A Farewell to Arms Control Treaties

Cliff May
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Posted: Mar 18, 2015 12:01 AM
A Farewell to Arms Control Treaties

The philosopher Lily Tomlin used to say: “No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.” Has that ever been truer than it is in Washington right now?

Last week, we learned that the deal the Obama administration has been attempting to negotiate with the Islamic Republic Iran will not be “legally binding.”

“We’re not negotiating a legally binding plan,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional hearing. “We’re negotiating a plan that will have a capacity for enforcement.”

What’s the point of “plan” that would not legally bind Iran’s rulers -- a plan that would not obligate the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism to stop building nuclear weapons they clearly intend to utilize in what they call a jihad against their neighbors, America and the West? And if those rulers would not be bound by the “plan,” how would it include a “capacity for enforcement”? What is a “capacity” for enforcement anyway?

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters: “We’re talking about how specifically pieces would be agreed to between the parties … If we get to the point where we have a framework, where we have an agreement, I’m sure we will have a discussion about how things will be implemented.”

Got it? I doubt it. And, cynical as I’m becoming, I’m convinced the administration is purposefully muddying the waters. I think President Obama and the small circle around him believe these issues are for them to understand and for the rest of us to attempt to figure out. So let’s give it a go, shall we?

The White House has no intention of seeking congressional “advice and consent” on whatever deal may be worked out between the P5+1 (the U.S. and the four other permanent member of the UN Security Council, France, Britain, Russia, China, plus Germany) and Iran’s theocrats. Despite the unprecedented strategic significance of this arms control deal, it will not be called a treaty (which would require approval by two-thirds of the Senate). It will be called something else: a “plan” or a “framework” or “an executive agreement."

But – and here’s the bigger news – President Obama is apparently considering having the UN Security Council enshrine the deal – which could make it “binding” under international law.

In other words, Mr. Obama may believe he can render irrelevant both Congress (the elected representatives closest to the people) and the U.S. Constitution, while granting to the UN the authority to obligate the U.S. government, including future presidents.

“It would not surprise me if this has been the plan all along,” wrote Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith on Lawfareblog.com where he described the “mechanism” Mr. Obama may utilize to “handcuff” both Congress and future presidents.

This would, of course, represent a historic surrender of American sovereignty to the “international community” – but that’s exactly what proponents of “transnational progressivism,” also known as “global governance,” have long advocated.

The White House and its supporters can be expected to respond to critics by saying there are no preferable options – indeed, that the only alternative is a shooting war with Iran. You’ll recall that was the response after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his address to Congress, called for a better deal than the one currently being negotiated.

But imagine this: A deal that would require Iran to verifiably “suspend . . . all enrichment-related activities” and “not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons;” a deal that would provide such “access and cooperation” as the International Atomic Energy Agency requests to resolve its continuing concerns about Iran's research on nuclear-weapons design; a deal that would ban the supply of nuclear-related materials and technology to Iran and freeze the assets of individuals and companies involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs; a deal that would maintains sanctions until Iran complies with those requirements.

Actually, you don’t need to imagine such a deal. It already exists. It’s the essence of the UN Security Council resolutions already passed on Iran.

Would replacing them with the deal now taking shape represent an improvement? For America and its allies, by no means. For Iran’s rulers, absolutely. As my colleague, legal scholar David Rivkin, put it in an analysis that appeared Monday in The National Interest, Mr. Obama’s approach will “make the Security Council Iran's powerful international protector, buttressing its ambitions as a regional hegemon and inducing Sunni Arab states to propitiate Tehran.”

True, Iran’s rulers may agree to the new deal whereas they have not agreed to the UN resolutions – another way of saying they have been blatantly violating international law. But Tehran agreeing is hardly the same as Tehran complying. On the contrary, the Islamic Republic has a long history of deception and mendacity.

The White House will argue: If Iran does not curb its nuclear weapons program as agreed for the amount of time agreed we can always re-impose – “snap back” -- sanctions. Highly improbable: Once the sanctions architecture collapses, it will be virtually impossible to reconstruct. The White House also may argue: Military options remain on the table – if not for this president (that’s long been obvious) than for the next.

This is how, not for the first time in modern history, an attempt to appease the enemies of free nations coupled with an emphasis on achieving peace in the short run makes war on a grand scale more likely in the not-so-distant future. I say that not as a cynic but as a realist – one who grows increasingly pessimistic day by day.