In late November of 1943, FDR, Churchill, and Stalin met in Iran, which the allied powers had occupied during World War II, in what came to be known as the Tehran Conference — a strategy meeting to combat Nazi Germany and consider a post-war settlement. Another significant outcome of the meeting were conversations addressing the demise of the League of Nations, which had failed to prevent a second world war, and the need for an international body to be established with the mission to nurture world peace.
One of the central reasons for the League’s failure was that the United States refused to participate, fearing it would be constrained by international obligations. However, after the devastation of World War II, the need for such a body was self-evident and so the United Nations was born from its rubble. In a world facing a rise in authoritarianism, pandemic, the dangers of nuclear proliferation, and the existential threat of climate change, the significance of the U.N. and its origins are more relevant than ever.
Most recently, the United Nations and the international community held the United States accountable — despite its position as the unipolar power of the world — by rejecting the absurd U.S. claims that it is a “participant” in the Iran nuclear deal (which it withdrew from in May 2018) and could therefore initiate a “snapback” mechanism to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran.
Rather than submitting to the arrogant posturing of the Trump administration, the international body held firm to its mission of fostering peace. In their joint statement following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempt at “snapback” of all U.N. sanctions on Iran, the E3, Britain, France, and Germany, made their position clear yet again, “France, Germany and the United Kingdom note that the US ceased to be a participant to the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018…We cannot therefore support this action which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPOA.”
The 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was a breakthrough for nuclear non-proliferation and a model for global diplomacy. While peaceful relations with allies and friends is admirable, the real work of diplomacy is its effectiveness with presumed adversaries. In the Iran deal, the second breakthrough was détente between the U.S. and Iran, after both sides had engaged in belligerent rhetoric against the other for decades.
As the U.S. under the Trump administration — and at the behest of an outspoken Iran hawk, Mike Pompeo — has tried everything to sabotage years of negotiating efforts by the Obama administration and brought us to the brink of war with Iran, world powers, Iranians, and the American populace continue to support diplomacy and a peaceful resolution. While President Trump has maintained the language of his campaign platform and appears to want a deal with Iran in his own name, instead of a war, it has become increasingly plain that Secretary of State Pompeo wants no such deal.
In the just under two weeks since the U.S. attempt to extend the arms embargo on Iran through a U.N. Security Council resolution failed miserably, an obsessed Pompeo has tweeted more than 20 times about Iran, taking up approximately a third of all his activity. After the vote, Pompeo lambasted the international body stating, “The Security Council’s failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable.” While the irony of such a statement — in light of the Trump administration’s destruction of a deal that advanced peace and prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — is striking, the dogmatic tone should not be overlooked. During his short tenure as Secretary of State, Pompeo has led the U.S. to increased isolation in the international community, slowly eroded the State Department, undermined diplomacy in favor of hostility, been investigated for misconduct, and his discourse has grown gradually more divisive both domestically and globally.
If the United Nations is to succeed where the League of Nations failed, it must stand up against precisely this kind of rhetoric, and the aggressive unilateral actions of a member state led by an administration that has damaged its own democratic institutions and seems determined to destroy an international body if it does not bend to its will. We can never know if a properly functioning League of Nations could have prevented WWII, what we do know however, is that we cannot allow another failure of that magnitude. With the global challenges we face, the need for an international body that provides collective security and prevents war through disarmament and diplomacy is crucial. The U.N. fulfilled its duty by rejecting Pompeo’s reckless schemes, it must continue to show strength, deny warmongers their desired legitimacy, and encourage the peace it was founded to protect.