The outlines of a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran have long been obvious: Western recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights in return for more intrusive monitoring and verification of Iranian nuclear facilities. With agreement so readily at hand, the Obama administration’s refusal to take it is baffling to many international observers. But the reason for American obstinacy becomes clearer when one considers that the Iranian nuclear issue has at least as much to do with the future of international order as it does with nonproliferation.
Conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by two different approaches to interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These approaches, in turn, are rooted in different conceptions of world order.
In one concept, the rules of international relations are created through the consent of independent, sovereign states and are to be interpreted narrowly. This model is understandably favoured by non-Western states – for it is the only way international rules might constrain established powers as well as rising powers and the less powerful. But it is at odds with the model favoured by America and its Western partners, which emphasises the goals motivating states to create particular rules in the first place – not the rules themselves, but the goals underlying them. This model also ascribes a special role in interpreting rules to the most powerful states – those with the resources and willingness to “enforce” their concept of global order.
Hillary Mann Leverett
AL Jazeera, Qatar