Has Donald Trump Prevented A Nuclear War? Iran and North Korea’s Nuclear Threat Under Trump Foreign Policy Examined
Donald Trump and his supporters have framed the impending meeting between the US President and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un as a chance to avert a nuclear war. Some have even suggested he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Improved relations between the US and North Korea could help reduce the likelihood of North Korea using a nuclear weapon on South Korea, Japan, or the US. Until a concrete agreement between the two rivals is signed and enacted, of course, everything in the news is just pleasantry and pageantry. Improved US relations could, after all, ratchet up tensions between North Korea and China, thereby making China a target of Pyongyang’s irrational ire, or inflame tensions between the US and China. Meanwhile, Trump’s policies toward Iran could eventually spark a nuclear war.
Having decided to withdraw from the Iranian Nuclear Deal, the Trump Administration has either disengaged from Iran or placed Tehran in a position where it has to renegotiate the terms of the nuclear agreement. Given the United States does not have established relations with Iran outside of those created by the Iranian Nuclear Deal, the former is more likely to materialize than the latter. Because South Korea, for example, enjoys multidimensional bilateral relations with the United States, it had both an incentive and means to pursue a new trade arrangement after the Trump Administration scuttled TPP and moved to impose new tariffs. In the case of Iran, Tehran does not have a working relationship with Washington. More importantly, the cost-benefit-analysis for Tehran is skewed toward disengagement. Iran is only willing to give up so much to get the benefits it can get from a nuclear agreement.
From Tehran’s perspective, it has placed itself at the center of the most important issues in the Middle East to the United States. Not only are Iran’s nuclear program and regional foreign policy among the most important security issues to US-ally Israel, Iran plays a crucial role in the Syrian Civil War and the Houthi Rebellion in Yemen, which are both among the most important security issues to US-ally and regional power Saudi Arabia. To boot, Russia views Iran as a key instrument in the Kremlin’s efforts to assert influence over the Middle East and undermine US influence while Iran sees Russia in a similar light. The Trump Administration, among others, seems to hope Europe’s continued support of the nuclear deal and the threat of a regional arms race will encourage Iran to renegotiate, but they only encourage Tehran to not openly pursue a nuclear weapon.
Outside of America’s ability to act with impunity, what Iran fears is the US giving its allies nuclear weapons, whether the US deploys them or outright gives allies nuclear weapons. Although President’s Trump highly unconventional and impulsive leadership could translate into the deployment of nuclear weapons across the Middle East, Tehran fully understands the such a decision is thoroughly unacceptable to the bulk of the world. It would, after all, be terribly irresponsible to deploy nuclear weapons in countries that face significant terrorist threats and political instability due to the ongoing, albeit quieter, Arab Spring Revolutions. In other words, Iran knows the US is bluffing.
Russia, which in the wake of the Ukraine Crisis has a adopted a rogue state mentality as part of effort to assert its influence over the globe, could give Tehran nuclear weapons in order to compel the US to cooperate with Iran. Alternatively, Russian President Vladimir Putin could force his allies to cooperate with the Trump Administration. If relations between Putin and Trump have truly soured, of course, there is no chance of this happening. In all likelihood, Iran will use the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear Deal to further demonize the US as a liar and Russia will use the US abandonment of the agreement to gain greater influence over Iran. It will help Iran financially by funneling money into the Iranian economy, via oil and the military, even if Russia cannot afford to do so. Moreover, what Trump has likely done by withdrawing from the Iranian Nuclear Deal is solidify the status quo between the two revivals while potentially fostering greater tensions between Iran and its neighbors.
The current question is, however, whether or not the Trump Administration has increased or decreased the likelihood of a nuclear war. Unless the Trump Administration finds another means of reengaging Iran and actually renegotiating the Iranian Nuclear Deal, Trump has probably increased the likelihoods of a nuclear war or, at the very least, a conventional regional war. It probably has not increased or decreased the likelihood of Iran pursuing nuclear weapons. Comparing Iran and the Middle East to North Korea and Asia, Trump’s policies are primed to do the very opposite. Where Russia is empowered by Iran’s increased dependence on Russia, Chinese influence is undermined by North Korea’s ability to work with the US, which allows it to work with South Korea and Japan instead of against it. Unfortunately, both Iran and North Korea have a tendency of spurning favorable relations with the US when it comes to the follow through. As such, any constructive developments cannot counted until they actually materialize.
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