US President Donald Trump announced on May 9th that the US will withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In addition to the economic and political dilemmas caused by President Trump’s announcement, there is a large risk that the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA will result in negative consequences on the humanitarian front, as well.
The JCPOA was a decade-in-the-making agreement between Iran and the P5+1 World Powers (The USA, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China) under which the P5+1 agreed to lift the economic sanctions in place against Iran. In exchange, Iran was to decrease its stockpile of nuclear material, refrain from enriching nuclear material, and allow officials from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear sites.
The agreement would have effectively delayed Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons until 2031, and allowed the resource-rich country to resume international trade, which was expected to improve its struggling economy.
Although some criticised the JCPOA for not going far enough to restrain Iran’s military activities, it was largely lauded for furthering the international community’s goal of non-proliferation, as codified in the UN Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Furthermore, it was widely seen as the first step towards better diplomatic relations between the West and Iran. European officials in particular hoped that the JCPOA would prompt Iranian officials to improve the country’s human rights situation—Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned Iran for gross human rights violations to the tune of the widespread use of the death penalty, torture, and corporal punishment, and the restriction of civil liberties for its citizens, especially for women and minorities—and a 2017 European Parliament report indicated that the implementation of the JCPOA had warned Iranian officials to the possibility of implementing domestic reforms in the area of human rights.
Despite the fact that the French, British, and German heads of government have vowed to continue to honor the JCPOA, the United States’ decision to withdraw from the deal throws into question the integrity of the agreement going forward: A May 11th CNN report asserts that Iranian officials intend to reintroduce the country’s nuclear program now that the US has pulled out of the JCPOA, and it is unclear whether or not IAEA inspectors will be allowed to monitor such programs.
It would be hugely detrimental to global peace and security for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. While nuclear weapons anywhere in the world pose a threat to global peace and security, the acquisition of such weapons by Iran would be especially dangerous due to the fact that the country has experienced increasing levels of instability in recent years as a result of regional conflict, economic instability, and domestic political unrest.
The news of US’s withdrawal from the JCPOA has lead to an increase in such instability. Only hours after President Trump’s announcement, there was an uptick in violence in Syria, which has become the battleground for a shadow proxy war between Iran and Israel, a vocal opponent of the JCPOA. The humanitarian consequences of the Syrian conflict have been devastating, and throngs of Syrian refugees have found themselves stateless as a result. Within Iran, thousands have taken to the streets to protest the United States’s withdrawal from the JCPOA.
At the moment, it appears that the US is unwilling to reassess its decision , and it can only be hoped that the upcoming negotiations between Iranian foreign minister Zarif and the remaining cosigniaries of the JCPOA will give way to a workable revised agreement which prevents Iran from returning to a secretive quest for nuclearization.