III Regenerating the Iran Nuclear Deal

I know something about resurrection. After all, almost a year ago, my heart stopped. I effectively died. I was resurrected by a passing stranger who gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The latter is possible only in the very few minutes after your heart stops. Otherwise, you die. That is why the survival rate following a heart stoppage is less than 10%. However, I was regenerated or given a new opportunity to live by means of a three-and-a-half hour operation that rewired my heart that is now run by a pacemaker and defibrillator in tandem. Res9rrection would have been insufficient. Regeneration was required.

There are two problems with resurrection of the Iran nuclear deal. First, it is not dead, only very badly wounded. Second, even if it were dead, there is no passer-by ready to intervene and resuscitate the deal. No one, and I mean, no one, wants the deal as it previously existed. The Americans do not want to resuscitate the old deal because it proved too simple to get around inspections and resume progress towards the production of nuclear weapons if things went awry. The Iranians do not want a deal where the Americans can drop out on a whim with no consequences to them but enormous consequences to themselves when sanctions were re-introduced at a level not operative before.

That is why, although the Iranians have called for restoration of all the terms of the deal once the Americans lift the sanctions imposed and restore the deal to the status quo ante, this is not what the Iranians really mean. They do not want to be subject to a recurrence of the same policy whiplash ever again. Though the Americans do not use the term as far as I have read, what they do want is a regeneration of the deal. They recognize that the limbs of the agreement have been badly mauled. One arm may even have been severed. The deal must be restored as a functioning agreement in which both sides gain. In other words, it will not be the same agreement as the old one, but it should look and feel the same but actually improve as a normal functioning peace agreement rather than just a nuclear deal. Physiology not anatomy will be the measure of success of a regenerative process.

It will also offer a better understanding of what went wrong.

There had to be something wrong with the existing deal, if only because it failed to function as intended, that is to secure stability with respect to the conflict over Iran acquiring nuclear arms. Part of the reason is that the agreement failed to address the central conflictual areas. That was readily granted. However, it was argued, including by myself, that ignoring the key areas of conflict was a precondition of getting a nuclear deal. And bracketing the nuclear component of the options for conflict would offer a significant gain even if, as many expected, conflict increased in non-nuclear spheres.

But the situation was even worse than we generally acknowledged. The missile danger was far greater. The use of disruptive militant proxies by Iran in neighboring states was far more consequential. And the sword of Damocles that America held over the Iranian economy was far more threatening to the well-being of Iranian society that anyone, including those who held out the sword, had predicted.

In that general sense, though not in the specifics, the Iran deal was of a piece with most peace agreements over the last three decades. Instead of peace, we have had war after war after war – the Yugoslav disintegration, the Rwanda genocide, the multifaceted Somalian civil war, the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, the Sudan secessionist movement and the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, the continuation of the Rwandan war in the DRC, the post-Oslo intifada and the three Israeli-Gaza wars. In addition, in the Middle East, we have had the war in Yemen, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and, of course, the ten-year war in Stria. In fact, it is difficult to find a peace agreement that did help establish a long-term secure peace that did not pre-date the end of the Cold War. The number of wars has increased. Even though they are mostly dubbed low-intensity conflicts, millions have been killed and maimed. In Syria alone, an estimated one million people died in or as a result of the conflict.

Thus, in Iran, the issue is not whether the nuclear deal produced sustained peace but whether it was on route to such a result. And events have shown that not to be the case. So why resurrect what proved to be a failure? However, that would not mean abandoning the effort to renovate the deal so that it can both bracket the prospect of nuclear war and, at the same time, forge a pathway to a more durable and wide-ranging peace. Therefore, begin at the beginning. Try to characterize what is needed for a truly functioning agreement that enhances stability and does not, in the name of peace, actually contribute to instability.

I suggest that an effective agreement must possess four characteristics;

  1. It must be legitimate in the eyes of both sides, that is, not just acceptable to peace-seeking Democrats but satisfactory to security-minded Republicans, not just satisfactory to “moderate” Iranians, but satisfactory to the Revolutionary Guards intent on protecting and expanding the revolutionary ideals of Iran.
  2. It must be inclusive rather than exclusively focused on nuclear weapons and rely on compellence as well as deterrence..
  3. It must be effective; the deal cannot appear to tick all the requisite boxes; it must actually have evidence that the deal will effectively move both sides forward towards peaceful relations. Appearances will be insufficient. The agreement must be a substantive peace and not just a nuclear peace deal.
  4. The deal must be rule-based so that the norms are written and understood by all parties.

Legitimate

Inclusionary

Efficacious

Rule-based,  

I have dubbed this regenerated deal the Iran LIER agreement.[1]

Let me explain.

The Trump maximum pressure campaign was illegitimate. It ran counter to UN Security Council directives. It was out of synch with America’s European allies as well as Russia and China. Whatever the weaknesses of the JCPOA. Iran was largely in compliance.  Therefore, there were no legitimate grounds for withdrawal. The reality is that, in international affairs, governments are not the only entities that are legitimate or illegitimate. Government actions are as well.

The classical Chinese political and military theorist, Mencius, wrote that, “He who mutilates benevolence is a mutilator; he who cripples rightness is a crippler; and a man who is both mutilator and a crippler is an ‘outcast’.” The first requirement in characterizing a regime as illegitimate is casting its actions as illegitimate and, thereby, painting the regime as a rogue entity. The Iranian regime is a mutilator of benevolence in its domestic policies and is a crippler regime in its foreign policy. However, neither Israel nor the United States have managed to paint Iran as a rogue state, not only in the realm of world public opinion, but even in domestic opinion in the United States. Further, neither is the US in a position to do so.

In contrast, Canada does occupy such a position. Canada has been a leading country defending human rights. And it could be a lead in battling the military interventions of states, most specifically Iran, into the domestic affairs of neighbouring states. Further, Canada has the motivation to do so; after all, the Iranian Republican Guard shot down a civilian air carrier with mostly Canadian citizens and residents as passengers. Canada has also been a nuclear power for a long time but has eschewed the acquisition of nuclear weapons and has been a strong supporter of non-proliferation. Canada is in an excellent position to serve as the leader of a campaign to brand Iran as a rogue state, but to do so, not in order to “defeat” Iran, but in order to move the region of the Middle East from conflict to sustained peace with Iran playing a major role in that endeavour.

Canada is not-a participant in the JCPOA and will be free of its long shadow. At the same time, Canada is a country respected by its European allies but, more importantly, knows a great deal and has had decades of experience in establishing legitimacy in governance by creating institutions of governance that are legitimate because they are inclusive, effective, and deliver on the vision and goals of the various people in the region. It has NO record of imposing order on other states but has an impressive record of influencing other states to aspire towards full legitimacy.

However, legitimacy that comes from a mastery of general statecraft, whether in politics, economics, sociology, or psychology, is insufficient. The teacher must be an authentic authority in how to adapt general standards and practices to particular situations. Canada requires an intellectual research centre on the Middle East where linguistic expertise, the geography, politics, economics, social classes, religious beliefs and deep history of the region are known and can be researched in greater depth. It would have to be a centre in which Arabic, Turkish, Farsi and Hebrew would have to be mastered.

The closest resemblance to such a research centre in Canada is The Institute for Middle East Studies in London Ontario, but it is only a sliver of what is required. It has a journal, the CJMES, The Canadian Journal for Middle East Studies. Another alternative is The Institute for Islamic Studies at McGill University. But it too is a shadow of what is required. What is needed is an effort to build such an institution, or its equivalent, or create a regional branch of, for example, The Institute for State Effectiveness in Washington either at McGill or the University of Western Ontario or starting from scratch.

 

What is clear is that Canada currently lacks an intellectual capacity to play such a role in the Middle East region, or in virtually any region except perhaps Asia. In contrast, the United States has at least several dozen such centres scattered across the country. However, wherever Canada decides to play a regional role, and to do so with great expertise and depth, will mean an investment over years in building intellectual capacity. This has to entail a long-term project and commitment, perhaps carried out as a partnership of regional academic institutions with an integrated centre located at a Canadian University such as Carleton or the University of Ottawa. Ironically, a small liberal college in Minnesota named Carleton College probably has a better capacity for research in this area than any university in Canada. An independent study would be required to establish where and how such a research centre might be established to make up for the Canadian paucity. For without it, Canada could only offer a glancing service to assist in establishing stable and prosperous states in the region.

 

In order to be effective in establishing and encouraging inclusivity, such a centre would have to be inclusive itself with a capacity to study the role of minorities, either connected with majorities, such as Israeli Palestinians, or minorities within a number of states, such as the Kurds. It would have to be inclusive in the broad range of its expertise and in the depth of its knowledge which is only possible in the contemporary world through establishing networks of contacts with research centres elsewhere. Canada understands inclusiveness perhaps better than any other state in the region but has little capacity to apply its lessons to other states and regions.

 

There are two other areas in which Canadian governance has excelled, at least relatively. Canadian governance is generally both honest and efficacious. It is also well-ordered. Canadians believe in good governance as part of their DNA. They may not always live up to their own image of themselves, but they are very disappointed when they do not. It is noteworthy what is not part of that DNA -. enterprising, creative, risk-taking, entrepreneurial. Canadians believe in peace and good government but seem unwilling to take any significant risks.

The experience with COVID-19 vaccines is a case in point. Canada spread its risk by ordering from every single possible supplier so that we had more vaccines on order for every citizen than any other country. But we were a long time getting up to scratch in being able to deliver those vaccines because we had not ordered sufficient supplies for the two suppliers first off the mark – Pfizer and Moderna..In contrast, Israel bet the house and concentrated its order only from Pfizer. As a result, it was able to vaccinate half its population when Canada had only vaccinated 4.6% of its citizens, helped, of course, by an excellent health infrastructure and enormous experience with militarily organed methods of handling communal emergencies.

 

However, peace requires mastering stability. Peace requires inclusiveness. Peace requires efficacious governance that is based on widely accepted rules. That is the way to create a peaceable kingdom even if such a kingdom may have deficiencies in other areas. The rest of the world, particularly the Middle East, can use Canada’s expertise. Canada needs to acquire regional expertise in order to spread it success in good governance. Canada has that duty towards the rest of the world.

 

 

 

The closest resemblance to such a research centre in Canada is The Institute for Middle East Studies in London Ontario, but it is only a sliver of what is required. It has a journal, the CJMES, The Canadian Journal for Middle East Studies. Another alternative is The Institute for Islamic Studies at McGill University. But it too is a shadow of what is required. What is needed is an effort to build such an institution, or its equivalent, or create a regional branch of, for example, The Institute for State Effectiveness in Washington either at McGill or the University of Western Ontario or starting from scratch.

What is clear is that Canada currently lacks an intellectual capacity to play such a role in the Middle East region, or in virtually any region except perhaps Asia. In contrast, the United States has at least several dozen such centres scattered across the country. However, wherever Canada decides to play a regional role, and to do so with great expertise and depth, will mean an investment over years in building intellectual capacity. This has to entail a long-term project and commitment, perhaps carried out as a partnership of regional academic institutions with an integrated centre located at a Canadian University such as Carleton or the University of Ottawa. Ironically, a small liberal college in Minnesota named Carleton College probably has a better capacity for research in this area than any university in Canada. An independent study would be required to establish where and how such a research centre might be established to make up for the Canadian paucity. For without it, Canada could only offer a glancing service to assist in establishing stable and prosperous states in the region.

In order to be effective in establishing and encouraging inclusivity, such a centre would have to be inclusive itself with a capacity to study the role of minorities, either connected with majorities, such as Israeli Palestinians, or minorities within a number of states, such as the Kurds. It would have to be inclusive in the broad range of its expertise and in the depth of its knowledge which is only possible in the contemporary world through establishing networks of contacts with research centres elsewhere. Canada understands inclusiveness perhaps better than any other state in the region but has little capacity to apply its lessons to other states and regions.

There are two other areas in which Canadian governance has excelled, at least relatively. Canadian governance is generally both honest and efficacious. It is also well-ordered. Canadians believe in good governance as part of their DNA. They may not always live up to their own image of themselves, but they are very disappointed when they do not. It is noteworthy what is not part of that DNA -. enterprising, creative, risk-taking, entrepreneurial. Canadians believe in peace and good government but seem unwilling to take any significant risks.

The experience with COVID-19 vaccines is a case in point. Canada spread its risk by ordering from every single possible supplier so that we had more vaccines on order for every citizen than any other country. But we were a long time getting up to scratch in being able to deliver those vaccines because we had not ordered sufficient supplies for the two suppliers first off the mark – Pfizer and Moderna..In contrast, Israel bet the house and concentrated its order only from Pfizer. As a result, it was able to vaccinate half its population when Canada had only vaccinated 4.6% of its citizens, helped, of course, by an excellent health infrastructure and enormous experience with militarily organed methods of handling communal emergencies.

However, peace requires mastering stability. Peace requires inclusiveness. Peace requires efficacious governance that is based on widely accepted rules. That is the way to create a peaceable kingdom even if such a kingdom may have deficiencies in other areas. The rest of the world, particularly the Middle East, can use Canada’s expertise. Canada needs to acquire regional expertise in order to spread it success in good governance. Canada has that duty towards the rest of the world.


[1] For an overview study of a large number of peace agreements, see Clare Lockhart and Aleks Sladojevic (2021) “Securing Stability through Peace Agreements.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s