Trump was screaming against the Iran nuclear deal all through his election campaign, promising to pull the US out, when he came to power. When it was time to certify the deal, he did not, letting the US Congress take the decision, indicating his keeping the promise he had earlier made, but just about. His actions against the deal has few international takers, including nations which signed alongside him, but he does not care.
He has been ranting and raving at North Korea, even calling Kim Jong Un names and threatening to wipe the country off the face of the earth. The more he ranted and threatened the country, the more aggressive became its tests, compelling him to re-evaluate options. He has enhanced military cooperation with South Korea and Japan, deployed THAAD missiles in the Korean peninsula and had his strategic bombers overfly close to the North Korean borders seeking to enhance pressure on the country, but to no avail.
During his visit last week to Seoul, his initial comments against North Korea appeared to be softer in tone. However, when he addressed the South Korean parliament, he was his usual raving and ranting self. In China, his insistence that China do more to get North Korea to dismantle its program was again pushing Kim Jong Un to the wall.
The two nations may be apart geographically, but Trump’s unilateral actions only enhance threats across the globe while harming US interests more.The more offensive he becomes, the more he threatens them,the more they turn against the US.
Iran is a major power in the region. Its enmity with Saudi Arabia is well known. US and Iran are clearly on different sides in the Syrian conflict, with Russia allied towards Iran. Similarly, Iran and Saudi Arabia, presently close to the US, are on different sides in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. With Russia supporting it, the only actions which the US can take is sanctions, which may ultimately be ineffective.
Iran also borders Afghanistan and is known to be supporting the Taliban, including providing them with weapons and funds. The US drone strike, which eliminated Mullah Mansour in May 2016, on Pakistan soil, was launched when he was returning post an extended visit to Iran. While the message was aimed at conveying that Iran is interfering in Afghanistan, there is little that the US can do.
It is established that that the Taliban launch attacks through Iranian soil into Afghanistan. There have also been reports by the Afghan government that Iranian soldiers have been killed alongside the Taliban. With the US wading into the country again, seeking to bring the Taliban to the bargaining table, unless it acts positively with Iran, it would be facing another direction of Taliban assaults.
North Korea is developing nuclear weapons to ensure security and continuity of the regime. It is this regime which the US has been threatening over the years, compelling it to possess a deterrent.Its swift efforts at developing nuclear weapons and delivery means is just that. The nation is aware of the overthrowing of Saddam and Gaddafi, solely because they did not possess nuclear weapons, while Pakistan may be threatened, but never attacked, because of its possession of nuclear assets.
Trump may rant or rave, but his military knows that short of war, which is unlikely, unless launched by North Korea, there is little which they can do. Flying of bomber missions, deployment of THAAD missile or enhancing joint exercises with South Korea and Japan, would only enhance the desire within the Kim Jong Un regime, to develop delivery means at a faster pace.
Whatever Trump may state, ultimately only diplomacy would be the answer. By drawing himself into an open conflict with Iran, he is appearing to side with Saudi Arabia to contain it. This may appear ideal in the short term, but if he does force Iran’s hands, it may again seek to go nuclear, enhancing threat for the entire region. There is already a worry within western security circles of the security of Pak’s nuclear assets, to add to this would be similar concerns about Iran.
It would also increase tensions within the region as Israel, Iran’s avowed enemy, would seek to launch pre-emptive strikes on Iran’s nuclear assets, adding to the confusion. It was to prevent escalating the conflict that Barrack Obama devoted considerable time and energy to push the deal through. With Trump being forced to place sanctions on Russia and the fact that both Russia and Iran are working together in Syria, US actions may be countered by Russia.
Further, other nations involved in approving the Iran deal have realized that Iran could be pushed this far and not further. One wrong step leading to the collapse of the deal, could compel Iran to recommence its nuclear project at a faster pace. Unlike North Korea, Iran already has the delivery means, hence would be a riskier option. The US can only contemplate pre-emptive strikes, which would increase security risks.
India has ties with both nations and can be a stabilizing factor between the west and them. However, knowing the unpredictability of Trump, India has not even considered offering its good offices.
Trump has, in his limited tenure as President, begun creating more tension spots across the globe than any of his predecessors. His speech in the security council was more rambling and threatening,rather than being conciliatory as expected of a global superpower. He has failed to realize that threats would only work if the nation can be subdued militarily or by economic pressure. Both Iran and North Korea would never succumb to such pressure. Both seek to ensure the survivability of their nation, hence would be willing to up the ante, in case compelled. Trump should listen to more saner voices within his government, rather than resort to ranting and raving.
(The author is a retired Major General of the Indian Army)