The Security Council's Iran Nuclear Fumbles

The Security Council's Iran Nuclear Fumbles

The UNSC has misplayed Iran's nuclear dossier, neglecting some of its tools. Kicking the process back to the IAEA would be wise.

Iran's nuclear dossier is arguably one of the most sensitive international quandaries of the past decade. And since 2006, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been commissioned to resolve it. But after more than seven years of intensive involvement, this UN body—which the UN Charter designates as the "primary" organ in charge of maintaining international peace and security—has not been able to produce any positive result.

In fact, many argue that the Security Council's involvement in the dossier has instead exacerbated the situation and increased the chances of confrontation between the parties.

The Security Council is an organ of the UN and—accordingly—its conduct is attributable to the Organization and not to its member-states. So, naturally, the question becomes why has this powerful global institution failed to fulfill its mission to settle this critical contention peacefully?

Looking at the matter from the standpoint of the UN Charter, at least two reasons come to mind.

First, to address Iran's nuclear crisis, the Security Council has failed to employ all the conflict-resolution mechanisms and capacities that the Charter has equipped it with; and has instead only limited itself to a restrictive approach that solely revolves around "sanctions."

It is indeed often forgotten that according to the UN Charter, the Security Council must first and foremost encourage and facilitate multilateral diplomacy and peaceful settlement of international disputes before resorting to more aggressive measures. In fact, the Charter lays out a comprehensive step-by-step blueprint to conflict resolution that the Security Council is in principle supposed to follow. But since it took over Iran's case, the UN organ has hardly launched a single demarche to deescalate tensions and pave the way for diplomacy between Tehran and its challengers.

On the contrary, of all the tools and mechanisms in its toolbox (i.e. mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement or other peaceful means as explicitly laid out in the Charter) the UNSC has only utilized antagonizing sanctions that, in retrospect, have manifestly ratcheted up tensions, complicated the diplomatic process, limited peaceful options and obstructed the path to a fair resolution.

Secondly, the Security Council has adopted a position vis-à-vis Iran that does not faithfully reflect the views of most members of the United Nations as the Charter requires. In fact, during the course of its involvement, the Security Council has blatantly neglected the viewpoint of the "international community" at large.

It is often forgotten that Article 24 of the Charter explicitly states that the Security Council ought to act "on behalf" of all members of the international community, who "confer" to it its prerogatives. This means that the Security Council does not enjoy a blank check to act at whim but that its decisions must, in principle, reflect the will and concerns of most members of the United Nations. In the case of Iran's nuclear dossier, however, this has demonstrably not been the case.

Indeed, out of 193 members of the United Nations, nearly two-third are members of the Non-Aligned Movement which, at summit level, have very recently reaffirmed "the inalienable right of developing countries to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination".

These 120 countries, fully aware of the Security Council's longstanding positions on Iran, have also noted in their final document that "Security Council-imposed sanctions remain an issue of serious concern to Non-Aligned Countries" and recalled that "in accordance with the UN Charter, sanctions should be considered to be imposed only after all means of peaceful settlement of disputes under Chapter VI of the Charter have exhausted".

These statements are hardly reconcilable with the UN body's overall approach to Iran's nuclear dossier or its overly aggressive use of sanctions against the country. They are also diametrically at odds with the Security Council's excessive demand of Iran to "fully suspend" its enrichment activities, which essentially denies Iran even its right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

In that sense, it is fair to say that the Security Council has also betrayed the "universality" and "representativity" that the Charter has clearly bestowed upon it and—by doing so—has further dented the efficiency of the UN conflict-resolution mechanism.

In sum, after nearly seven years of fruitless involvement, it seems that the Security Council's sanction-centric and unrepresentative outlook on the Iranian nuclear dossier is in dire need of reassessment. This reassessment can materialize in two ways. The Security Council can either abandon the present policy and use its many tools to their full potential to ease tensions and facilitate multilateral diplomacy between Iran and its contenders; or, ideally, it can acknowledge the new conjuncture caused by the election of Dr. Hassan Rowhani as Iran's new president, and outright refer the nuclear file back to the IAEA to allow Tehran's new administration and its counterparts more leeway to find a fair and just agreement.

Otherwise, this UN body may very well inscribe yet another failure of diplomacy on its record.

Reza Nasri is an international lawyer from Geneva's Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, specializing in Charter law.