Did Obama Just Set Off A Global Nuclear Arms Race By Signing The Iran Deal?

On one level, it’s easy to forgive those who fall victim to unintended consequences when their actions were clearly meant to promote the greater good. 

On another level, leaders - whether operating in the public or private sector - are expected to demonstrate some degree of foresight when making important decisions so that the consequences of those decisions don’t end up being so detrimental as to negate entirely any perceived benefits. 

A good example of this in the corporate world is Wal-Mart, where a presumably well-meaning attempt to raise the wages of the retailer’s lowest paid employees turned into a veritable disaster that led directly to a series of attempts to squeeze more “value” out of the supply chain and culminated in this week’s utter corporate carnage (see here).

In the world of geopolitics, the quintessential example may well be the Iran nuclear deal. 

Just as “higher wages for everyone” sounds good on paper, “deterring nuclear proliferation” sounds great from a “save humanity” perspective.

However, the fact that Iran has a right to develop technology that will deter its enemies (some of whom are nuclear powers), and the fact that frankly, it makes little sense for the US to take on the role of global nuke police officer given that history shows America indeed cannot be trusted not to nuke people, means that any deal Washington strikes regarding nuclear proliferation is likely to engender a series of unintended consequences thanks to rampant counterparty mistrust.

Case in point: before the ink was even dry on the Iran deal, Tehran i) stepped up its on-the-ground involvement in Syria, ii) flouted international inspectors by taking its own samples at Parchin, and best of all iii) test fired a new type of advanced ballistic missile on the way to proclaiming that the country will not be asking "anyone’s permission to enhance defense power or missile capability and will firmly pursue defense plans, particularly in the field of missiles." 

Clearly, Iran saw Washington’s stance in the negotiations as a sign of weakness and, realizing that because the deal is an important part of Obama’s legacy and therefore The White House cannot afford to scale it back, proceeded to defy the spirit (if not the letter) of the agreement at every turn. 

Well don’t look now, but more unintended consequences of the “historic” nuclear arrangement are beginning to show up. It now appears as though one key element of the deal may be set to spark a Mid-East (and perhaps global) nuclear arms race. Here’s AP:

The landmark Iran accord to curb its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic sanctions relief allows Tehran to enrich uranium. In barely noticed testimony last month, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the UAE's ambassador in Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, had informed him in a telephone call that the country no longer felt bound by its previous nuclear agreement with the United States.


"He told me, 'Your worst enemy has achieved this right to enrich. It's a right to enrich now that your friends are going to want, too, and we won't be the only country,'" Royce said in a phone interview with The Associated Press this week, elaborating on his testimony.

As an aside, don't forget that the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen sent 45 UAE soldiers home in bodybags last month. 

Back to AP:

In a 2009 pact with the UAE, the United States agreed to share materials, technology and equipment for producing nuclear energy. In the accord — known as a 123 Agreement — the UAE made a bold pledge not to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel to extract plutonium, two pathways to an atomic weapon.


Asked to respond, the UAE Embassy in Washington sent a one-sentence email that said the "government has not formally changed its views or perspective on the 123 Agreement or commitments." The UAE has said in the past that it welcomes the nuclear deal reached with Iran.


However, Royce said al-Otaiba told him that the UAE "no longer felt bound" by those provisions of the agreement. While he said al-Otaiba did not explicitly state that his country was walking away from them, Royce said, "I took that to mean that they had the right to do that and that it was under consideration."


Royce and other opponents of the Iran nuclear deal have repeatedly warned that the accord will unleash a cascade of proliferation in the unstable Middle East or set off an arms race in a hotbed for terrorists. Proponents say it will make the region safer by preventing Tehran from having the means to produce bomb material for more than a decade or longer.


At a House subcommittee hearing on Sept. 10, Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, quizzed Frank Klotz, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, about whether the UAE had contacted the U.S. about wanting to forego the part of the 123 Agreement that restricts it from enriching uranium. Klotz said he had no knowledge of it.


The United States has signed similar 123 Agreements with about 20 countries. The name comes from Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, which requires such accords when the U.S. is transferring significant amounts of nuclear material, equipment or components to other nations for peaceful energy production. The goal is to prevent further proliferation of material that also can be used to build nuclear weapons.


The UAE's pledge not to enrich has been dubbed the "gold standard" in 123 Agreements. 

Yes, the "gold standard" in 123 agreements, which means America is about to go "off the gold standard" (so to speak) thanks to Obama's deal with President Rouhani. Here's a bit more on 123 Agreements from the National Nuclear Security Administration:

Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires the conclusion of a specific agreement for significant transfers of nuclear material, equipment, or components from the United States to another nation.  Section 123 Agreements are important tools in advancing U.S. nonproliferation principles.  These Agreements act in conjunction with other nonproliferation tools, particularly the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to establish the legal framework for significant nuclear cooperation with other countries.  Moreover, the Agreements allow for cooperation in other areas, such as technical exchanges, scientific research, and safeguards discussions.  In order for a country to enter into such an Agreement with the United States, that country must commit itself to adhering to U.S.- mandated nuclear nonproliferation norms. The United States has entered into agreements with the following states or groups of states:

States that have Agreements for Cooperation with the United States:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Egypt
  • European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)1
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Korea, Republic of (ROK)
  • Morocco
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates

And so, it would appear that America's Nobel Peace Prize winning President and Washington's bike-racing Secretary of State have inadvertently stumbled across what might end up being the most catastrophic unintended consequence in the history of statecraft. 

That is, the Iran nuclear deal may have just caused all of the nations on the list shown above to reconsider their commitment to the "gold standard" of nonproliferation. 

So rather than deter Iran - which clearly hasn't worked, given everything noted above - all Washington has done is cause the rest of the world to question whether they too can take steps towards building a bomb and with that, we may have just witnessed a foreign policy blunder that trumps what we've been witnessing in Syria - and that's saying something.

Section 123