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The Sanctions Delusion

The Buzz

The United States is overestimating its leverage with sanctions in negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran—a gamble bound to fail. A second deadline has slipped without a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, and hawkish rhetoric in the U.S. underscores a growing pessimism for successful negotiations by the next deadline in June 2015. Calls to strengthen sanctions highlight waning Congressional support for the talks, and buttress a narrow and unrealistic narrative that economic deprivation will force concessions. Any new sanctions, especially those proposed under the draconian Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, threaten to derail negotiations while providing cannon fodder for Iran’s hardliners.

A growing narrative in Washington, which attributes Iran’s willingness to negotiate entirely to sanctions, argues that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) extension undermines U.S. negotiating leverage and provides Iran with ample opportunity to revive its declining economy. The JPA, which was signed over a year ago, provides Iran with access to approximately $700 million per month in oil revenues, which will continue through the seven-month extension.

True, sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking industries have caused inflation to soar amid declining oil exports, and there is little doubt that Iran is looking for relief. At the same time, other factors are contributing to Iran’s economic malice, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic mismanagement and declining oil prices.  Furthermore, despite relatively poor economic indicators, the International Monetary Fund predicts almost two percent GDP growth for Iran in 2014, primarily from non-oil exports, conservation of currency reserves, and growth in domestic manufacturing. All of these began before the harshest sanctions went into effect, and well before Iran reaped any benefits from the JPA.

Similarly, although Iranian businessmen acknowledge sanctions’ biting sting, they still remain connected to global commerce, albeit with increased transaction costs. Sanctions evasion, like water, will always find the path of least resistance. Moreover, sanctions have allowed Iran’s state-owned enterprises, which mostly benefit the Supreme Leader and connected members of the regime, to enjoy non-competitive domestic growth and indigenization. Strengthening sanctions at this point only serves to further concentrate economic power within Iran’s political elite and weaken U.S. leverage to negotiate a successful agreement.

U.S. sanctions against Iran weave punitive and preventive measures across an array of statutes, executive orders, and regulatory actions. Iran will likely demand the most severe of these sanctions-- those enacted since 2012 that target the financial, energy, shipping and insurance sectors-- be lifted first. It is unlikely, however, that President Obama will waive the most damaging sanctions without firm assurances that Iran is in compliance on its nuclear program. He will also likely keep in place those enacted to address terrorism and humanitarian issues. This, of course, leaves room for Iranian hardliners to capitalize on the narrative that sanctions are unrelated to the nuclear issue, and will persist even if the negotiations are successful.

More than thirty years of trade embargos and financial sanctions are failing to produce Iranian concessions on its nuclear program, and despite almost complete financial isolation, Iran continues to demonstrate a surprising level of resilience. Entertaining a narrative about further strengthening sanctions only emboldens Iranian hardliners, isolates global financial institutions, and damages the legitimacy of the nuclear negotiations.

Aaron Arnold is an Associate of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Image: State Department

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsMiddle East

The Operational Art of Air-Sea Battle

The Buzz

Air-Sea Battle is described as a limited objective concept by the Department of Defense.[1] Some critics have argued that Air-Sea Battle must be more than a limited objective concept, possibly a war plan or a strategy. Others have argued that it is less than a concept and is just a meaningless set of buzzwords. From a military planner’s perspective, Air-Sea Battle is a piece of art – operational art that describes the “broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[2]

Joint doctrine uses operational art to begin the military planning process by developing an “operational approach.” An operational approach is based on an understanding of the military environment and the problem facing the commander.[3] Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach to address the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) problem and is “limited” in objective to the access required to conduct concurrent or follow-on actions, not decisive defeat of an adversary. If faced with an operational A2/AD challenge, a combatant commander may build on the operational approach described by Air-Sea Battle to design a war plan suited to the specific region and situation. This is an important distinction, especially for those who believe Air-Sea Battle is focused on a specific country. No matter what specific operational plan is used, Air-Sea Battle’s operational approaches can be applied if access and freedom of action in the global commons is at risk.

Why Air-Sea Battle is Important: The A2/AD Mission. Understanding strategic goals and the military missions that support them is an important first step in developing an operational approach.[4] The 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance assigned the ability to project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges as a distinct mission for the U.S. armed forces.[5] Countering A2/AD challenges is separate from and in addition to the traditional, conventional mission to deter and defeat aggression because of the complexity and paradigm-breaking challenge created by A2/AD capabilities. The Defense Strategic Guidance directs the implementation of the Joint Operational Access Concept as one of the ways to address A2/AD challenges. Joint Operational Access Concept begins to describe the A2/AD environment and then refers to the Air-Sea Battle Concept to address specific aspects of A2/AD.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept in turn applies military operational art to A2/AD: an understanding of the A2/AD operational environment, the specific problems posed by A2/AD, and an operational approach that envisions how a commander can mitigate the risks of the A2/AD environment and continue to operate in the global commons. The name “Air-Sea Battle” is derived from the air and maritime domains traditionally associated with the global commons and the new assumption that U.S. forces must fight to achieve and maintain access in those domains.[6] This simple etymology of the Air-Sea Battle Concept in Department of Defense writings clearly defines the intent of Air-Sea Battle and should not be confused with think tank and other commentator “sources.”

Envisioning the A2/AD Operating Environment. Air-Sea Battle was directed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to shake-up the institutional inertia generated by uncontested access.[7] The A2/AD operating environment will be one where U.S. forces will not only fight to get to the fight but also fight to sustain access and the ability to maneuver in all domains. A2/AD presents a layered, multi-domain, integrated system-of-systems that gives potential adversaries a new dimension of strategic depth. While U.S. forces have always expected to be contested in theater when they maneuver within the operating range of adversary organic capabilities, the ability to merely move and sustain forces from homeports and bases to and across distant theaters will now be contested as well.

In addition to the increased technological sophistication of military capabilities on land, at sea, and in the air, the nascent development of potentially hostile space and cyberspace capabilities expands the access challenge across all five warfighting domains. Friendly forces in the air, sea, land, space and cyberspace domains are now threatened not only physically but also through the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. The expectation that command and control structures will be attacked through the disruption of friendly communications and decision-making architectures is probably the most-significant change from today’s warfighting paradigm. In short, our traditional understanding of the phases of conflict, the definition of battlespace, our access to and ability to maneuver within domains, and our expected operational tempo will all be challenged.

Maintaining freedom of action in the global commons requires overcoming the physical threats of long-range missiles, torpedoes, mines, and other threats as well as maintaining our ability to command, control, and communicate with the forces from the strategic to the tactical levels. Initial analysis led some to conclude that only through striking the land-based hosts of these threat capabilities would the U.S. be able to maintain access.[8] The Joint Operational Access Concept acknowledges the risks associated with that approach.[9] To provide national leadership and military commanders with an array of viable options, Air-Sea Battle promotes operational art, not prescriptive solutions and advocates the innovative use of existing technology and potential future developments as the means to maintain U.S. qualitative superiority in the global commons.

Defining the A2/AD Problem. The Air-Sea Battle Concept defines the A2/AD problem and desired end-state as “capabilities (that) challenge U.S. freedom of action by causing U.S. forces to operate with higher levels of risk and at greater distance from areas of interest. U.S. forces must maintain freedom of action by shaping the A2/AD environment to enable concurrent or follow-on operations.”[10] In short, the A2/AD environment consists of threats to movement, threats to maneuver, and threats to command and control.

For example, capabilities in space and cyberspace as well as terrorist tactics may threaten the movement of deploying forces, logistics forces and follow-on forces from home bases to theater. These threats will challenge our understanding of the phasing of conflict. In addition, increased area denial capabilities are directly and indirectly challenging the long-range air and missile capabilities of U.S. forces, specifically to negate U.S. stand-off capability and driving a change to our understanding of battlespace and operating areas by making our current frames of reference obsolete. Finally, adversaries are preparing to contest the domains of space and cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum in order to create a degraded or denied communications environment that directly challenges U.S. reliance on ”reach back” communications and theater level command and control. This will greatly impact our ability to dictate the tempo of battle. The effect of these A2/AD capabilities is summarized in the Concept: “(t)he range and scale of possible effects from these capabilities presents a military problem that threatens the U.S. and allied expeditionary warfare model of power projection and maneuver.”[11]

An Operational Approach to A2/AD. An operational approach is a “commander’s description of the broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[12] It is a “visualization of how the operation should transform current conditions into the desired conditions at end state.”[13] The Joint force uses operational approaches to provide the foundation for planning guidance, to provide a model for execution and assessment and to enable a better understanding of the operational environment and of the problem.[14] Air-Sea Battle provides an operational approach to A2/AD.

Air-Sea Battle’s operational approach to the A2/AD challenge in the global commons is a networked, integrated force capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces (NIA/D3).[15] As defined above, the A2/AD problem at its core is about sophisticated threats to movement, maneuver and command and control. Readers of the Concept document will find the broad framework of Air-Sea Battle as it addresses A2/AD threats. The individual parts of Air-Sea Battle are briefly summarized as follows, but the reader is cautioned to view them not as individual lines of effort but as strands woven together when a commander is designing a plan:

Networked. “Networked” describes not only the communications pathways but also the authorities and relationships needed to enable commanders faced with threats to their decision-making process. Cross-domain operations are conducted by integrating capabilities from multiple interdependent warfighting domains to support, shape, or achieve objectives in other domains. The Joint Operational Access Concept advocates for cross-domain synergy, which goes beyond the merely additive, de-conflicted capabilities of today where commander’s must “reach back” for space, cyber and long-range fires.[16] Cross-domain operations will go a step further to exploit asymmetric advantages in specific domains to create positive and potentially cascading effects in other domains, as commanded at the operational level.

Integrated. “Integrated” reflects three emerging trends that will challenge the current U.S. understanding of the opening phase of war with A2/AD adversaries. First, an adversary can initiate military activities with little or no indications or warning. Second, forward deployed friendly forces will likely be in the A2/AD environment at the commencement of hostilities and, third, adversaries will likely attack U.S. and allied territory supporting operations against adversary forces. In other words, the U.S. will no longer have the luxury to build up combat power in an area, perform detailed rehearsals and integration activities, and then conduct operations as desired.[17] To overcome this, forces must train against A2/AD capabilities together, as an integrated Joint and combined force, for cross-domain operations prior to deploying to theater. This pre-deployment Joint and combined training is called pre-integration.

Attack-in-depth. “Attack-in-depth” includes offensive and defensive fires and includes both kinetic and non-kinetic means to attack an adversary’s critical vulnerabilities without requiring systematic destruction of the enemy’s defenses. This is a significant departure from today’s rollback methodology that relies on uncontested communications and the ability to establish air superiority, or dominance in any other domain. The attack-in-depth methodology seeks to create and exploit corridors and windows of control that are temporal in nature and limited in geography. At the tactical level, Air-Sea Battle’s attack-in-depth methodology provides a unique lens to consider the A2/AD threat. Air-Sea Battle analyzes adversary effects chains, or an adversary’s process of finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, engaging and assessing an attack on U.S. forces. The insight from this analysis contributes to the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle.

Disrupt C4ISR. “Disrupting” adversary effects chains focuses on impacting an adversary’s decision-making ability, referred to as Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR). Ideally, friendly efforts to disrupt an adversary’s decision-making will preclude attacks on friendly forces. For example, commanders faced with threats to planned “movement” into theater should consider disruptive offensive operations to combat the adversary’s ability to track and locate forces in transit using all five domains.

Destroy and Defeat. The “Destroy and Defeat” operational tasks focus the commander on adversary A2/AD platforms and weapons systems that threaten forces in theater as they maneuver.[18] Destroying or neutralizing adversary weapons systems enhances friendly survivability and provides freedom of action. In terms of access, destroying adversary platforms regains access and defeating employed weapons sustains it.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept document, and not the blogosphere, should be read in detail for a deeper understanding of how the operational art of Air-Sea Battle addresses the A2/AD problem. As stated in the unclassified version of the concept, for those with appropriate clearances and need to know, there a growing body of work that explores subordinate tactical concepts and mission essential tasks that will be required for Air-Sea Battle to evolve from operational art, to operational design, to concepts of operations and operational plans.

Historical Analogy: War Plan Orange. Air-Sea Battle is not a strategy or a war plan; however, there is a particularly appropriate analogy to Air-Sea Battle in the development of War Plan Orange during the interwar years. There are striking similarities in the institutional changes driven by the changing operational environment as well as the specific time-distance-resistance military problem confronted by planners in the Pacific then and in the global commons today.

First, the era of uncontested power projection for U.S. forces may well be over – Air-Sea Battle assumes U.S. forces will have to fight to get to the fight – an assumption also made by the planners of War Plan Orange. Similar to the historical evolution of War Plan Orange, Air-Sea Battle’s development is driving institutional changes to better understand the challenges of potential future fights. Edward Miller’s book, War Plan Orange, explores what he called “the American way of planning” in detail and perhaps future historians will compare the “color” planning efforts of the pre-World War II era and the overall effort to explore the anti-access and area denial challenge through the Air-Sea Battle Concept, the Joint Operational Access Concept, and others.[19] War Plan Orange’s many iterations included the Through Ticket and the Royal Road, evolutions in the plans that accounted for better understanding and new insights between the Services. Air-Sea Battle represents a similar evolution in 21st century warfare.

Second, the defining military problem faced by Army and Navy planners working on War Plan Orange in the decades preceding World War II was largely one of geography, where access to the high seas and international airspace was defined by the air and maritime distance between bases and the Pacific islands. The same geographic considerations bound Air-Sea Battle in the global commons, but with the added complexity of access to non-sovereign cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Air-Sea Battle is in the vanguard of a likely long-term effort to address a similar problem of time, distance and resistance associated with A2/AD.

In conclusion, Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach that, for military planners, helps make sense of the A2/AD operating environment, defines the military problem of A2/AD, and describes the characteristics needed in the future force and the broad actions U.S. and allied forces must take to achieve access in the global commons. For every complaint about Air-Sea Battle generated inside the Beltway, there are numerous requests for support from the Fleets and Forces in how to approach the growing challenge of advanced A2/AD capabilities. Further, the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle promotes mutual understanding and unity of effort not just forward in the Fleets and Forces but among the Services in their Title 10 force development roles. Air-Sea Battle’s operational framework is being used to find the solutions necessary for the U.S. military to continue to operate forward and project power wherever an A2/AD challenge emerges.[20]

CDR John Callaway, U.S. Navy, is a strategic planner assigned to the Air-Sea Battle Office. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the National War College. The opinions expressed here are his own. This piece first appeared in July on the CIMSEC website here.

Image: US Navy Flickr. 

[1] Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges, May 2013, p.4

[2] Joint Pub 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011, p.III-5

[3] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-6

[4] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-7

[5] Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012, pp.4-5

[6] The “Air-Sea Battle” name is attributed to various sources, including former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich’s “AirSea Battle” or to Admiral James Stavridis’ 1992 war college paper. While it does not take much imagination to jump from AirLand Battle to Air-Sea Battle, perhaps the credit really belongs with the Atari Corporation which launched a video game called Air-Sea Battle in 1977.

[7] Air-Sea Battle, p.1

[8] See reports authored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments on this topic. These reports preceded and are often confused with the actual Department of Defense Air-Sea Battle Concept.

[9] Joint Operational Access Concept, Department of Defense, 17 Jan 2012, p.24 (footnote) and p.38

[10] Air-Sea Battle, p.3

[11] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[12] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5

[13] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5-III-6

[14] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-13

[15] Air-Sea Battle, p.4

[16] Air-Sea Battle, p.5

[17] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[18] Air-Sea Battle, pp.7-8

[19] Miller, Edward S., War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan 1897-1945, (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 1991.) As an interesting aside, and potentially a strategic message about the willingness of the United States to work with those formerly considered competitors and adversaries, planners from more than one country targeted by a “color plan” are included in the Air-Sea Battle implementation effort.

[20] Air-Sea Battle, p.13

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

The West's Containment Folly

The Buzz

Vladimir Putin’s state-of-the-nation address to the Russian Federal Assembly last week was a telling piece of statecraft.  Now that the country’s relationship with the west have reached a new a nadir, and the impact of western-imposed economic sanctions is beginning to bite at home, Putin’s speech was a timely exposition of the defiant course that Moscow seems intent on charting.  The oration showed that Putin is on the back foot to a certain extent.  But it also highlights some serious limitations to prevailing U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, casting doubt on whether finely-tuned policies of containment ever will be enough to extract meaningful changes in policy from the Russian leader.

While most of Putin’s speech was devoted to announcing economic reforms—tax freezes, deregulation, investment in key infrastructure—and various social policies, there nevertheless was a clear and predictable emphasis on foreign affairs.  Putin celebrated Russia’s annexation of Crimea, stressing the deep cultural, religious and historical roots of Russia’s connection with the peninsula.  He railed against the western policy of “containment,” accusing the west of reflexive antipathy towards a strong and confident Russia.  And he pledged that Russia’s armed forces were ready to meet any and all foreign threats.

Stoking nationalistic sentiment has never been more important for Putin.  For a long time, his domestic popularity—indeed, his very legitimacy as a national leader—hinged upon his ability to deliver economic growth and prosperity.  Now, with the ruble tumbling vis-à-vis the dollar and the Russian economy sliding towards recession in the face of U.S.-led economic sanctions, Putin’s reputation for sound economic stewardship is faltering.  As such, it is hardly surprising that Putin is keen to ensure that the Russian people know to pin the blame for their woes on the western world and not the Kremlin.

Nor is Putin altogether wrong in his diagnosis. Western states do indeed fear a powerful and assertive Russia, and western sanctions—applied in response to Moscow’s policies towards Ukraine—are largely responsible for the economic turmoil currently ravaging the Russian economy.  While it was hyperbolic and inflammatory (likely intentionally so) of Putin to liken contemporary western policy to Hitler’s ambition to “push us [Russians] back beyond the Urals,” it is true that Europe and the U.S. wish that Russian influence would stop at its own borders.  A policy of containment is today being implemented by NATO, albeit to a questionable degree of success.  This policy might not be as colorfully articulated as was Georges Clemenceau’s “cordon sanitaire,” and is not as well thought-through as was George Kennan’s recommendation in the 1940s for the “adroit and vigilant application of counter force,” but it is nevertheless a concrete strategy of containment: a package of foreign economic, diplomatic and military policies aimed at preventing Russia from influencing events in its “near abroad.”

Putin is wrong to suggest that this means the west is bent on destroying or dismembering Russia, however.  This has never been the desire of American or European leaders.  Instead, the nominal goal of western policy is to change Russia, to encourage leaders in Moscow to adopt a new foreign policy tack.  By imposing intolerable costs upon Russia as the price of its interventionism (in Ukraine or elsewhere), the U.S. and Europe hope to bring Moscow to terms and lay the foundations for a relationship whereby Russia will be expected to play by western-designed rules.  At various points during its history, Russia has functioned as an integral and an important member of European and international society, a feared and respected Great Power and even a trusted military ally of the western powers.  The (distant) hope today is that external pressure can shift the needle of domestic politics in Russia such that the country changes course, once again taking its seat at the top table of world diplomacy.

Putin’s recent speech suggests that such an endgame might be wishful thinking.  Instead of empowering doves in Russia (as if such a faction even exists in the Kremlin), the policy of containment risks strengthening the hawks and encouraging Putin to double down on nationalistic words and deeds.  Rather than bringing Moscow to heel, economic sanctions and military balancing appear to be riling Russia’s leadership and closing off the possibility of rapprochement.  This is an unhappy state of affairs for all concerned. More depressingly, a straightforward way out of the current diplomatic abyss is difficult to detect.

TopicsSecurity RegionsRussia

Israeli Nukes Meets Atomic Irony in the Middle East

Paul Pillar

The stated rationale for the United States casting on Tuesday one of the very lonely votes it sometimes casts at the United Nations General Assembly, on matters on which almost the entire world sees things differently, warrants some reflection. The resolution in question this time endorsed the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and called on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to renounce any possession of nuclear weapons, and to put its nuclear facilities under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. A nuclear weapons-free Middle East and universal adherence to the nonproliferation treaty are supposedly U.S. policy objectives, and have been for many years. So why did the United States oppose the resolution? According to the U.S. representative's statement in earlier debate, the resolution "fails to meet the fundamental tests of fairness and balance. It confines itself to expressions of concern about the activities of a single country."

You know something doesn't wash when the contrary views are as overwhelmingly held as on this matter. The resolution passed on a vote of 161-5. Joining Israel and the United States as “no” votes were Canada (maybe the Harper government was thinking of the Keystone XL pipeline issue being in the balance?) and the Pacific powers of Micronesia and Palau. The latter two habitually cast their UN votes to stay in the good graces of the United States; they have been among the few abstainers on the even more lopsided votes in the General Assembly each year calling for an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

An obvious problem with the United States complaining about a resolution on a topic such as this being an expression of concern about the activities of only a single country is that the United States has been in front in pushing for United Nations resolutions about the nuclear activities of a single country, only just not about the particular country involved this time. The inconsistency is glaring. Iran has been the single-country focus of several U.S.-backed resolutions on nuclear matters—resolutions in the Security Council that have been the basis for international sanctions against Iran.

(Recommended: What About Iran's Missiles?

One could look, but would look in vain, for sound rationales for the inconsistency. If anything, the differences one would find should point U.S. policy in the opposite direction from the direction it has taken. It is Iran that has placed itself under the obligations of the nonproliferation treaty and subjects its nuclear activities to international inspection. Since the preliminary agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program that was negotiated last year, those inspections are more frequent and intrusive than ever. Israel, by contrast, has kept its nuclear activities completely out of the reach of any international inspection or control regime. As for actual nuclear weapons, Iran does not have them, has declared its intention not to have them, and according to the U.S. intelligence community has not made any decision to make them. Neither Israel nor the United States says publicly that Israel has nuclear weapons, but just about everyone else in the world takes it as a given that it does, which would make it the only state in the Middle East that does.

(Recommended: 5 Iranian Weapons of War Israel Should Fear

One might look, but still in vain, for justifying discrepancies that go beyond the respective nuclear programs of the countries in question but still involve questions of regional security and stability. What about, for example, menacing threats? Iran and Israel have each had plenty of unfriendly words about each other. Iran's words have included bloviation about wiping something from pages of history; Israel's have included more pointed threats of military attack. What about actual attacks? Israel has initiated multiple wars with its neighbors, as well as launching smaller armed attacks; The Islamic Republic of Iran has not started a war in its 35-year history. Terrorism? Well, there were those assassinations of Iranian scientists, with some later attacks against Israelis being an obvious (and not very successful) attempt by Iran at a tit-for-tat response against those responsible for murdering the scientists. And so forth.

Singling out one country in a multilateral context can indeed cause problems. The resolution the General Assembly passed this week need not involve a problem, however, since it was not calling for differential treatment of anyone—only for Israel to get with the same program as any state in the Middle East that does not have nukes and adheres to the international nuclear control regime.

(Recommended: Can China Rise Peacefully?)

Iran, by contrast, is being treated much differently from anyone else. Tehran already has acquiesced to some of that differential treatment, but Iranians unsurprisingly wonder why Iran should be subjected to more such treatment, or indeed to any of it. They wonder, for example, why Iran should be subject to unique restrictions that several other non-nuclear-weapons states that also are parties to the nonproliferation treaty and enrich their own uranium are not. Such wonderment is almost certainly a factor in Iranian resistance to making the sorts of additional concessions that many in the United States are expecting or demanding that Iran make. The differential treatment should be kept in mind in any discussion in the United States about who has made bigger concessions than whom and about what would or would not constitute a fair and reasonable final agreement.

Then there is the irony—although Iranians might use a more bitter word than irony—of Israel leading the charge in constantly agitating about Iran's nuclear program (and by trying to torpedo an international agreement to restrict that program, making the issue fester and thus making it more possible for Israel's agitation to go on forever).              

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsIran Israel RegionsMiddle East

Did Congress Kill an Iran Nuke Deal?

The Buzz

Numerous reports indicate that a major reason the P5+1 and Iran failed to reach a nuclear agreement was because Tehran doubted that the White House’ could persuade Congress to lift the sanctions against it. Purportedly, U.S. negotiators offered to suspend the sanctions through presidential waivers, which Iran rejected because there would be no guarantee future administrations would continue this practice. This is a legitimate concerns and the Obama administration will need to exert every effort to reassure Tehran. In dealing with Congress, the administration should first negotiate, then lambast, and then be prepared to “go solo” if all else fails.

To be sure, there are creative methods that would allow the administration to circumvent the sanctions without congressional approval. Before sidestepping the incoming Republican-led Congress, however, the Obama administration should negotiate with Capitol Hill in earnest. In doing so, the administration could find itself in negotiations that are every bit as arduous as those with Iran. The administration could have little choice but to use other policy issues as bargaining chips to get Congress to remove sanctions against Iran. There are a number of potential issues the Obama administration could use to reach a grand bargain with congressional Republicans, including flexibility on budgetary matters, approving the Keystone pipeline, revisiting the coal plant emissions limit, and/or compromising on future immigration reform, to name a few.

One obstacle to this process could be the president himself. It is no secret that President Obama has little enthusiasm for “wheeling and dealing” and “back slapping” with congressional leaders. Nonetheless, the administration simply has to include Republicans in the process if it wants to get the congressionally mandated sanctions against Iran repealed.

Should a charm offensive fail, President Obama can try and lambast lawmakers into action much like he did last year when Congress tried to pass additional sanctions after the interim agreement was signed. In that instance, President Obama the sanctions push by dispatching Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry to lobby Congress, while also inviting lawmakers and Hill staffers to the White House for special briefings. Simultaneously, the president and other senior officials launched a major PR campaign outlining the dire consequences imposing more sanctions could have for U.S. national security.

A similar effort might work in persuading Congress to lift the sanctions against Iran. Having won majorities in both chambers of Congress, and with an eye towards the 2016 presidential election, Republicans will want to portray themselves as capable of governing. This can only happen, however, if the GOP appeals to the broader American populace, which just so happens to favor making a deal with Iran. As such, publicly lambasting Republicans could force them to make compromises on Iran sanctions.

If negotiations and public shaming fail, a creative method for ensuring continued sanctions waivers in a post-Obama environment could be to codify them within a UN Security Council resolution. That is, within a larger UNSC resolution, the U.S. could assure Iran that it will honor its commitment to provide sanctions relief. Such action would mandate the United States, the other members of the so-called P5+1 and UN members at-large to repeal sanctions against Iran and refrain from adopting nuclear-related restrictive measures so long as Tehran remains in compliance with the final nuclear agreement.

Supplemented domestically by a blanket executive order by President Obama to continuously and automatically waive sanctions in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution, this will provide future U.S. presidents with the legal impetus and authority to continue waiving the sanctions. Of course, Congress can pass a bill barring the president from providing waivers and override the presidential veto that would likely follow with a two-thirds majority from each house in Congress, but such a scenario is uncommon and would require the Republican majority in the Senate to rally many Democrats toward their cause.

Moreover, by failing to uphold its end of a nuclear accord, the United States could damage its relations with the European members of the P5+1, particularly since the bloc is negotiating with Iran in good faith. It could also signal to its competitors, rivals and foes alike (i.e. China, Russia and North Korea) that the U.S. reneges on its commitments due to its dysfunctional political system.

Legal experts may disagree on the above approach but the intent here is to promote outside the box thinking in reaching a historic nuclear deal with Iran.

Navid Hassibi is a Non-Resident Fellow with the Washington DC-based Nuclear Security Working Group and a doctoral candidate with the Research Group in International Politics at the University of Antwerp. He tweets @navidhassibi. The views expressed here are his own.

Image: Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore/ CC 2.0​

TopicsDiplomacyPolitics RegionsMiddile East

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