The Trump administration on Tuesday delivered a new assault to global multilateralism by announcing his decision to ditch the landmark Iran nuclear deal.
Yet calculations behind this unilateral approach may turn out to be merely wishful thinking, and would incur more headaches than remedies, and more hatred than appreciation for Washington.
Elaborating his logic for scuttling the agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump said that the accord delivered "very weak limits" on Iran's nuclear activity, vowing to impose "the highest level" of economic sanctions on Tehran and strong sanctions on other nations that are economically engaged with Iran.
The decision came as no surprise to the world though, as he had relentlessly assailed the pact even before his inauguration, saying it had failed to prevent Tehran from producing missiles and expanding regional influence. The so-called "sunset clauses," which allow Iran to restart its uranium enrichment program after 2025, have also been a cause of frustration.
However, few share Trump's concerns. Israel's newly-revealed documents have not affirmed that Iran had breached the deal ever since it was signed in 2015. The international watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency also asserted on May 1 that it "had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009." Besides international calls for denuclearization via dialogues, France's latest proposal for a side deal to supplement the original one -- in a bid to assuage Washington's grumble -- is also worth considering.
Nevertheless, all these have not handcuffed Trump's antipathy for Tehran. As the White House host has reportedly been weighing a full-fledged "withdrawal" from the Middle East, or what he called a "very troubled place," his regional policy now seems to have boiled down to but one focus: to confront Iran in all areas with all possible resources, since Trump believes it is the initiator of all regional woes.
The U.S. president, while looking ready to turn a deaf ear to all the criticisms that his decision has stirred -- just as he was when he left the Paris climate accord, decertified the Iranian observance of the deal and recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital -- does not seem well prepared and organized to handle what could be released out of the Pandora's box this time.
To name a few. For starters, the flare-up of nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Considering Iran's threat to drop out of the deal after the U.S. retreat and restart its nuclear program, and Israel's deliberate ambiguity over its ownership of nuke weapons, the possibility of regional countries mulling their own nuclear development is suddenly looming.
Secondly, the undercutting of trans-Atlantic trust. Washington-Brussels ties are already tottering due to Washington's increasing inclination toward unilateralism and would be surely hurt even more as Trump blatantly disregarded again Europe's interests on a major security issue at its doorstep.
Thirdly, the erosion of the multilateral framework and U.S. trustworthiness. The world has gotten used to rampant U.S. retreats from treaties and organizations, but it should not. The post-war security and financial arrangements, which Washington once helped build up and has drawn enormous benefits from ever since, cannot afford its impetuous challenges again and again.
The current Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which, many argue, is not perfect as most international deals, have been widely recognized for its effectiveness, comprehensiveness and transparency in maintaining regional military balance and promoting denuclearization in the war-torn region. Several heavyweights of the Trump administration, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have also admitted this. Under the current circumstances, it is nearly impossible to forge another deal acceptable and operable for all parties concerned in this regard.
Instead of self-inflicting deadlines to ink another deal and taking wayward in-or-out approach, dialogues and negotiations of all relevant parties on equal footing represent a better way to remedy the imperfections of the treaty. The weaknesses of the pact are rightly the reason to perfect it, not to cast it off.
It seems effective in the short run to enhance U.S. regional presence by making an imaginary enemy and prompting its allies' sense of insecurity. But such an approach, featuring coercion and ungrounded assertions, cannot yield lasting peace in the region or ensure long-term U.S. security interests, not to mention its popularity or moral justification.