When Principle Trumps Pragmatism

By Dillon Fowler, J.D. Candidate at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

The six-month, interim nuclear accord reached between the United States and Iran was met by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird with skepticism bordering on hostility. This was hardly surprising considering the staunchly pro-Israel position staked out by Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the last eight years. Critics have accused the Prime Minister of taking such a firm position for purely partisan advantage, but for a master political strategist like Harper this tactic would seem incredibly short-sighted. Canada’s Jewish community, after all, has remained relatively consistent at about 1% of the country’s population while the Muslim community, the group supposedly most alienated by Harper’s pro-Israel stance, has jumped from 0.9% to 3.2% in the last two decades. Harper’s unblinking support of Israel, rather, seems to spring from genuine conviction influenced primarily by his evangelical faith.

Nevertheless, it has begun to mar Canada’s ability to work as a mediator in concert with its allies, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the Iran deal. It is entirely within Canada’s best interests to support the negotiations that have finally been forced by the sanctions regime. The US has, after years of painstaking efforts, lined up an unpararalleled international coalition to force Iran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The mission of this coalition, and the purpose of the sanctions, has always been to ‘bring Iran to the table’ so that a negotiated resolution can be reached and a military strike avoided. Iran is at the table; if these negotiations are not going to be given a reasonable chance to succeed then what was the point of sanctions in the first place? It is hopelessly naive to believe that Iran, with its proud history, will ever suffer the humiliation of completely giving up its nuclear capability.

Furthermore, Iran re-entering the international community with its nuclear capacity sharply curtailed would allow it to play a constructive role in establishing anything resembling regional stability. The Sunni/Shi’a sectarian conflict that has flared across the Middle East has made everything from the Syrian civil war to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks more intractable than ever. Iran will be needed for any long-term solution to take root in either case. Isolating Iran economically and diplomatically was the smart approach to dealing with its nuclear weaponization ambitions, but it is a strategy with an expiry date. Eventually, Iran and the US will come to a negotiated solution, or there will be war.

The twin objectives of the deal have been agreed to by both parties: Iran wants sanctions relief and re-admittance into the international community, while the US wants to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon. These goals are not mutually exclusive, but they require both countries to make uncomfortable concessions. Iran must acknowledge that it can never be armed with nuclear weapons, even though Pakistan, India, Israel, and other powerful nations can be. The US must accept that Iran will never dissemble its entire nuclear program, even though that leaves open the remote possibility of it making a dash for the bomb at some future date. Even if Iran did renege on the deal and tried to quickly acquire a bomb, however, it would be in violation important principles of international law and might turn the world against it. At that point, a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be far more justifiable than it is today, before negotiations have been allowed to run their course in the hopes of arriving at a peaceful, diplomatic resolution.

Presidents Obama and Rouhani were both elected with broad popular mandates to shift away from the aggressive and unilateral foreign policies of their predecessors. Both are faced with hardliners who reject any compromise as capitulation, and who serve as the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a peaceful resolution. Canada is unnecessarily ostracizing itself by rejecting out-of-hand the agreement that has been accepted by the liberal administration in the US, the conservative government in the United Kingdom, and the pro-Iranian autocrats in Russia and China. In my view, it is unfortunate that Canada under Stephen Harper has decided that its place is with those who oppose reconciliation as a matter of principle.


Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Photo by  yeowatzup 

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