A Look Back at the Iran Deal: The Predecessor to CAPS LOCK
While the caps lock was a new touch, Trump has a history of making serious and vague threats of war to U.S. adversaries (classic adversaries, not our new European foes). U.S. foreign nuclear policy relies on two, seemingly paradoxical, policies. One is the condemnation and dismantlement of nuclear weapons, both at home and abroad. Two is deterring those who do not adhere to the first policy with the full U.S. military arsenal, which implies nuclear weapons. While the Madman theory is often touted when similar statements are made by Trump, it’s hard to imagine that normalizing the threat of the full U.S. military arsenal will not undermine the long-term effectiveness of dismantling and condemning nuclear weapons. Trump’s many threats have yet to come to fruition, and the implied threat of nuclear war has produced more peaceful circumstances in the past, but if the ultimate goal of intergovernmental military institutions is to prevent nuclear war then we cannot dismiss Trump’s latest threat merely to the Twittersphere.
Why Are We Here?
In 2013, the ultra-conservative administration of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to an end. Ahmadinejad, famous for insulting western powers, denying the holocaust, and provoking international sanctions against Iran, was replaced by Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani was, and widely still is, viewed as a moderate by both Iranians and the international community. While many of his liberal policies have yet to realize, and Iran is still one of the most ardent sponsors of terrorism, his civility with western powers opened the door for the Iran Deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While Iran’s ties to terrorist organizations is deeply troubling, preventing nuclear war should not be mutually exclusive. There is no greater threat to humanity than nuclear war, yet we seem to only remember this when discussing North Korea. In 2015, President Obama entered the U.S. into the JCPOA with Iran, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom; plus Germany. In 2018, President Trump withdrew America from the deal. So, what the hell did the deal even do?
The JCPOA, which Iran is still currently abiding by in return for sanction relief from the remaining countries in the deal, entails reducing Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, reducing the enrichment level of Iran’s uranium, dismantling Iran’s uranium enrichment infrastructure, monitoring Iran’s compliance, and providing international sanction relief to Iran for compliance.
Under the deal, Iran is only capable of enriching uranium to 3.67%, far less than the 90% required for a nuclear weapon. Uranium enriched to 3.67% can be used for power plants or research purposes, but requires further enrichment via centrifuges to reach weapon-grade enrichment levels.
Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is also reduced by 98%. This brings down Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile from more than 25,000lbs to 660lbs. A portion of the more than 24,000lbs pounds of enriched uranium removed from Iran consisted of uranium enriched over 20%, something that nuclear experts feared in 2012 would lead to an Iranian nuclear breakout.
Lastly, the deal reduced Iran’s centrifuge capacity from over 20,000 to 5,000 older, less capable centrifuges. It would take about 12 months for 5,000 older centrifuges to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a bomb, enough time for a comprehensive inspection team to detect any activity.
Comprehensive inspection is by far the most controversial aspect of the Iran deal. The eyes and ears of the inspection process are delegated to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which reports its findings to JCPOA for interpretation. Many Republicans condemn the IAEA of not inspecting Iranian military sites, however the Trump administration provided no pressure for the organization to do so. Many misinterpret the IAEA’s role in the Iran deal. According to an IAEA official, “We’re not going to visit a military site like Parchin just to send a political signal”. While there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the deal’s inspection mechanisms, at no point has Iran ever been found in violation to the terms of the agreement.