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March 18, 2015 7:53 am

A UN Vote is Irrelevant to the Iran Deal

avatar by John Bolton


The Iranian nuclear program's heavy-water reactor at Arak. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Press reports that President Obama will enlist the U.N. Security Council to bless his imminent nuclear agreement with Iran have unleashed considerable controversy. Many worry council action would bind the U.S. to the deal, circumventing congressional scrutiny. Moreover, Iran may see U.N. action as protecting it from a subsequent change in U.S. policy.

There is no need for worry. The Security Council can do nothing to limit America’s freedom to break from this agreement or take whatever action it deems necessary to protect itself.

First, even the U.N. will require Iran to comply with any commitments made to the Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany. Bureaucracy-loving diplomats and Secretariat personnel will probably create a council committee to monitor Iran’s performance, but neither the U.S. nor any other U.N. member must accept the committee’s judgment that Iran is in compliance when it has contrary information. Washington can act on what it knows, whether or not it discloses the extent of its knowledge.

Given Iran’s dismal performance in living up to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and existing resolutions requiring that it cease all uranium-enrichment-related activity, Tehran will almost certainly begin violating the deal before the ink is dry. Security Council committees will be bystanders, and the U.S., Israel and others threatened by a nuclear-capable Iran will rely on their own intelligence to detect Iranian cheating.

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The gravest danger during Mr. Obama’s remaining two years is that the White House and State Department will ignore, play down or suppress information that Iran is breaking the deal. Ignoring palpable treaty violations is built into the DNA of many arms-control theologians, and this administration will insist that the bureaucracy follows the party line that Iran is complying. Congressional committees (intelligence, armed services, and foreign affairs) will have a critical role in overseeing White House efforts to minimize dangerous Iranian behavior.

Second, no Security Council action can prevent the U.S. from using force to protect itself from Iranian nuclear weapons. Article 51 of the U.N. Charter affirms “the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense,” which means that decisions relating to self-defense rest with each member state.

Third, as a purely practical matter, the Security Council cannot restrain or sanction the U.S. as long as Washington’s U.N. ambassador shows up for work. America’s veto power is guaranteed by Article 27.

Suppose the new U.S. president in 2017 decided to use military force to break Iran’s control over the nuclear-fuel cycle at one or more points. The U.S. could veto any draft resolutions designed to forestall an attack or halt one in progress, or impose sanctions afterward.

The General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and other U.N. bodies would doubtless be summoned by Iran and its allies to pass resolutions critical of U.S. or Israeli behavior. Let them. There are few better scenarios imaginable for provoking a far-reaching debate about the U.S. role in the U.N. One could start with the most basic issue: eliminating all funding through “assessed” (meaning essentially mandatory) contributions, and moving all U.N. agencies to voluntary funding.

Little or no good will come of Mr. Obama’s plan to have the Security Council bless his Iran deal. But it is far better to expose the deal’s manifold deficiencies than to pay much mind to any charades at Turtle Bay.

Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal.

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