The Trump Administration changed and rolled back certain policies adopted by the preceding American Administration with the assumption that coercive strategies would relieve the US of various entanglements and commitments in various parts of the globe and enable it to concentrate more on building up its own strength.
It was believed that offensive gestures and measures towards Russia, Iran and North Korea through a policy of sanctions would bring peace and stability in the Middle East and Korean Peninsula by changing inimical behavior of these countries according to American foreign policy objectives. These measures are considered instrumental in putting an end to the long-standing Iran-Israel standoff, Iranian and Russian robust military presence in Syria and Iranian involvement in promoting its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon and herald peace in the Middle East which would unleash American resources and troops from the troubled region.
It was further surmised that pressures on Russia and Iran could also help wind up American entanglements in Ukraine and Afghanistan. The US policy of putting North Korea under sanctions until it denuclearizes itself completely is aimed at forestalling brewing tensions in the Korean Peninsula with rising threats from North Korean muscular ambitions of developing nuclear and missile programs.
The incumbent Administration’s act of rolling back the nuclear deal with Iran and imposition of fresh sanctions despite Teheran’s adherence to the guidelines of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the grounds that the nuclear deal did not have teeth to contain Iran’s missile programs, its alleged involvement in promoting terrorism in the neighborhood and human rights violations at home can be construed as American attempts at putting pressure on Iran around its ambitious and wide-range policy objectives which the latter is unlikely to give in.
Similarly, the US sanctions on Russia are ambitious and not targeted at any particular objective. The objectives range from addressing the Ukraine issue to Russia’s “malign activity around the globe” onto the objective of averting Russian interference in the American electoral process (Russia was alleged to have interfered in 2016 American elections by the intelligence agency officials). The US State Department has recently announced fresh sanctions on Russia on the ground of nerve-agent attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. All these sanctions were imposed on Russia despite the fact that any American attempt at containing Iranian influence in the Middle East would require Russian support and these also stand in contrast to Trump’s personal admiration for Putin’s leadership qualities.
The North Korea and the US summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018 was conceived to break new grounds in ushering in peace in the Korean Peninsula by ending long-years of isolation of North Korea from America and its allies and heralding the process of denuclearization in the peninsula.
However, the dialogue that was established between both countries remained opaque and raised pertinent questions as to why the denuclearization process would not involve the simultaneous process of wrapping up of American extension of nuclear deterrence and missile defence system to South Korea while the US insisted on the unilateral abandonment of North Korean nuclear program and refused to waive sanctions until North Korea denuclearized completely.
North Korea believes that the summit in Singapore is the first move towards peace in the Korean peninsula to be followed by more such dialogues while the US was expecting too much from a single summit without reciprocating to Pyongyang’s initial efforts at destroying the tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site (the only nuclear site), freezing of nuclear and missile tests and returning of American prisoners. North Korea argues for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War (1950) and security guarantees from the US that would prevent America from attacking North Korea in future.
While Russia and China wish to see a denuclearized North Korea for regional peace and trade but they view the American stringent measures as attempts to dwarf the influence of potential threats and spread its own. While Russia and China would seek to prevent North Korea from succumbing to US-led sanctions, Iran was skeptical and critical of the American move from the beginning and warned North Korea against trusting the American President who could cancel the agreement within hours. Mounting American pressures on North Korea without considering efforts at reaching out to the long-isolated country with deeper engagements would only build mutual distrust and would force Pyongyang to look out for assistance from countries which share similar concerns on American hegemony.
While the American sanctions on Iran are unilateral and have not been endorsed by other parties to the deal, the ambitious sanctions with multiple objectives are like to fail in achieving results. Iran would still be in a position to carry trade and commerce with the European countries. Iran would also diversify its trade with other countries to avoid the pressures from American sanctions.
Russia and Iran are not only cooperating in Syria to strengthen the Assad regime, Moscow has been assisting Iran in its missile programs and defends its nuclear ambitions. As most of the sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration are whimsical in nature and there are hardly any visible efforts at engaging other countries to support and join the sanction regime, these would enable the target countries to get over the intended outcomes.
The latest American sanctions on Russia in the context of nerve-agent attack on the former Russian spy have underlined the unilateral, ambitious and whimsical nature of the Administration’s offensives which would only enhance the possibility of a Russia-Iran-North Korea axis and entangle the US further in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and Afghanistan to name a few. Iran and Russia are alleged to be providing training, arms and intelligence support to the Afghan Taliban to undercut American influence in and around Afghanistan.
Russian influence in the Middle East has possibly outgrown that of the US as exemplified by its ability to manage its dominance in Syria while preventing Iran and Israel from colliding. Therefore, American offensives in the form of sanctions would not be helpful in providing solutions to American predicaments and entanglements rather it would entrench its engagements further by contributing to more instabilities in the Middle East region and Korean peninsula.