The Effects of US Withdrawal from the JCPOA on Nuclear weapons Nonproliferation and Control Treaties

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The following article explains the consequences of the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on nuclear weapons nonproliferation and control treaties.


The day that the JCPOA was concluded, has been recorded as a historic day in the field of international relations and law and a great day for nonproliferation and arms control treaties. This accord has been considered as a new and profound development in which six world powers and the Islamic Republic of Iran engaged in bilateral and multilateral negotiations on how to settle their differences over Iran's nuclear program and clinched an agreement. The outcomes of this development have gone far beyond its text. At the present time, the United States of America has withdrawn from this agreement, which has come to be known as the most comprehensive nonproliferation and arms control accord in history and served the goals of previous arms control and nonproliferation treaties. Therefore, what follows is an effort to explain the consequences of the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and its impact on nuclear weapons nonproliferation and control treaties.

The JCPOA and resolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran's securitized nuclear dossier

The JCPOA is an international agreement reached on Iran's nuclear program on July 14, 2015 between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 group of countries – the United States, the UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany – in the Austrian capital city of Vienna. Prolonged negotiations started between Iran and the six world powers to achieve the JCPOA following negotiations, which led to the Joint Plan of Action in the Swiss city of Geneva in November 2013. After conclusion of the Geneva agreement, the two sides of those negotiations continued their talks for 20 more months until the Lausanne Iran Nuclear Framework Agreement was finally reached in April 2015, which set a framework for the subsequent accord clinched in Vienna. According to the text of the JCPOA, Iran is supposed to do away with its medium-enriched uranium stocks, slash by 98 percent its stock of low-enriched uranium, and also reduce by about two-thirds the number of its active centrifuges for a period of at least 15 years.

In line with the JCPOA, Iran has also stopped all enrichment activities in the excess of 3.67 percent and will not build any new enrichment facilities or heavy water reactors. In addition to imposing restrictions on technical and nuclear sections of Iran's nuclear facilities and in order to verify, supervise and confirm Iran's compliance with these restrictions, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all nuclear facilities in the country. According to the JCPOA and in return for implementing its commitments, Iran will not be subject to international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, the European Union and the United States. The text of the JCPOA, or the Vienna agreement, was read out by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in both Persian and English through a press conference in which both sides announced that they had achieved the deal. After the two sides clinched the JCPOA, the UN Security Council adopted its famous Resolution 2231 in which it officially upheld the JCPOA. In this way, the issue of the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear activities, which had turned into a major nuclear crisis for a whole decade, was resolved and the way was paved for the effort to desecuritize Iran's nuclear program as a result of which the county is no more subject to the contents of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.

Impact of the JCPOA on disarmament, nonproliferation and arms control treaties

The final and comprehensive agreement reached in Vienna under the generally known title of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the JCPOA was a measure taken to settle Iran's nuclear case within a clear framework that had its own specific dimensions. However, there are few people, if any, who would doubt the effects of this deal, which go well beyond Iran's nuclear issue. One of those effects is about disarmament, nonproliferation and arms control treaties. In its accurate sense, disarmament is a process, which finally leads to total annihilation of a special group of weapons, while arms control, in its traditional sense, means qualitative or quantitative restriction of various kinds of arms. These are two terms, which have been in use in the literature related to international law and relations. On the whole, they denote engagement in negotiations on various kinds of military weapons to reduce their quantity to almost zero or, at least, to reduce them to very low levels or destroy them. They are also applied to those cases when options available to governments for waging war are made limited.

One of the basic characteristics of disarmament and arms control treaties is their international nature and the vast expanse of their topic, which helps them encompass all kinds of weapons – including weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons – through international negotiations, which finally lead to conclusion of an international treaty. In its general sense, disarmament and arms control regime not only covers several concepts mentioned in the UN Charter – including disarmament and arms regulations – but also pursues four major goals:

  1. Reducing the possibility of wars and conflicts among governments;
  2. Alleviation of the suffering of and damage to human populations and the manpower available to governments in case of war;
  3. Reducing the cost of weapons production and subsequently decreasing the overall cost of war; and finally,
  4. Playing a role in management of armed conflicts through offering a framework for negotiations between belligerent sides and reduction of tensions.

 The United Nations has been so far successful in the formulation of treaties on nonproliferation and arms control. Among the measures it has taken, one can point to the adoption of a global agreement on arms control – whose main focus is nonproliferation of nuclear weapons – known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, which was extended indefinitely in 1995.

It is noteworthy that increased number of arms control treaties has not only caused restrictions for production of conventional and unconventional weapons, but has also bolstered security at national and international levels. Along the same line, the JCPOA can be considered as the most comprehensive agreement on nonproliferation and arms control throughout history, which serves the goals of previous arms control and nonproliferation treaties. This agreement sets a new standard for the resolution of the global nuclear crisis. The diplomatic model arising from this agreement can be also used for the settlement of issues related to weapons of mass destruction and prevention of countries’ access to weapons of mass destruction. In addition, it can be used to formulate a new model for international security in order to shore up the current regime that oversees nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and arms control. In doing this, it can also greatly speed up resolution of international and regional crises.

Impact of US withdrawal from the JCPOA on nuclear weapons disarmament and control process

When explaining the impact of the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA on nuclear weapons disarmament and control process, it is necessary to mention those potentialities that emanate from the JCPOA in the field of disarmament and arms control. It must be noted that at the present time, some of these potentialities have been weakened or do not exist anymore after the United States quit the nuclear accord with Iran.

One of those potentialities stemming from the JCPOA was that it could enable countries with nuclear weapons to adopt serious disarmament measures. If this happened, those countries could improve regional and international security while strengthening nuclear weapons nonproliferation regime through their serious measures. Another issue is that by relying on the JCPOA, they could change the wrong and dangerous security paradigm of nuclear-based deterrence in exchange for better, safer and fairer arrangements.

In addition, the JCPOA could provide a good model for controlling all nuclear warheads in the world. On the other hand, the model of nuclear diplomacy arising from it could have started new talks for the formulation of a new treaty aimed at the annihilation of nuclear weapons at regional and international levels. Such a treaty could have been supported through powerful supervisory and assessment mechanisms to measure commitment of member countries. In its early stage, it could start with taking nuclear arsenal out of their start of alert – by detaching nuclear warheads from their carriers to reduce their risk – and in later stages, it could be continued with disarmament of all countries that possess weapons of mass destruction.

Therefore, this global project could have tuned into a realizable goal through powerful, global and honest support to create a region free from all kinds of weapons of mass destruction in the world, especially in West Asia. The main condition for doing this was that concerned powers, especially the United States of America, should have reached the conclusion that this issue is not just a good cause, but a global strategic necessity and this would have convinced them to remain committed to the JCPOA.


The Non-Proliferation Treaty or the NPT is among binding international treaties to which the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a member since the time it was adopted in 1968. This treaty has recognized the right of its member states to quit and its Article 10 says, “Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.” Therefore, on the basis of its own weapon strategies, including membership in arms control treaties like the NPT, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been trying to obtain the confidence of countries in the region and the world. Finally, by concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and accepting compliance with its commitments, Iran finally introduced itself as a country that seeks to reduce tensions in the world through resolution of its nuclear issue.

Following the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA, implementation of this agreement has been in doubt. Withdrawal of the United States from this deal, which was in stark contradiction to the interpretation of other signatory parties, has prompted Iran, as the main party that is expected to implement this agreement, to reserve the right to exit the JCPOA and subsequently the NPT, because it sees its vital interests in jeopardy. It is noteworthy that refraining from accession to disarmament treaties or avoiding implementing them, especially with regard to those disarmament and nonproliferation treaties that deal with the weapons of mass destruction, can amount to a threat against international peace and security. Therefore, one can say that this agreement was a very important achievement for disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear arms control treaties and after withdrawal of the United States from it, politicians have lost a very valuable opportunity that emanated from it. On the whole, withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA has been construed as a sign of the failure of the nuclear control and nonproliferation regime. This development not only renews the threat against international peace and security, but also reduces the decision-making power and role of the UN Security Council and harms credibility of the IAEA. It also signals the failure of the legal and political regime that governs international treaties and agreements, especially with respect to the nuclear arms nonproliferation and control treaties in the international system.

*Source: npps
*Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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