By Jerobeam Shaanika
PROFESSOR Robert Jervis cautions that in the conduct of international relations “predicting how others are likely to behave and decide how best to influence them, actors must not only try to separate the internal from the external influences on the other’s past behaviour but must also analyse the internal processes themselves.”
The reaction to the interim nuclear deal on Iran agreed to by Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia and China the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and Germany) epitomizes the line of reasoning by Professor Jervis. Whichever side you take, perceptions and misperceptions are in abundant supply.
The optimists see a window of opportunity through constructive engagement with Iran, while the pessimists see a historic mistake being committed by rewarding bad behaviours. Annas and Barnes (1985) asserted that, “at the gates of knowledge the sceptic stands guard; before we can enter the citadel we must answer his challenge”. This fits in well also with the argument at hand. The sceptics are playing a perfect sentinel role at the gate interrogating and questioning the deal agreed to; some see more holes in the agreement than those on a Swiss cheese.
The issue in question; is the Iranian nuclear interim agreement a historic opportunity or a dangerous mistake? If you take the side of the optimists, the deal reached between Iran and P5+1 epitomizes a triumph of diplomacy and disarmament.
Similarly, it demonstrates clearly, that when nations commit to work together for a common goal, in the end the goodwill which diplomacy forges will triumph over cynicism. However, if you view the deal through the lens of the sceptics, you will probably see a strategic pitfall or insurmountable mountain.
Even before the deal was reached sceptics were already placed on guard, interrogating the deal and calling it the most dangerous deal. One of the sceptics, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the deal as a historic mistake and at the same time he affirmed the right of Israel to defend itself. Truly, every nation has a right to defend itself from existential threat to its national security, but it should be done in a rational and responsible manner, which does not threaten other nations as well.
Despite repeated assurance from the US President Barrack Obama, Israel is of the view that Iran is presented with an opportunity to freely enter the zone of immunity.
In order to comprehend the argument about the deal a closer look at its main elements is essential. The deal creates several steps: a six-month confidence building, but the problem as the sceptics see it is not the space being created for further negotiations, but what is not currently on the table. During this period Iran will halt enriching uranium up to 20% for six months, but will continue up to 5 percent.
This is a problem for the sceptics they see this as an appeasement for Iran, which has not agreed to give up even one centrifuge tube. Although the current stockpile of 20% enriched uranium will also be diluted as part of the agreement, sceptics are still not satisfied. In addition Iran is expected to cooperate with IAEA to open up its facilities for intrusive inspections. Fareed Zakaria of CCN posed a thought provoking question during the Global Public Square (GPS) programme, following the announcement – “imagine what would have happened if there had been no deal”?
Do sceptics have any alternative? What is then the point of the sceptics? Besides the perception that Iran in the Middle East is like a scorpion in the pocket, there are other regional elements at play. The Sunni/Shiite competition for influence and power is one of the elements, particularly for Saudi Arabia.
If the current feud between the US and Iran ends, they anticipate a divided attention like a dog losing its favourite bone to a stranger.
Nobody expected Iran and the United States to make up tomorrow, given many years of open hostility, but it has happened before where sworn enemies of yesterday will become friends of tomorrow. Another element is that enmity between countries is used as a point to gain support and sympathy. Emotions in this region which are not in short supply are used to score political points. Let’s assume that if all parties keep part of their respective obligations and implement the deal in good faith, they will prove sceptics who stand at the gate that they are guarding the gate in vain.
Let’s hope that the example of cooperation will be replicated elsewhere, in Palestine, where the same Netanyahu who firmly asserts the right of his nation to defend itself, will be persuaded to recognize the rights of the Palestinian.
Let’s hope that deal could inspire the US to reconsider its outdated policy towards Cuba, to pursue a policy that promotes and encourages good neighbourliness. Let’s also hope that countries with nuclear weapons will be inspired to re-examine their position and destroy all weapons of mass destruction.
In international relations perception is a like a mirage which if not carefully examined can transform the expectation by reflecting illusionary image in a form of reality. The international community should do all it can to support the agreement reached to succeed and persistently demand disarmament of all nuclear weapon states. Diplomacy remains the only viable option to overcome misunderstandings and can truly triumph where cynicism once dominated. One person who seems to enjoy playing with matches while next to a gas canister is none other than Netanyahu. Bold statesmen recognize the danger posed by children or irresponsible adults when playing with fire in the vicinity of a fuel container and act quickly before the fire incinerates the whole place.
• Jeroboam Shaanika is a Namibian diplomat, however, the views expressed are entirely his own.