The Soft Law of Iran Containment Policy
In my initial comment on 9/11 terror in the United States, I argued on an Iranian TV channel shortly after the incident that the United States would react to it on three phases to challenge the contending forces in international system. According to my argument, the US would first begin with the overthrowal of Taleban establishment in Afghanistan which would be followed by the introduction of a series of major reforms in the Middle East establishments, the first stage of which could be the downing of Ba’ath Party and Saddam Husain in Iraq while its last stage could probably be the decapitation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In between the two stages of the second phase, I argued, Syria, Libya and Saudi Arabia’s political establishments would be transformed. The third phase of the US reaction to 9/11 would be the containment of China.
Each phase had its own logic and underlying forces. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had set the scene for American engagement in the areas that had formerly been under the Soviet influence. That being said, one could also easily infer from the bill put forth by Ben Campbell, a Senator from Colorado in early 2000s, the US intentions in Afghanistan. According to the bill the US should overthrow the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and ask Zahershah to set up Loya Jirga government without himself assuming the country’s leadership. To materialize those three phases, the US adopted a logical sequence of hard power, soft power and soft law as three interdependent forces.
The hard power expressed itself in the form of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) which was based on technology, accuracy and institutionalization of war and was carried out with a remarkable efficacy in US raids over Kosovo, Iraq and to a certain degree in Afghanistan. In the latter case RMA experienced its own limitations due to the asymmetrical nature of war.
The exertion of hard power in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq was a determining force in the behavioral changes of policy makers in target states of the second phase like Libya and Iran. Following the overthrowal of Saddam Hussein, Iran lost its appetite for weaponization in 2003 partially because of a possible threat to trigger RMA but largely due to the pressure and coercion imposed upon the Iranian system by certain bureaucratic forces associated with and sympathetic to the US within the Iranian bureaucracy. This pressure group which was formed in New York in the 1980s, in a gradual manner but with a dogged determination, laid the foundation of Iranian disarmament policy and paved the way for the next sequence of force, i.e. the soft power, which in turn, translated itself into a series of soft laws that delineated a Right Triangle of security, economic and cultural dilemma for Iran. The right angle, i.e security, was controlled and contained by the soft law of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the nuclear deal, and Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) among other initiatives. The containment of the two other angles, economy and culture, respectively came in the form of Iran Sanctions Act/ Financial Action Task Force (ISA/FATF) and projection of words by the foreign mass media sponsored by the US Congress, some parts of which have been publicized in different US Congress bills.
All these bodies of soft law have led to the formation of a nuclear jurisprudence. A primary origin of such a jurisprudence in the matter of arbitration which indirectly led to the formation of JCPOA, could be traced back to the adoption by the US of “a full, prompt and adequate compensation” formula following the then US Secretary of State Cordus Hull’s letter to the Mexican government apparently asking for “full compensation” in 1939. Mexico settled the claims by lump sum payments, but the formula was then incorporated in various friendship treaties with developing countries. These treaties included the Iran-US Bilateral Treaty of Amity which was subsequently implemented at the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague which was established in accordance with the Algiers’ Declarations following the hostage crisis in Tehran. The problem with the formula was to decide how “full” was the full compensation.
The literature on international arms control borrowed the modifier, namely the term “full”, dropped the concept of “compensation” and retook, as a substitution drill, the concept of “cooperation” instead. Subsequently, the term “full cooperation” required the member states to fully comply with the arms control treaties comprising of monitoring, inspection and immunity regimes. Mention could be made of numerous International Atomic Energy Agency reports and UN Security Council Resolutions against Iraq and Iran respectively. As a result, as part of an unlimited extension of cooperation, Iran was required to fully comply with the JCPOA. For instance, Iraq’s cooperation in arms control -in such areas as inspection and dismantling of missiles- did not fully come to an end until and unless Saddam Hussein was toppled. Libya experienced the same scenario too. Human prognostications are largely based on one’s experience. Can Iran not comply with full cooperation formula given the fact that it has committed itself, under the JCPOA, to an unprecedented means of monitoring, inspection and immunity systems?
A second origin of the JCPOA dates back to the unlimited extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1995 and the adherence, by the same New York-based bureaucratic forces associated with and sympathetic to the US, of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996 where a hasty step was taken to sign it while the treaty is still ineffective after 32 years. However, three high-tech monitoring systems were then placed in Iran and began to transmit explosion data and information to the CTBTO in Vienna which provided the policy-makers in the US, and elsewhere, a live and independent channel to watch Iran’s nuclear activity. These monitoring systems were placed in Iran without having been approved by the Iranian Parliament which was a blatant violation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In any given treaty or regime, principles are related to the objectives and norms pertaining to the behavior of the state parties while rules demonstrate how and under what conditions the parties must behave to materialize the goals and objectives of the treaty or regime.
As the express wording of the JCPOA provides Iran is, eternally and once and for all, deprived of all nuclear weapons. The treaty refers to “Iran” as a proper name and does not specify it as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Apart from state responsibility which could have applied to Iran under any given name, the drafters of JCPOA used their utmost caution to disarm Iran even if the Islamic Republic of Iran undergoes a regime change in the future and the state adopts a new name. Added to these objectives of the JCPOA, are the objectives of other bodies of soft law. Neither are the aims and objectives of CAATSA, ISA and FATF distinct from those of the JCPOA.
A close scrutiny of the languages of CAATSA, ISA, FATF and JCPOA suggest that they all are defined as a set of mixed soft laws drafted to undermine the state of Iran without placing an established means of governance instead. To do so, it is necessary to labor the point that CAATSA, ISA, FATF and JCPOA are birds of a feather and they all flock together. So, it is worth noting their parallel point.
CAATSA is primarily concerned with the so-called terrorist activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and imposes harsh sanctions on each member of it. ISA blackballs Iran on three issue-areas: human rights, weapons of mass destructions (WMD), and terrorism. FATF covers money laundering along with WMD and terrorism. Overall, they altogether comprise of a body of mixed soft laws that target Iran’s strategy of survival. It is also self-evident that all of these bodies of soft law come in a triangular shape. There is also no gainsaying that such a survival strategy could be drawn and delineated in a right triangular shape: security, economy and culture. Although the cultural domain has been under immense pressure by the US-sponsored mass media, cultural force by itself has not been effective enough to cause a behavioral change in Iran. The Iran-US rivalry to win the minds and hearts of Iranians is still in process after nearly four decades. Therefore, a set of mixed soft law comprising of security, economic and culture sanctions are utilized by the US to bring a regime change in Iran.
The salient trait and prominent feature of this set of soft laws doubtlessly have security targets at the center of which lies the issue of the dissolution of IRGC. Iran’s peace, security and territorial integrity are variables mainly dependent on IRGC. Supposing, arguendo, Revolutionary Guards are swept, either peacefully or by the exertion of force, from the scenes of life, there would hardly remain any sort of governance mechanism to maintain the tranquility of Iran and the Persian Gulf region. The Obama Administration disarmed Iran of nuclear means of deterrence via the JCPOA leaving the rest of the job to the Trump Administration to disarm Iran of conventional, asymmetric and cybernetic means of deterrence by imposing primary, secondary and tertiary sanctions. In doing so, those who sanction Iran whether under the rubric of smart sanctions or boycott legislations to promote democracy and human rights in Iran might be forgiven not to know of the fact that at the forefront of targeted people lie the elderly pensioners. A number of target institutions and companies are totally or partially owned by the Iranian Social Security Organizations’ SHASTA Holdings like Iranian Shipping Line Company (IRISL) and National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC). Such a body of soft law is primarily targeting the poor and the elderly pensioners in Iran.
However, IRGC is the pioneer of all the targets. IRGC is the cornerstone of Iran’s hard power and no wonder why the United States and its allies seek to undermine it by the soft laws of CAATSA, ISA, FATF and JCPOA. For IRGC, the question is to be or not to be in Iran’s national and international life i.e., whether to undergo a process of peaceful transition and let itself be dissolved like a paper-tiger or be prepared for a war of attrition with contending forces.
The former option will very shortly bring the end of the Islamic Revolution and a regime change in Iran for the simple reason that in the absence of nuclear, conventional, smart and asymmetric deterrence which largely are identified and reportedly possessed by IRGC, the country will be destined to say farewell to the Islamic Revolution. The dissolution of IRGC does not necessarily suggest a pacific regime change, rather, it is highly likely that a power vacuum in the country will leave enough room for anarchy and chaos.
The latter option, i.e. IRGC’s decision to face the belligerent forces in and outside Iran, will drive the Middle East in its entirety to an unknown domain with severe consequences. It is plausible that certain revisions and modifications of the said soft laws by the US and its allies could find a face-saving solution for Iran. Otherwise, the current lame-duck administration in Iran would not be in a position to cope with security related issues and ultimately will be doomed to step down. IRGC may fight to the last minute. The American past practice in warfare, namely its application of RMA has proved ineffective in asymmetric wars while IRGC is able to adapt itself to an invisible life even after a regime change in Iran. The Middle East region, too, should think of the unthinkable: wars of attrition by regional ethnic factions.
Such are the ramification of Iran’s failure.
Must Iran fail?
*Abumohammad Asgarkhani is a Assc. Prof. of International Relations at Tehran University.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect IRAM’s editorial policy.