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The US Is Furious Over An Expiring UN Arms Embargo

May 16, 2020

Via Wikimedia Commons.

On July 15, 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2231 in accordance with the JCPOA that had just been negotiated between Iran and five world powers. Resolution 2231 was a follow-on arms embargo prohibiting the export of weapon systems to Iran and the sale of the country’s military products anywhere. The resolution terminates on October 2020 or five months from today. While the UN and the JCPOA signatories judged Iran in compliance with the historic accord that halted its work on a nuclear weapon there was no adverse impact on Iran’s domestic military technology. Since 2015 Iran developed some very sophisticated equipment for is armed forces without relying on foreign partners.

When the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in mid-2018 this launched a chain of events that almost led to war. The temporary lull in the tit-for-tat reprisals between Washington, DC, and Tehran may have dissipated as COVID-19 sweeps the world but plans are still underway to constrain the Islamic Republic. Since late April, in fact, the US State Department announced it wants to extend the UN Resolution 2231 as a measure for preventing Iran from supplying its regional proxies. In repeated statements to the press State Department officials emphasized the Trump administration is fully committed to re-imposing the arms embargo and expects support from China and Russia and the rest of the European community.

Contrary to what the State Department claims the US is virtually alone in pushing for an extension on Resolution 2231. The resulting pushback from Iranian officials argued JCPOA and Resolution 2231 are inclusive and since other JCPOA signatories are still vouching for Iran there’s no danger of Resolution 2231 being extended. Another argument is the US’ unilateral withdrawal from JCPOA and re-impositions of sanctions means its threats are invalid as it’s no longer part of the agreement and its provisos. The State Department’s explanation to refute the Iranian claim is emphasizing the US’ role as a “participant” in Resolution 2231, a status allowing it to maintain exclusive rights for enforcing the embargo.

Iran does invest enormous resources in its military-industrial sector and this allowed it to build a powerful deterrent amid harsh economic sanctions. But the US’ newfound zeal for an arms embargo makes sense when considering the significant inventory of Chinese and Russian-made weapon systems used by Iran’s military branches. The IRI Navy, for example, operates a trio of diesel-electric Kilo-class submarines and plans on beginning construction for a 3,200 ton model. Without an arms embargo the IRIN is free to import critical parts for its submarine projects and perhaps upgrade the existing fleet. The long-term effect diminishes the US’ commitment to protecting the commerce in the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

Should Resolution 2231 expire as scheduled the effect is more pronounced on the IRIAF and the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) who both struggle with maintaining antiquated fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. The IRIAF is stuck with dozens of Soviet vintage MiGs and Sukhois collected in the last 30 years and augmenting or modernizing these further closes the gap with other regional air forces. An even likelier possibility is adding to the IRIAF’s current inventory with acquisitions of fourth-generation multirole fighters from Russia; Iran does have the financial resources to pay for new aircraft. The ground forces won’t be left behind when Resolution 2231 expires. The last time Iran recapitalized its armored units in the 1990s it managed to import hundreds of tanks and APCs from Russian and Eastern Europe and then indigenized them in state-owned factories. China also had a role in Iran’s fledgling armaments sector with crucial technology transfers of infantry weapons and missiles.

The US sees Iran as a persistent threat in the coming decade with its ambitions to regional hegemony; stopping Iran means finding new and novel ways to limit its power and hasten its government’s collapse.

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