The Iran nuclear deal: Has Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize? (Revised August 18)

See

Roger Cohen, “The Door to Iran Opens,” New York Times, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After the nuclear deal, how to contain Iran’s meddling in the Middle East,” Washington Post, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger, “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen With Time,” New York Times, July 14, 2015.

Thomas Erdbrink, “Ayatollah Khamenei, Backing Iran Negotiators, Endorses Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, July 18, 2015.

A Good Agreement, Considering the Alternatives

President Barack Obama has attained his greatest foreign policy achievement since entering office with the successful conclusion of the P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and the signing of an agreement that will make it extremely unlikely that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon within the next 10-15 years.

The deal is done. It is exceedingly unlikely that Republicans in the Senate and House will succeed in their attempts to block the agreement from taking effect, in the United States.

President Obama and the other Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council can lift the U.N. santions in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and are expected to do so.

Republicans have little to gain from trying to block implementation of what is, after all, the best deal that could be negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, U.K., U.S., Germany) and Iran, a country that has been viewed as an enemy of the United States.

Critics will find a number of points on which, negotiating with themselves, they would have come up with stronger provisions.

However, this was the best deal that could be achieved, after years of hard and intricate negotiations and the slow accretion of trust that made it possible.

It is a very good deal, particularly when one reflects on the fact that the alternatives were (1) Iran proceeding to develop nuclear weapons; or (2) a war with Iran entailing frighteningly uncertain consequences, and a likelihood that Iran would develop nuclear weapons in any event.

A number of countries, such as Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa, which have the technology to develop nuclear weapons, have nonetheless decided instead to honor their obligations under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or in Latin America the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco.

The present agreement will greatly increase the likelihood that Iran will follow a similar course, even after 10 or 15 years.

In international politics, as in life, nothing is absolutely certain. Certainty in the arms control context is an illusion, one that embodies the principle that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

We need to look to previous battles over arms control agreements, and the cogent arguments that were advanced to secure their approval, to avoid the error of demanding certainty when verification of compliance with specific terms of highly complex and technical agreements provides a high probability of observance of the agreement’s essential terms.

“Worst-case secaros” could lead us to reject good agreements. We should avoid this pitfall.

The agreement is a good one.

Obama should still rally the nation and the world to support the agreement, in order to enhance its implementation and long-term compliance with its provisions.

The Question of Ends and Means

If one were to think only of the achievement of the Iran nuclear deal, one might conclude that President Obama has now earned the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2009.

However, one must also consider the means that were used to secure the end.

According to David Ignatius and others, Obama held back from intervening more forcefully in Syria and to oppose Russian aggression in the Ukraine because he didn’t want to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

A deal with Iran has been Obama’s overriding foreign-policy goal since Inauguration Day, when he declared his desire to engage adversaries on a basis of “mutual interest and mutual respect.” He has paid a heavy cost to protect his Iran peacemaking, sidestepping confrontation with Iranian proxies in Syria and Russia in Ukraine, in part because he saw the Iran deal as a higher priority. Obama explained his logic Tuesday morning: “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.” Historians will have to judge whether he has gained more than he lost.

–David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

The cost has been over 220,000 killed in Syria (as of January, 2015), the enormous growth of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and beyond (feeding terrorist attacks in the West), over 6,000 killed in the eastern Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion and the war started there by Russian special operations forces, and virtual silence in the face of continued Russian military occupation of the Crimea, which remains under international law sovereign territory of the Ukraine.

Raison d’Etat or Staatsrason (“Reason of State”) that would justfy such acquiescence in the commission in Syria of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, and the appeasement of Russia following its invasion of the Crimea and then the eastern Ukraine, represents an appalling application of the principle that “the end justifies the means”.

In considering whether Obama has finally earned his Nobel Peace Prize by concluding the Iran nuclear agreement, these considerations must also be taken into account.

The agreement is a signal achievement. But we, and historians, must also consider how it was achieved.

The Trenchant Observer

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The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.