Multilateralism in foreign policy and nuclear swap deal

Since September 11, 2001, America’s foreign policy and the future of the global system have occupied a central place in current international affairs debates. The neocon arguments became increasingly influential during the last years of the Clinton administration and found resonance in the Bush administration. In the aftermath of the 9/11 events, both the ideological ...

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Since September 11, 2001, America's foreign policy and the future of the global system have occupied a central place in current international affairs debates. The neocon arguments became increasingly influential during the last years of the Clinton administration and found resonance in the Bush administration. In the aftermath of the 9/11 events, both the ideological arguments and the excuses were in place for the realization of the neocon project. This period witnessed the deterioration of already weakened international institutions and the "global order." The end results were, among other things, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the tacit support for the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza. The overall political cost of all these policies was roundly criticized by many and analyzed as the paramount example of American "unilateralism."

Since September 11, 2001, America’s foreign policy and the future of the global system have occupied a central place in current international affairs debates. The neocon arguments became increasingly influential during the last years of the Clinton administration and found resonance in the Bush administration. In the aftermath of the 9/11 events, both the ideological arguments and the excuses were in place for the realization of the neocon project. This period witnessed the deterioration of already weakened international institutions and the "global order." The end results were, among other things, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the tacit support for the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza. The overall political cost of all these policies was roundly criticized by many and analyzed as the paramount example of American "unilateralism."

The United States has entered into six different wars since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its involvement in wars in Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq (twice) has shown that the US has become more of a force causing frictions than fostering mutual understanding appropriate for the nature of the post-Cold War global system. Towards the end of the second term of the Bush administration, similar criticisms and perspectives began to be offered by prominent American thinkers, politicians, and in military circles that centered around three major issues: 1) multi-polarity and multilateralism; 2) emerging powers; and 3) post-America. These discussions were further encouraged by Obama’s election to the American presidency, which appeared as an influential and inspiring factor for the establishment of a new and different approach to the changing global order.

Obama came to power strongly utilizing the rhetoric of change. There was an expectation, both domestically and internationally, that he was going to follow a very different route from that of the Bush administration. Although he started off his administration having to be a spectator to the Israeli attack on Gaza, Obama underlined that his administration’s attitude in dealing with global problems was going to involve more dialogue and a more democratic approach. Especially on the issues of Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq, he pledged that he was going to stay away from the previous administration’s approach and policies. However, he first had to take a step backwards on the Afghanistan issue, and then, he let the Iraq issue take on an unclear course. The Obama administration’s approach to the Iran issue is now swinging in the opposite direction after Iran accepted the IAEA’s October 2009 offer on a fuel-swap through the recent diplomatic efforts of Brazil and Turkey.        

Since its election to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, Turkey has been conducting serious diplomatic efforts with Iran. Turkey and Brazil, whose involvement was particularly visible during the Nuclear Summit in Washington, DC last month, brought the IAEA’s offer to the Iranians once again. Iran agreed to the Vienna Group’s former offer by accepting that Iran give 1,200 kilograms of its low enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey. This step was considered a very serious one by specialists closely following the nuclear negotiations. But instead of responding positively to the agreement, the US seems fixated on making sanctions against Iran a reality. In order to render this agreement irrelevant, questions were raised on a number of issues. These questions seem to focus on the quantity of LEU Iran might possess other than the 1,200 kilograms to be sent to Turkey and on the fact that Iran does not pledge to discontinue its nuclear enrichment program through this agreement. While there are certainly aspects of this agreement that may need closer scrutiny and further discussions, it nonetheless signifies an important achievement of diplomatic efforts, the importance of which the Obama administration has emphasized repeatedly with respect to many international issues and global challenges. 

One would expect that an Obama administration, which fought tooth and nail to pass health care reform through Congress, might replicate such persistent negotiations on the issue of Iran as well. Obama sought common ground with the Republicans in the Congress by revising the health reform bill many times. It was only when all efforts failed to reach an agreement that the Obama administration moved forward with the legislation. It should be unnecessary to remind the Obama administration that a similar approach could be useful in international relations and in resolving international conflicts. The Obama administration’s current attitude that unnecessarily closes the door to a solution through negotiations exacerbates global inequities instead of tempering them.

Turkey and Brazil’s efforts did not contribute only to the solution of the Iranian nuclear issue in particular. They also opened a door to overcome the inefficiencies of international institutions and the general global legitimacy crisis in the post-Cold War context more generally. They contributed directly to debates over emerging powers, a multi-polar and multilateral world, and post-America. If a new international system is to be established and the economic and political problems in the current system are to be solved, diplomacy on the Iran nuclear issue could constitute a milestone. Turkey has been focusing its efforts on establishing a regional system based on a "zero-problem-with-neighbors" policy. Turkey has created a ‘road-map’ that could guide diplomatic efforts with regard to the the crisis over Iran, as well as the situation in Iraq and on Israel-Palestine.

Turkey’s diplomatic success in the Iranian nuclear issue brings us to a central question. Turkey and Brazil have contributed positively to a demanding issue by securing the agreement of Iran on the demands of the international community. In this way, a concrete first step has been taken against the possibility of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. But this begs another pressing question: will the first step taken against Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by the international community be followed by measures against Israel’s existing nuclear stockpiles? If the answer is no, then it would be legitimate to talk about the impossibility of creating a stable regional architecture of non-proliferation in the Middle East. If Iran has agreed to exchange its own uranium, the international community should legitimately expect the Obama administration to enforce such standards universally.

The door of dialogue and negotiation opened by the Turkish and Brazilian efforts should not be closed by embargo measures. Such a step would not only damage the search for an equitable global system but also bring about serious consequences. In the past, sanctions have not been successful where tried, whether against Iran, North Korea, or Iraq. At the same time, the United Nations sanctions in the present become meaningless as the US waters down the measures just to ensure Russian and Chinese acquiescence. Yet nor are the consequences of sanctions on Iran even well thought out-how would the regional picture, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, be adversely affected by such designs?

The Obama administration that came to power with the slogan of change cannot sustain its rhetoric by pursuing policies at the UN consistent with those of the Bush administration. Turkey did not only achieve an opportunity for Iran to reach out to the international community through its diplomatic efforts, but also provided the Obama administration with a true opportunity to realize the promise of its positive discourse. The benefit of taking advantage of this opportunity far outweighs the cost of wasting it. At a time when Obama speaks of a "model partnership" with a country like Turkey, it would be in everyone’s interest if Obama followed the example set by his ally in Ankara.

Taha Ozhan is Director General of the SETA Foundation

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