The head of the Security and Defense Program at the Italian Institute of International Affairs (IAI) said the US administration’s push to “fix” the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers could disrupt the regional balance of power.
“…but today’s pushes to review the Iran nuclear deal could disrupt the fragile equilibrium and loosen the grip that a global power like the US has on Saudi Arabia, opening the way for a regional escalation”, Jean-Pierre Darnis told the Tasnim News Agency.
Darnis is Head of the Security and Defense Program at IAI and associate professor at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis. He has held teaching positions at the École Militaire Supérieure, the University of Saint Etiennne, LUISS University and Sciences Po. He was the recipient of a fellowship from ISPI in Milan and won a post-doctoral Lavoisier fellowship from the Foreign Affairs Ministry (Paris). He currently coordinates the master degree program in “Languages and International Affairs” at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis and is a mentor for the NATO Defense College senior course.
Following is the full text of the interview.
Tasnim: According to a report carried recently by the New York Times, Britain, France and Germany are trying to create a “successor deal” to the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers. The proposed instructions stipulate that the Europeans agree to three key fixes: “a commitment to renegotiate limits on missile testing by Iran; an assurance that inspectors have unfettered access to Iranian military bases; and an extension of the deal’s expiration dates to prevent Iran from resuming the production of nuclear fuel long after the current restrictions expire in 2030.” What’s your take on this?
Darnis: The European do care about the existing deal and do not want to revise it. On another hand, they cannot take into consideration the US presidency push. The missile testing control opens a new chapter, which could represent an interesting compromise option. This was not part of the “nuclear deal” and might not push for a renegotiation, a key element for European which does not want to re-open a roundtable with Iran, China, and Russia, also do not want to appear as changing games rule after starting, a factor that would entail the mutual trust with Iran. The other measures want to tackle the same objective, meaning do not touch the existing agreement but negotiate some side aspects which might turn key elements for the US, in order to build up a compromise between the two positions.
Tasnim: It seems that the Europeans are most comfortable with enforcing new limits on Iran’s missile program. What do you think?
Darnis: Clearly, Europeans fears that if we try to renegotiate the nuclear deal, then there might be no deal anymore, which can be extremely dangerous, as Iran could start again its nuclear program, launching a proliferation bounce in the entire region. The missile program represents for European a new chip to be brought to the table; a technology which is clearly linked to military capabilities.
Tasnim: European diplomats say they worry that Trump’s scorn for the deal runs so deep that he would find other reasons to pull out. What would happen if Trump pulls out? How should Iran react?
Darnis: The main danger is that if Trump pulls out of the deal, it will open the door for a proliferation bounce in the region, and then for an Iran willing to develop its nuclear capabilities. A proliferation cycle might result dangerous in the middle east, it seems difficult to bet on a cold ware type “balance of terror” where antagonist countries might just develop an ‘indirect’ and ‘frozen’ antagonist position fearing the global destruction capabilities if using nuclear weapons.
Tasnim: In the shadow of Iran deal, reports suggest that the Trump administration is opening talks with Saudi Arabia on a potentially lucrative atomic energy agreement. The Saudis have reportedly indicated they might accept curbs on their future nuclear program only if a separate nuclear deal with Iran is tightened. What is your idea about a nuclear Saudi Arabia?
Darnis: It is difficult to block advanced and rich countries, such as Saudi Arabia when they want to operate nuclear-based power plant for electricity production. On another hand, the North Korea case shows that the US nuclear umbrella might not dissuade powers to develop military nuclear capabilities. The allied countries such as South Korea or Japan might consider a national effort to build up nuclear weapons in order to gain credibility for their defense. In the Middle East area, the fact that Israel already has nuclear capabilities represents an important parameter. Saudi Arabia has been lately very active in terms of foreign policy and security, willing to affirm itself as a regional power as illustrated by the Yemen conflict. Furthermore, there is a clear antagonism between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Still, the USA seems to have a strong grip on the strategic decision concerning Saudi Arabia. A military nuclear program could only be developed if the USA agrees, which I think goes beyond the US vision. But today’s pushes to review the Iran nuclear deal could disrupt the fragile equilibrium and loosen the grip that a global power like the US has on Saudi Arabia, opening the way for a regional escalation. The USA can be seen as a military power able to extend its dissuasion capabilities to its allies. But it has been until now a “balancing” power who gained its position with its ability in keeping the peace and status-quo. If it steps out of this diplomatic role, then it leaves the US only with the option of the use of force, which does not help to find a compromise. Paradoxically, the weakening of the US diplomatic side is a sign of loss of power from the US, which is not a good news in terms of global and regional balance.