior Advisor of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates. He chairs the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association, and he is a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Science. He has testified as and expert before the US Congress, the United Nations, Canadian Parliament and U.K. Parliament. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.