By Samuel Hickey
The president of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, Dian Triansyah Djani of Indonesia, has determined that the Security Council cannot proceed with the United States’ effort to snap back sanctions on Iran. After quiet consultations with the 15-member body, he said that he was “not in a position to take further action” because there is no consensus.
Actually, there was more than no consensus. 13 out of the 15 members outright rejected the U.S. argument that it could trigger snapback of all previous Security Council resolutions on Iran and extend the arms embargo. It would appear that President Donald Trump foolishly gave up significant leverage to make his unilateral maximum pressure campaign on Iran multilateral by withdrawing from the nuclear deal in May 2018.
The Trump Administration will likely make another run at the Security Council in September when the presidency changes to Niger. However, prospects of success look doubtful. Niger is one of the 13 countries to write a letter rejecting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s triggering of the 30-day snapback period.
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the war is over. Trump lost. Grab your ball and go home.
Here is the issue: despite the Security Council refusing to acknowledge Pompeo’s notification to start the snapback period, the Trump Administration stands defiant in its delusion.
Following the Indonesian Ambassador’s announcement, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft affirmed the United States’ legal right and intention to snap back sanctions. At the end of 30 days, the United States may declare victory and seek to pressure other states to abide by Security Council resolutions that have expired or remain suspended. Economic threats like sanctions and tariffs or military inducements like arms sales could be brandished to create the illusion of support.
Of course, this strategy will fail to achieve any real policy goals.
China and Russia will not bow to the United States’ threats or inducements since both already face U.S. sanctions and undermining U.S. global standing would be a strategic win for them. In the end, the Trump Administration may simply waste more U.S. credibility pressuring our allies to abide by a failed strategy.
If any country wanted a final opinion on U.S. standing to start the snapback period, in theory, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) could be asked to make a ruling. However, there are two hitches.
First, the ICJ would take upwards of a year to deliver a ruling and according to Pompeo, the 30-day snapback period started on August 20. These timelines do not align. Second, the United States has a history of not respecting ICJ rulings. Trump’s Iran team all but proves this would be the case today.
In 1986, the ICJ ruled in favor of Nicaragua for the United States’ despicable aiding of Nicaraguan Contra rebels and mining the country’s ports in a bid to undermine its socialist government. In response, the U.S. boycotted the proceedings, refused to observe the verdict or pay the award and only stopped arming the Contras after Congress blocked the transfers.
Interestingly, Elliott Abrams lied to Congress about the United States’ involvement in the Iran-Contra affair and is now Trump’s new Special Representative for Iran. With such poor leaders at the helm, it is no wonder the United States’ national security policy is such a mess.
Nevertheless, Trump’s current trajectory will undermine the UN Security Council and weaken a critical venue for communication between adversaries in a crisis.