My experience as a CIA strategic arms analyst and as a senior professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1971 through 1993 was with treaties between the United States and the former Soviet Union — the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
I believed then and still do that effective verification and effective compliance enforcement are vitally necessary for effective arms control. My role was to achieve U.S. recognition of Soviet cheating, and in September 1983 the Senate passed 93 to 0 a resolution requesting President Reagan to report on Soviet cheating. The president soon reported on Soviet cheating, and years later Soviet leaders finally admitted the most important violations and complied — mostly.
The Iran Joint Plan of Action is a different type of agreement, but it is arguably an amendment to a treaty, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. But also arguably, it is just a “deal,” not a treaty-protocol or treaty-amendment.
The U.S. Constitution defines the treaty-making powers as shared between the president and the Senate, but it did not specify which branch could define an international agreement as a “treaty.” The Constitution simply assumed that any important international agreement would be a treaty. So whether the Iran Joint Plan of Action is an amendment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and is therefore covered under the treaty-making powers, or is simply a multilateral executive agreement, is open to controversy.
The Corker-Cardin law was passed by the Senate and the House overwhelmingly, and supposedly gives both bodies a chance to approve or disapprove the Iran agreement. The president signed it into law. But the question arises — what is the Iran Joint Plan of Action?
The law requires the president to give to Congress all side agreements related to the Iran Joint Plan of Action, and also a U.S. verification assessment. The president has so far refused to do this, and has threatened to veto any congressional resolution of disapproval under the Corker law. The president seems to have enough support in the Senate — one-third — to prevent any attempt at a congressional override of his threatened veto.
The Iran Joint Plan of Action is thus a new form of an arms control agreement — it is a U.N. Security Council-sponsored, multilateral, International Atomic Energy Agency-U.N. Security Council-verified and -enforced international agreement. It has arguably transcended the U.S. Constitution, and is governed by the U.N. Security Council. But this situation entails several problems:
The first is the verification regime. Verification is to be done by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But there are many Iranian-imposed restrictions on the agency’s access and authority to inspect. There are at least several still-secret agreements between the agency and Iran on verification, which have not been shared with the Congress, and even with the U.S. executive branch. But the Corker law requires these agreements and a U.S. verification assessment be shared with Congress.
The second is the question of enforceability. Leaving aside the controversial question of whether any “snap-back” economic sanctions for enforcement are a realistic possibility, the president has already unilaterally achieved a U.N. Security Council vote to cancel all U.N. sanctions on Iran, despite the requirement of the Corker law to await congressional action before any such U.N. cancellation of sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council thus controls both verification and enforcement of the Iran Joint Plan of Action. Russia has a veto in the U.N. Security Council.
Russia is cheating on the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, according to at least two unclassified U.S. State Department reports. According to many other official U.S. reports, Iran also has been cheating on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons for the past 30 years.
Thus, we could be in a situation of cheaters — the Russians — verifying cheaters — Iran. This might be an ideal situation for KGB Lt. Col. Vladimir Putin.
All the other aspects of the Iran Joint Plan of Action seem less important than the above factors, although they legitimize 30 years of Iranian cheating and the entire Iranian industrial, military, research and development and missile structures for nuclear weapons. And North Korea is a supporting ally.
• David S. Sullivan is a former CIA strategic arms analyst and retired senior professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.