Jeffrey Lewis writes: If you like North Korea’s nuclear-armed ICBM, you are going to love America walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran.
On this week’s episode of the Federal Apprentice, the staff forced Donald Trump to certify that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal brokered by his predecessor. None too happy with that outcome, Trump is reportedly exploring ways to collapse it. That’s a terrible idea. Two rocket tests launched last week in a single 24-hour span by Iran and North Korea help explain why. They offer a useful opportunity to compare two very different possibilities: what Iran looks like today, with the nuclear deal in place, and how things have turned out with North Korea following the collapse of efforts to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Last week, Iran launched a rocket called the “Simorgh” as part of a program to place satellites in orbit. The Simorgh itself is not an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but the technologies are broadly similar.
Space launches do not, however, violate the terms of the nuclear deal, contrary to the claims of some of the deal’s opponents. The text of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is silent on the subject missile launches. Accordingly, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which implemented the deal, toned down the tough language in previous resolutions. Iran is merely “called upon” — the diplomatic equivalent of a suggestion — to refrain from activities related to “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” (And the term “designed to be capable” is so ambiguous as to be almost meaningless.) Indeed, the fact that the deal contained no limits on Iran’s missile program was something opponents highlighted and supporters, like me, lamented.
These details, though, don’t matter. The Trump administration is already signaling that it intends to sabotage the nuclear deal by insisting on inspections in a transparent and cynical effort to push Iran out of the agreement. The JCPOA already provides for inspections, but Team Trump seems to be envisioning the equivalent of a safeguards colonoscopy, not to catch Iran cheating but to make life under the agreement a constant source of friction. Whether or not a space launch is legally permitted or prohibited, Team Trump is likely to decide that it is one more calumny to launch against what Trump modestly called the “worst deal ever.”
But a casual glance at North Korea helps illustrate why that is shortsighted.
According to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the Trump administration won’t be talking about North Korea’s missile launch. After all, what’s to talk about? North Korea’s recent tests of an ICBM clearly violate various U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the United States isn’t going to do anything about it. North Korea’s Hwasong-14 ICBM flew more than 3,700 kilometers in altitude, before landing in the Sea of Japan. Had North Korea fired the Hwasong-14 on a normal trajectory, it would have traveled far enough to hit most major U.S. cities including New York and Los Angeles. The people who are promising you a better deal with Iran have exactly no plan to deal with North Korea. It’s the equivalent of repeal and replace, except that stripping 20 million people of health care looks like a walk in the park compared with blundering into nuclear war. [Continue reading…]