The Geopolitical Implications of Returning to the JCPOA

By: LTC Sami Alshehri, Saudi Arabian Military, CCJ5 CSAG
15 July 2021


The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a detailed agreement reached between Iran, and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (US, Russia, the UK, China, France), plus Germany (together the “P5+1”). The agreement was reached on July 14, 2015, and was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The goal of the deal was to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment program until the year 2030. Based on specific requirements described in the agreement, the nuclear-related provisions of the JCPOA are verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The agreement came after a long period of international tension over Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear capabilities. Although Iran claimed that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, the international community, based on Iran’s profoundly troubling behavior in the region and its hegemonic aspirations, did not believe that Iran’s nuclear program was entirely peaceful. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities and allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The removal of economic sanctions allowed Iran to gain access to over $100 B in frozen assets, resume trading oil on international markets, and use the global financial system for trade.

Key Points:

  • The 2015 JCPOA was a temporary solution that would only delay Iran from building a nuclear bomb. It did not spur Iran to stop its malign activities and correspond to international norms.
  • The maximum pressure campaign hit the Iranian economy very hard. Yet, Iran’s economy did not entirely collapse, nor did the regime submit to US demands.
  • The complexities of returning to the JCPOA represent severe challenges to the US administration to include endangering the US geopolitical alignment, and its hegemonic role in the Middle East.
  • Iran has already gained nuclear knowledge that will not disappear after returning to JCPOA.
  • Regional countries will not stand idle while Iran becomes a nuclear power. Countries would seek to protect their existence which could trigger a nuclear arms race to achieve balance.
  • Although a quick return to an incomprehensive deal with Iran may appear attractive as a domestic political win, that would not favor US national interests. On the contrary, it would likely favor China, Russia, and European countries.
  • A more comprehensive solution that upholds US influence, serves US national interests, and promises stability in the region would be the better deal for all parties.

Read the complete paper here.

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.