Perhaps the most significant political development of the summer was the nuclear deal with Iran. The Iranian nuclear program has long been a source of trouble for the West, particularly due to the geopolitical context of the region. The deal is also difficult to analyze objectively due to the fact that both countries seem to have interpreted the agreement in their own way. When speaking to the American people, Barack Obama stated that the “international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon” while Iran’s President Rouhani maintained that “the international community is removing the sanctions and Iran is keeping its nuclear program.”
Of course, while the observable difference in interpretation of the deal’s conditions can be attributed to political posturing. There should be a way to accurately forecast the geopolitical implications of the agreement.
I am disappointed, however, that the United States had to make a deal in the first place. The sanctions that were imposed on Iran were there as a direct response to repeated and deliberate attempts to violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Furthermore, unshackling the economic potential of Iran””particularly in view of its shameless sponsorship of terrorism””seems naive at best and geopolitically illiterate at worst. If the State Department truly believes that all of Iran’s unleashed economic growth will be directed toward building schools and improving its health care system, we may have a problem with how we perceive reality.
Nevertheless, there are a number of educated observations we can make when we put the Iran deal into geopolitical context. Allow me to explain them in order.
Iran will unleash its full economic potential.
Liam Halligan of the Telegraph observes that “Iran’s resource endowment, often downplayed in Western circles, is nothing short of spectacular. It includes at least 157 [billion] barrels of proven oil reserves””the third or fourth-largest haul in the world, depending on how you count them. Add to that confirmed natural gas treasures of 33″‰trillion cubic metres “”even more than Russia on the most recent estimates””and you have the makings of an energy colossus.”
Lifting sanctions from Iran will allow it to grow and expand the latter capabilities. Furthermore, it is speculated that as a consequence, oil prices will remain low, which is bad news for the Russian economy.
Iran will become politically stable.
After inputting the hypothetical data in the world instability forecasting model that I and a team of a few talented Trinity students have been developing for the past year, the results were convincing. While we currently classify Iran as moderately stable based on 2013 data, drastic economic expansion will make it one of the most stable nations in the region and the world (holding other factors constant). This means that the nuclear deal will be an important step toward securing Iranian stability and establishing its influence in the Middle East.
A politically stable Iran may not be in the United States’ interest.
While it is hard to question Iran’s projected boost in political and economic stability, it is easy to question whether or not that boost is aligned with the interest of the United States. Some geopolitical analysts have speculated that Iran could be useful in defeating ISIS and that its reestablished dominance in the Middle East will challenge ISIS in new ways. Others have only projected a continuation of sponsorship of terrorism. In either case, unleashing the potential of one dangerous regime to suppress the other is a risky gamble that may lead to unintended consequences.
Russia’s geopolitical role in the nuclear deal should not be ignored.
Very attentive international observers have noticed the unique role that Russia played in these talks. Indeed, if the Russians are worried about their economy, then why do they want to support a deal that is more than likely to keep the oil prices low? At a first glance, Russia’s leading role in the talks seems almost illogical.
However, there are a number of reasons that can explain this behavior. First, the popularity of Vladimir Putin remains high despite the suicidal freefall of the Ruble. This gives Putin the political flexibility to pursue Russia’s strategic interest. It is no secret that Russia has flirted with Iran on several important occasions in the past. Therefore, positioning Russia as an early ally to Iranian development will only allow Putin to explore future avenues of friendship between Moscow and Tehran. No matter how you look at it, this is not a favorable situation for the West.
At this point, it is difficult to see what exactly will happen if the nuclear deal comes to fruition. There is, after all, a long road ahead before the agreement can even be called official. However, if it is solidified, one thing will be certain: the unleashed economic capacity of Iran will make it an immensely powerful and influential state, and that may well prove to be a very costly mistake.