U.S. President Barack Obama is trumpeting the recently announced interim nuclear framework agreement between Iran’s Shiite Islamic Republic and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (United States, France, Great Britain, China, and Russia) plus Germany (P5+1) as a good deal that will make the world safer.
He should be mindful of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The unintended consequences of this agreement could make it more likely to set-off a dangerous reaction with other Middle East countries that will lead to more chaos and war and a regional nuclear arms race.
The agreement falls short of President Obama’s earlier statements that Iran must abide by U.N. resolutions to curb and/or eliminate its illegal nuclear weapons development program in exchange for international sanctions relief. Moreover, it does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its aggressive interference in neighboring states affairs.
Iran, which traces its heritage to ancient Persia, is a nation of 81 million people and has the world’s largest Shiite Muslim population. It borders Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea and oil-rich Persian Gulf. Its riches include the world’s third-largest oil reserve. The average annual income of Iranians is $12,800, which is slightly below the world average. And its most important trading partner is China, a P5+1 negotiator.
Ruling Shiite Muslim Iranian theocrats have sought to dominate the region since acquiring power during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as their non-Muslim predecessors did during the golden era of the Persian Empire. They have built a conventional military force of 545,000 strong complemented by an additional 200,000 highly-trained Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including the Quds Forces and Basij militia, which defend the regime internally and export the revolution to proxies in other countries. Iran’s growing sphere of influence, particularly into the Arab world, now extends into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza and elsewhere.
The Iranian regime’s terrorist activities earned it a spot on the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsor of Terror list since 1984. And the regime has been branded an international outlaw, and subjected to international economic sanctions, for running an illegal nuclear weapons development program for more than 20 years.
Despite its success keeping the Shiite Islamic Revolution alive and exporting it to several Arab countries, the Iranian regime is confronted with some significant hurdles as it tries to become the regional hegemon:
- There are simply many more Sunni Muslims than Shiite Muslims. Of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, about 1.32 billion (88 percent) of them are Sunni and about 180 million (12 percent) are Shiite. On a regional scale, the percentages heavily favor Sunnis.
- Shiite Iran’s powerful military capabilities are substantially less than those of its most powerful Sunni Muslim adversaries. While Iran’s conventional military forces total some 545,000 troops, the collective conventional military strength of Sunni Muslim majority countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey is more than 1.7 million strong. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has already established a formidable alliance of Sunni Muslim ruled nations to fend off Shiite Muslim Iran’s expanding regional influence.
- Iran’s IRGC, Quds Forces, and proxies use terrorism to achieve the regime’s political objectives. In attempting to continue, and expand, influence in Sunni Muslim majority countries, they will face not only the conventional forces of those countries, but dozens of Sunni-bred jihadist groups – like the Islamic State, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Taliban – equally as violent and skilled in terror as Shiite jihadists.
- Even if the Shiite Iranian regime succeeds in becoming a nuclear threshold state in anywhere between three months to 10 years as the interpreters of the interim agreement suggest, it will not be the first Muslim country to do so. Sunni Pakistan, which shares a border with Iran, conducted its first nuclear test in 1998 and currently has a growing arsenal of between 100 to 130 nuclear weapons (about 30 were built during the Obama presidency) which can be delivered to targets by aircraft and missiles. Pakistan is a known nuclear proliferator and not a state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is widely believed that Pakistani leaders will share nuclear technology and/or deploy nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia to protect their Sunni Muslim brethren if Iran becomes a nuclear threshold state.
It does not appear that the recent interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, if consummated in three months as planned, will improve regional conditions. Under the agreement Iran will not have to dismantle its illegal nuclear weapons development program and will have U.N. Security Council economic sanctions lifted – with the Sunni Muslim Coalition and perhaps Israel reacting to it in a way that is ‘equal or opposite’ to the regional peace and security the P5+1 negotiators apparently believes the agreement will bring.
Moreover, it would have been wise for the P5+1 to include regional Muslim governments and Israel in these negotiations. These countries have a huge stake in the outcome. Excluding principal stakeholders from discussions which involve their security makes it less likely a good deal and sustaining deal can be forged.
It is clear to many observers that President Obama and officials in his administration are the driving force for the P5+1 nuclear framework agreement with Iran. It provides the opportunity for them to claim a success in a region where the President’s global worldview and policies have not secured peace and stability. However, their claim of success shouldn’t be mistaken for a good negotiation. This deal has far-reaching consequences for the United States and its allies along with regional and international peace and security. And because it does, it must be vetted and approved by the U.S. Congress, especially given the Iranian regime’s terrorist and hegemonic history and proclivity for deception. Anything less would be a travesty.
Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst. He served in the U.S. departments of Defense and State.