More than one year after the enactment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has yet to complete its critical goal of creating a nuclear weapon. The agreement, settled with Iran by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany, sought to place limits on Iran’s nuclear program, ultimately increasing the time until Iran reaches breakout capacity. Iran pledged to allow an increase in compliance inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), ship spent fuel to Russia, decrease "its uranium stockpile by roughly 98%, [and] phase out its centrifuges over the next 15 years" . As a result, a number of sanctions previously levied against Iran were lifted, allowing greater involvement in the global economy. Regardless of the steps Iran has taken to remain in compliance, the agreement fails to address the uneasiness it has created within the region, and exposes the delicate balance struck between nuclear, non-nuclear, and nuclear-aspiring states.
The IAEA has reported that, over the course of one year, Iran remained in compliance with the stipulations of the JCPOA . Prior to the nuclear deal, Iran was mere months away from the requisite material for a nuclear weapon. Yet, the international community has become confident that Iran now remains one year from breakout capacity . This is largely due to the fact that Iran has stored away 19,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges, which remain under international monitoring , and the country has indeed rid itself of the required uranium. Quite significantly, Iran has allowed the IAEA to carry out verification procedures within its bases of operations. Allowing verification processes increases the country’s legitimacy and its accountability to global scrutiny, reducing international anxieties. While these accomplishments are beneficial to the United States and the P5+1, the nuclear agreement has also led to some uneasiness within the region over the past year.
From the nuclear deal emerged a ‘new’ Iran in the region. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia remain underwhelmed by the deal, agitated by the changes surrounding Iran. In the wake of the agreement, Saudi Arabia was uncertain of Iran’s intentions . Per the agreement’s arrangements, the United States and its allies have begun to slowly lift sanctions on Iran in reciprocation of its continued scaling-back of its nuclear program. For Saudi Arabia, Iran without sanctions is a threat. It is no longer isolated from much of the world’s economy, and has already made significant profits from oil exports . The oil exports seem to be the main point of contention for Saudi Arabia: as an oil producer itself, increased competition has correlated with increased anxieties for Saudi leaders . With such uncertainty comes the threat of Saudi action in the face of an Iranian economic threat.
Israel has risen as a strong opponent of the deal due to concerns that Iran could continue to covertly continue a nuclear weapons program  regardless of IAEA verifications. While Iran’s actions to comply with the deal significantly decrease the risk if a nuclear attack on Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that the deal did not sufficiently meet Israel’s needs, as he had originally sought complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear regime. In a speech to the United Nations, he stated: “No one should question Israel’s determination to defend itself against those who seek our destruction” . As the only state within the Middle East in possession of nuclear weapons , Israel maintains its deterrent stance simply by holding nuclear weapons, regardless of whether or not they are used. While the deal intended to secure nonproliferation in the region, regional tensions have the potential to collapse the nuclear agreement if neighbors deploy force. The uncertainties felt by both Israel and Saudi Arabia could fade if Iran continues on its current path, but any rogue actions by the state could lead to further destabilization of the region. Thus, it is evident that the delicate balance between nuclear, non-nuclear, and nuclear-aspiring nations has the potential to easily unhinge regional security.
With Saudi Arabian tensions over the reduction in sanctions and Israel’s dissatisfaction with the deal’s stipulations, the potential use of force in the region remains. The JCPOA only addressed Iran’s nuclear threat, not its other antagonisms in the Middle East. Despite the deal, Iran has not been restricted in its continued funding of Hezbollah’s militarization along the north border of Israel . Israel possesses nuclear weapons, whilst Iran does not, yet Iran is not deterred from funding actions that will cause tension with a nuclear state. Evidently, the possession of nuclear weapons does not do much to deter the threat of a smaller, conventional war across borders since the likelihood of using one is so small . Yet, in the case of a state sponsor of terrorism, there is always the threat of weapons falling into the wrong hands, and Iran could potentially transfer materials for Hezbollah’s use. This action would not only create regional instability, but insecurity on an international level. For Iran, the breakout capacity has increased from months to a year. If covert operations do exist, the nuclear deal has only served to slow the pace of proliferation.
The threat of nuclear weapons and the power that they provide a state is irresistible to many states seeking nuclear acquisition. Thus, it was essential for diplomatic solutions to take place, rather than allow Iran’s nuclear program to escalate. Through diplomacy, bargaining allowed both sides to achieve at least some of their desires , with the P5+1 achieving the delay (or elimination, if seen optimistically) of a nuclear threat, and Iran achieving fewer economic sanctions. For states that enjoy little prestige and power within their region, nuclear aspirations are a means for a state to possess instant clout in regional and international considerations , necessitating a state’s acceptance into the international political decision-making processes. Greater political influence of Iran would pose a threat to its neighboring states, as well as some international actors. Decreasing the nuclear capabilities of Iran not only lessened its volatility and potential nuclear threat, but it also reduced the potential for Iran to take a larger role in international affairs. As a major supporter of the terrorist group Hezbollah, it was essential to reduce the potential for Iran’s political influence had it become a nuclear state – while helping to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands.
The acquisition of nuclear weapons by aspiring states will continue to remain a threat in today’s globalized world. While the great powers of the United Nations strive to reduce nuclear proliferation, the work of non-nuclear states to obtain the bomb seems to render arms reductions for major powers moot. Regardless of whether or not major powers act to dismantle their own caches of nuclear weapons, states dedicated to creating a nuclear deterrent and gaining greater political influence will continue their programs unabated without steps to limit their capabilities . While the JCPOA made many accomplishments in the short span of one year, there are still questions surrounding its future progress and continued effectiveness. In the end, it is up to the international community to continue closely monitoring Iran, and to consider the creation of enforcement mechanisms should Iran break its oath.
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