By Jalil Bayat*
Although Iran’s nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is an international agreement, which has been also endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, some analysts have opined that the United States may finally withdraw from the deal. Apart from the consequences that such a move would have for the JCPOA and agreements between the two parties, the reaction that the international community, especially the European Union, is expected to show to this unilateral measure by the United States, is of high importance. Therefore, the question that can be posed here is what scenarios are imaginable for the future polarity of the international world system as a result of possible withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA? Given the reaction to be shown by the international community, especially the European Union, to this development, the answer to this question may vary from continuation of a unipolar system to establishment of a multipolar one.
Almost all experts on international relations are unanimous that the international system that was dominant during the Cold War period was a bipolar system. Following the collapse of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, most analysts believed that the United States will be the sole superpower in the world and the international system will be a unipolar one. This idea was criticized in the later years of the 1990s due to remarkable growth, at least in economic terms, of such countries as Japan and Germany. However the United States’ unilateral invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was not endorsed by the United Nations, once again strengthened the position of those who believed in a unipolar international system.
However, a number of developments have come about in recent years in which the United States has proved ineffective and this issue has once again led to debates about a uni-multipolar and even a multipolar world system. During the crisis of Ukraine, the United States was practically only a by-stander and it has been one of the most important cases raised by critics and opponents of a unipolar world system. On the other hand, the United States’ inability to achieve its goals during crises that plagued Arab countries, especially Syria, was another example cited by some experts on international relations as a proof to the end of the unipolar world system.
However, opponents of this viewpoint have mentioned the wide gap that exists between the United States and other countries in military, economic and cultural terms as a reason for the existence of a unipolar international system. These comments show that the JCPOA and the reaction that the international community will show to possible withdrawal of the United States from this international agreement is one of those cases, which can shed a lot of light on this issue and reveal the truth about it.
As a result, if following the United States’ possible withdrawal from this agreement, the international community, especially the European Union, followed suit with Washington willingly or unwillingly and reviewed its relations with Iran in various fields, then one could assert that the international system is still unipolar in nature, because it is the United States, which can still determine international arrangements according to its own will and despite opposition from other countries. Proponents of this viewpoint can claim that even now that the JCPOA is being enforced, many big European banks as well as other financial and economic institutions are not willing to have transactions with Iran due to fear of being punished by the United States and this, on its own, is proof enough to the power of the United States and the superpower status it has at international level.
On the opposite, if following the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, the international community, especially the European Union, continued to remain committed to the agreement and expanded its relations with Iran, then one could claim that the unilateral system is history, at least, at the present juncture. For this proposition to come true, measures taken by the United States should not be able to bar Iran from being benefited by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in various fields. This means that all non-American public and private companies and banks must be able and willing to enter into trade exchanges with Iran freely and without any fear of the United States’ punitive measures. In that case, one can confirm that the international system is of a multipolar nature and any unilateral measure by any country, even the most powerful one, cannot be determining.
From this viewpoint, possible withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA would provide the European Union with a historic opportunity (or threat?) to clarify its real standing in the international system. Will Europe, along with China and Russia, be able to give credit to the viewpoint of those who support a multilateral international system? Will the United States be willing to cause the international community to have more doubts about cooperation with Washington for stabilizing the existing world order through its unjustified withdrawal from the JCPOA?
Perhaps, the answer to these questions will come to the light in October when it is time for the US president to reaffirm Iran’s compliance with its commitments as per the JCPOA.
Candidate for Ph.D. in International Relations; Tarbiat Modarres University
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