Earlier this month, Foreign Policy published a deceptively reasonable-sounding article by Robert Einhorn, who recently left the Obama administration. To read the piece, titled “Getting to ‘Yes’ with Iran,” click here.
On a superficial level, Einhorn’s article may read like a serious (if also severely hedged) effort to lay out ideas for engaging Iran in new nuclear talks after the installation of President-elect Hassan Rohani. In reality, though, the piece is anything but.
We were thinking of writing a deconstruction of Einhorn’s article but, over the weekend, Dan Joyner posted his own on Arms Control Law, see here; we also append the text below. Dan superbly gets to the heart of what’s wrong with Einhorn’s—and, by extension, the Obama administration’s—approach to nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
Unfortunately, Obama and his advisers show no sign of changing course. If they ever do, it will be because they’ve finally come to appreciate some of the legal and strategic realities that Dan highlights.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
Einhorn on Getting to Yes With Iran
Daniel Joyner, Arms Control Law
I’ll try to stay calm as I write this. I’ll try.
I just read Robert Einhorn’s new article over at Foreign Policy entitled “Getting to ‘Yes’ with Iran.” Most of you will know that for the past four years, until May, Einhorn was a key member of the Obama administration’s diplomatic team working on the Iran nuclear issue, and was involved in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. Because of this, I think it’s fair to take his opinions as fairly representative of the US perspective on the ongoing diplomatic process with Iran.
It’s honestly hard to know where to begin to criticize this piece. There’s so very much to criticize. I think the most maddening aspect to it is simply the tone throughout—the paternalistic, arrogant tone that drives most of the world crazy about US “diplomacy,” and makes them want to collectively scream at us “who the f#&*! do you think you are!?!” Here are a few jewels:
“The two sides could try to work out a road map containing the general elements or principles of a phased, comprehensive deal, including an outline of the key elements of an Iranian civil nuclear program that would be permitted in an end-state. . .
More specifically, any acceptable approach to permitting enrichment would have to provide confidence that Iran could not quickly or secretly “break out” of agreed arrangements and use its enrichment capabilities to produce highly-enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. This would require limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity (both in terms of numbers and types of centrifuges), restrictions on its stocks of enriched uranium (in terms of quantities and locations), and special monitoring measures capable of detecting a breakout at the earliest possible moment. . .
The question of whether the negotiations’ end-state should include a domestic enrichment program cannot be answered until we have explored such practical arrangements with the Iranians. Such engagement will not be easy for either side. It will require the United States and its partners to do what they have so far avoided: talk about what would make an Iranian enrichment program acceptable. And it will require the Iranians to recognize that the United States and the international community will not accept an unrestricted enrichment program, but only a regulated capability that denies them the opportunity to convert their program rapidly or clandestinely to the production of nuclear weapons.”
Do you hear it? How many times he uses words like “permit,” “accept,” and “acceptable”? This drives the rest of the world crazy—how the U.S. and the West generally put themselves in the position of parents telling other states—as if they were little children and not fully equal sovereigns—what they will accept and not accept, permit and not permit those states to do in their own countries! And if you don’t go along with these parental orders, the U.S. and E.U. will slap sanctions on you, like a parent punishing a child.
Never mind if there is no international legal basis either for the substantive “non-acceptance” of the activity, or for applying punitive sanctions, as is the case with Iran’s nuclear program. Dad’s going to do it anyway, because he knows what’s best, and because he can.
Do you not see how this drives other states crazy, and makes them want to defy these edicts from the West, just on principle? It’s basic schoolyard psychology. And we would feel and respond the same way, if the tables were turned.
But wait, there’s more. He also tries his hand at legally justifying the U.S. refusal to recognize Iran’s right to peaceful uranium enrichment:
“The United States has been justified in rejecting an unfettered ‘right to enrich.’ The Nonproliferation Treaty protects the right of compliant parties to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but it is silent on whether that right includes enrichment, which is a dual-use technology that can also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Lawyers can debate whether a right to enrich is included in the treaty, but what is not debatable is that Iran has forfeited—at least temporarily—any right to enrichment (and reprocessing) until it can demonstrate convincingly that it is in compliance with its NPT obligations. For the time being, whatever rights it has to these technologies have been suspendedby a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions, which are legally binding on all U.N. members, including Iran.”
Well, I wrote a whole book on why he is wrong in his assessment of the NPT and Article IV. I’d be happy to explain it to him sometime, or he can just buy the book and read it (it’s out in paperback!), now that he’s out of office and has time to actually think about policies, instead of running around implementing them based on erroneous understandings. And as far as the Security Council resolutions are concerned, I’ve written about them as well, including in an article in the Georgetown Journal of International Law. And I’m currently writing another piece in which I will discuss more thoroughly the issue of states’ rights in international law. In that piece I plan to demonstrate that the rights of states, including the one codified in NPT Article IV, have jurisprudential meaning and implications, and impose obligations on other actors to respect them—including the Security Council. And when the Council acts to prejudice these rights, its decisions are null and void.
But coming back to a macro view of this piece by Einhorn, it really makes for a depressing read. It convinces me that there really is no hope for a practical, negotiated solution, as long as the U.S. approaches the negotiating table with this attitude and with these erroneous ideas about both the principle and practicality of what they’re hoping to accomplish through them.