There was an intense exchange last week between Western parties and Iran and Russia after Ukraine was invited to join a U.N. Security Council meeting on the implementation of resolution 2231 — which endorsed the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The U.S., UK and France argued that Iran supplying drones to Russia was a violation of the JCPOA which impacts Ukraine directly, giving it the right to be present. Russia and Iran countered that the decision to include Ukraine was political and inappropriate, given that Ukraine is not a party to the JCPOA.
Whatever the specifics of this debate, it is indicative of a larger problem that plagues the ethos of internationalism. On one hand, Iran’s violations of the nuclear agreement are pertinent to the discussion of resolution 2231. However, Iran’s violations can only be understood in the context of U.S. violations of the deal. After all, it was the U.S. that unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed broad-based sanctions in violation of the JCPOA while Iran was in full compliance.
Yet, if one listens to the rhetoric of the West — even the U.S., which was the original wrongdoer — that context is entirely absent from the discussion.
Despite the fact that President Biden lambasted the Trump administration for the decision to quit the deal and suggested he would return to it during his presidential campaign, the Biden administration has yet to formally return the United States as a party to the agreement. Unlike the Obama administration that compartmentalized the JCPOA talks and focused on the nuclear issue — the same logic that informed arms treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War — the Biden administration has essentially maintained Trump era policies vis-à-vis Iran rather than returning to the policies of the administration he served as vice president.
Rather than fixing an issue of its own making, the U.S. has masked the growing nuclear predicament with Iran in the pretense of Iranian violations of the deal and issues outside the nuclear file. The case of the JCPOA, including U.S. violations of the deal and its obstinate refusal to accept responsibility, reveal a larger dilemma in the West and of U.S. foreign policy specifically: hypocrisy.
The significance of this impasse cannot be overlooked for its impact in global political affairs. In reality, internationalism and international bodies can only work if the rules within this so-called “rules-based order” are applied consistently and fairly across the board, otherwise they become tools of power and imperialism.
Consider the fact that just one day before the UNSC meeting on resolution 2231, U.N. experts released a statement saying Israel’s most recent incursion into occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank may constitute war crimes, a sentiment echoed by the EU’s envoy to the Palestinian territories. Can you imagine the U.S., UK and France giving Palestinians the same stage to air their grievances at a UNSC meeting? On the contrary, the U.S. has a long history of blocking U.N. resolutions critical of Israel, providing Israel with unequivocal support in spite of its violations of international law.
Double standards and inconsistencies also invite other states to do the same and push back against Western power rather than focusing on global cooperation. The Global South’s response to the war in Ukraine illustrates this point. When Western capitals turn a blind eye to the devastation and destruction caused by their own wars in the Middle East, as well the war crimes committed, the moral posturing of the West after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rings hollow. Even U.S. partners in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have maintained their relationship with Russia — though rhetorically condemning the invasion — without it impacting their ties to the United States.
While the invasion of Ukraine and the havoc wreaked on civilians is undoubtedly abhorrent, there are parallel illegalities and indignities to U.S. actions against Iraq and its citizens. Yet, in both instances, the U.S. has managed to claim moral superiority. These inconsistencies expose a concerning truth. That we are not interested in internationalism or the rules-based order we so adamantly promote. Instead, what we are interested in is power politics and maintaining a world order where U.S. dominance takes precedence over international cooperation.
These are the very same attitudes that led the world into the scourge of war that the creation of the United Nations was meant to prevent. Although the emerging multi-polar sphere will certainly challenge U.S. hegemony, there should be no doubt that the U.S. is still the single-most powerful nation in the world. However, whether we will move through this transitional period as a collapsing empire or finally engage in true internationalism to tackle global challenges like climate change and nuclear proliferation remains to be seen.
By maintaining the status quo, we will have chosen the former over the latter.