Tag Archives: Iran

Words of Wisdom: Raising the Bar on Council Culture, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Jan


Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life. Immanuel Kant

It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end. Leonardo da Vinci

The less you talk, the more you’re listened to. Pauline Phillips

Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done. Amelia Earhart

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Abraham Maslow

It’s early on a frigid Sunday in New York, the sort of morning that gives one a new appreciation for hibernation – slowing down the collective metabolism for a season to refresh and restore beyond the bitter elements; but in our case also to reflect on how we ourselves and the institutions we interact with can better fulfill our collective responsibilities.

The UN has been quiet this week, not quite hibernating, but certainly rebooting what had become by mid-December some badly frayed circuits.  The one significant exception was Friday’s “emergency” meeting in the Security Council called for by the US.   The meeting seemed less about how Iran is treating its demonstrators (the alleged and controversial topic of this first session under Kazakhstan’s presidency) and more about undermining confidence in the JCPOA – the Security Council endorsed agreement to restrict Iran’s development of its own nuclear weapons program.

The US has in the recent past used the Security Council as a platform to undercut the credibility of Iran – not only as an alleged sponsor of regional terror but as a state thus incapable of fulfilling agreements such as those embodied in the JCPOA.   The rationale appears to be that if Iran cannot be trusted in all things, it cannot be trusted in this thing either; in this instance despite the firm conviction of the IAEA that Iran is in compliance with its JCPOA obligations, a conviction which is accepted by most Council members including US “allies” France and the United Kingdom.

Meetings of this type are particularly frustrating for us; not only because of their “politicized” implications, but also because of the many conflicts that remain unresolved (such as in Yemen and Myanmar) or that, in instances such as Venezuela and Cameroon, barely seem to register on the Council’s scale of concern.  There is little doubt, as noted on Friday by ASG Zerihoun, that some official reactions to the protests in Iran were excessively violent, a matter of serious interest for Council members beyond the US, which itself had been accused of “grotesque intervention” by Iranian authorities.  But “serious interest” does not in itself justify an “emergency meeting” of the Council, nor does the hostile rhetoric focused on Iran’s at-times misguided policy decisions and human rights performance justify stubborn skepticism regarding Iran’s JCPOA-related compliance.  And it certainly does not justify time taken from interrogating and addressing other looming sites of violent conflict.

Honestly, it felt a bit jarring to emerge from a brief time of winter reflection into the midst of a Council discussion that frankly appeared more than anything else to be lacking in basic wisdom.  Jarring, but not a huge surprise. Council discussions are often more about scoring political points and feeling out the political limitations of national preferences than about full disclosures of national interest, placing policy preferences in their proper context, or the “clear-headed analysis” urged by new Security Council member Peru.

Indeed, wisdom seems to have become a largely discredited phenomenon in policy, in part because more claim it for themselves than exhibit its fruits and in part because of our tendency to keep things discrete – our personal lives from our professional lives, our politics from their personal and real-world implications.  Wisdom is born of experience but is not hostage to experience.   As implied by the quotations above, wisdom is about holding relevant things together, cultivating a long and engaged attention span, exercising self-restraint during times of stress or temptation,  seeing a bigger and richer picture, keeping our bearings when so many around us are losing their own.  It is about describing the (sometimes grave) obstacles in front of us and persistently calling attention to our collective responsibilities, especially to those who are distracted by less urgent matters.  It means talking less and listening more while ensuring that the words we employ have impact beyond their ability to brand preferences and manipulate outcomes.  Especially in the Council’s context, wisdom is about taking preventive measures to resist the outbreak of conflict which can minimize the need for remedial measures in conflict’s aftermath. It implies refraining from a preoccupation with one grievance such that our duty to identify and address grievances of equal or greater significance is compromised.

As some of the greatest minds in our collective history have noted, this wisdom business represents quite a high bar.  Fortunately for us, it is a “bar” that is reached every day by women and men in diverse cultural circumstances, persons with generally limited notoriety but with a demonstrated ability to “organize life,” to step back from the fray in a manner that clarifies options and implications going forward without haughty or self-important aloofness. For us, this “organizing” includes an all-important reminder that most problems needing to be addressed in the world are not akin to an exposed nail in search of some metaphorical hammer.

As France sensibly explained on Friday, it is possible and advisable for the Council to both address “flash points” in the Middle East and honor its JCPOA and related agreements.   Yes it is possible; but what we witnessed Friday was, from the standpoint of wisdom, a clear regression – the JCPOA under senseless threat while “flash points” in Gaza, Yemen, Eastern Ghouta (Syria) and elsewhere within and outside the Middle East region remain stubbornly resistant to Council-initiated resolutions.  As regional and even existential threats to planetary well-being loom large, wiser engagements emanating from this Council would certainly be reassuring.

As we have noted with other issue contexts, Friday’s discussion on Iran summed up many of the problems with the Council’s prevalent “culture” – too many statements, too little listening, too many conflicts ignored, too much political manipulation of those conflicts which are addressed.  The new elected Council members for which Friday was their debut moment – Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Peru, Netherlands, Poland and Equatorial Guinea – have no doubt already experienced several elements of what can be an overly political, wisdom-challenged policy space.   We hope that these elected members will do whatever they can – individually and collectively — to more effectively “organize the life” of the Council.  We promise to support  — certainly not to interrupt — their progress.

The Iran Nuclear Deal – “A new beginning for the people in the Middle East”

17 Dec

A master-class in balanced analysis was elegantly presented by Trita Parsi, founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council, at a recent UN meeting in the Economic and Social Council Chamber (ECOSOC) organized by the Women’s International Forum. The topic at hand was, “The Iran nuclear deal – how we got here and what it means.” This subject matter could have very well attracted controversy and heated exchange on both sides of the fence, if not handled with care, wisdom, expertise and a mindset that is willing to acknowledge the multiple facets that assemble a somewhat objective reality. Parsi managed to integrate all of these aspects, not by simply explaining the status quo but by highlighting the tremendous impact that the recent nuclear deal with Iran could well have for the entire region and as a result, the international community.

“Diplomacy is making some significant headway,” Parsi explained introductorily, referencing the nuclear deal set up between six major powers of the international community and Iran, but without neglecting the fact that the current compromise is no more than an “interim agreement” — albeit of historic proportion.

It is meant to put on-hold key elements of Iran’s nuclear enrichment in exchange for temporary easing on some of the economic sanctions that had been imposed by the U.S., the Security Council and others. The installation of new centrifuges for uranium enrichment that Iran had acquired has been stopped, and the measures in place make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected. In return, Iran will receive partial relief in regard to trade sanctions and renewed access to a number of its frozen currency accounts overseas. In case Iran violates the agreement’s terms, the sanctions can be re-employed at any point in time.

“This agreement, although yet to be implemented, is not only referring to Iran’s nuclear aspirations, but has an impact on the entire region and the very direction Iran is taking as a country.”

Parsi named a number of “decisive factors” that smoothed the way for the most current political breakthrough. “The Iranians recently elected Hassan Rouhani for president, the most moderate person among the candidates. With him, a centrist cabinet came into power that had made numerous proposals to the West before, which had unfortunately failed in the past.” Rouhani visited the United Nations in late September to the U.N.’s first ever High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament.

The HLM showcased the Iranian head of state as an authority on ridding the world of nuclear weapons, rather than acquiring them. Rouhani did not only get invited to present on this politically charged topic, but among the eight plenary speakers addressing the global leaders, he received the number three slot in the lineup.

Furthermore, Parsi explained how the Iranians had been cooperating more closely with the U.S. in 2001, only to then be added to the “axis of evil” by former President George W. Bush as a response to the terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. on 9/11. This led to hardened political statements in tones that were often infused with hostility. “In the eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Iran and the West went in different directions, which could have escalated into a military confrontation.” With the election of Rouhani, “there was suddenly someone in power worth investing in by the White House.” Parsi was referring here in part to U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, “defending the nuclear deal to a very skeptical Congress only yesterday. There is now confidence that Iran delivers.”

Parsi stated that the pressure the U.S. administration experienced regarding an optional military intervention in Syria on behalf of the American public, “pushed Obama into deep diplomacy,” when he was confronted with the subsequent Iran negotiations. As a result, noted Parsi, Iran which had recently been considered “the most difficult issue within the region” became “low hanging fruit in comparison to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict or the dangerous situation still in Syria.” Parsi repeated that the second step, the actual implementation of the landmark accord, will be the real difficulty the six negotiating world powers are facing. Earlier this week, expert level talks began in Vienna to work out specific details of implementation. Officials from Iran, The United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia met at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency that will play a central role in verifying that Tehran carries out its part of the deal.

The interim agreement will also, in Parsi’s view, have tremendous implications for Iran within the region, specifically in improving relations with neighboring states. The agreement “implies de-containment, both politically and economically.” For some time, Iran has not had a recognized role within the region and the country has been excluded from meaningful participation in many international bodies. Parsi explained that the negotiation process would bring an image change for Iran, certainly a different approach to their policy on Israel, as well as positive, long-term repercussions for many Arabic states. “Nobody is going to lose out in the long run. Iran is not going to have a nuclear bomb, and it doesn’t lie in the interest of Israel or Saudi Arabia to continue a perpetual conflict with Iran.”

Parsi concluded, “Ultimately, this is about so much more than enrichment or centrifuges. If this agreement can be implemented, it will determine who will define Iran for the next decades. This can be a new beginning for the countries and the people of the Middle East.”

Parsi provided valuable lessons in contemporary diplomacy, and reminded the UN audience why the threat of war can no longer be accepted as the “continuation of policy by other means” in the 21st century.


Lia Petridis Maiello


This piece was originally published with The Huffington Post.

In Search of Solid Ground: A Student’s Thoughts on the Current Geopolitical Quagmire

11 Oct

Editors Note:  Carly Millenson is extraordinary young woman in high school who is working with Christina Madden on matters related to Women in International Security.  At her request, she prepared this essay describing some of the anxieties of her generation as she and her peers prepare to take up adult responsibilities. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” – so begins Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, a truly timeless classic that describes the present as well as it did the era it depicted. To a student who hopes to one day pursue a career in international security this seems as accurate and concise a description of the pathos of our day as any. Times have certainly changed since Dickens penned this famous phrase, but human nature has not. As international tensions rise in an age when technological advances make the stakes of conflict higher than ever before, my generation is greeted with a bewildering and concerning mix as we begin to leave the stability of the classroom for the uncertainty of the real world.

A 2011 article published in Foreign Affairs warned that a nuclear Iran would “upend the middle east”, and crafted a disturbing narrative of rapid nuclear proliferation across the region resulting in an exponential increase in the risk of the outbreak of nuclear conflict. Meanwhile, pictures of Netanyahu drawing his famous “red line” interspersed with belligerent messages from North Korea and increasingly horrific reports on the violence scorching Syria have made for a grim new cycle, even by the standards of someone whose political consciousness begins with a post-9/11 world.

More recently, there have been some feeble glimmers of hope, yet these have been tempered by murky facts and unclear intentions. Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, has taken a surprisingly conciliatory line, ending a three decade freeze on direct interaction with the US through his September phone call with President Obama. In his speech at the UN, he stressed Iran’s desire for peace with the international community and offered increased transparency in order to eliminate “reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program” and said that his country “is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and the removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency.” If taken at face value, such statements mark a critical turning point for the better in regional politics and seem to signal a crucial step towards reducing tensions. However, in the world of politics, little is as simple as it seems and not everyone has a rosy take on Iran’s overtures. According to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, “the facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric.” He added that “[i]f Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.” In a similar vein, a recent Foreign Affairs article warned that “Rouhani is no reformer. He is a man of the system, which is why he was allowed to run in the first place.”  The confusing mire of claims and counterclaims surrounding the Iranian nuclear question has become the norm for most major international issues. Understanding the news and drawing conclusions from it has become less about cutting to the quick and more about wading towards the least unstable ground.

It is in this foggy atmosphere of uncertainty and looming threats that my generation must find its feet. I hope to one day pursue a career as a policymaker in international security and promote peace by working to contain nuclear proliferation and to reduce international tensions. At the moment though, I am mostly limited to excelling in my studies and dreaming about the future. But what kind of future will it be? With the advances of technology the stakes have gotten progressively higher. Weapons have gotten more deadly and our growing dependence on complex equipment has brought with it new vulnerabilities – my world is one where enemies armed with hacking skills are quickly becoming just as dangerous, if not more so, than those armed with bombs. I hope that tomorrow will bring with it a new era of peace and worry that I am experiencing the prologue to an age of widening conflict and increasing bloodshed. In these delicate times, miscalculations by international policymakers will have major repercussions for decades to come. What they decide now will determine how I will spend my adult life. In the next thirty years, will international security be defined by closing rifts, preventing backslides, and blocking radicalism, or will it instead be characterized by putting out fires, minimizing damage, and trying to restart the peace process? Most likely it will fall somewhere in between those two extremes, but it is up to policymakers today to decide which way it leans.

My generation is slowly evolving from being today’s passive newsreaders to tomorrow’s active newsmakers, but most of us aren’t quite there yet. However, as with any group of people, there are always leaders who race out far ahead of the curve. At sixteen, Malala Yousafzai has gained international fame as a courageous champion of girls’ education rights whose close brush with death at the hands of the Taliban has done nothing to silence her voice. Her impact today could be the impact of my generation tomorrow. I want the chance to build a better, safer world. However, a world in conflict is not a ripe place for peacebuilding. Strife must be contained before we can take the next steps towards building trust. It is up to today’s leaders to lay the foundations for improved relations by preventing tensions from spiraling out of control. My generation is ready to step into the turbulent times and contribute to the search for clarity, however most of us won’t have a significant impact for a few more years. In the meantime, my hope is that policymakers understand our concerns and have a vision not only for short-term political expedience but also for long-term solutions that will last into our adulthoods. International politics has become a fog of paradox and contradiction, but I hope, perhaps with the idealism of youth, that the winds of change will eventually sweep away some of the uncertainty and reveal a trail – whether the road to war or the path to peace, only time can tell. In baseball terms, I am waiting for my turn to step up to the plate. Until my time arrives, I can only hope that the players who have gone before me will have already ‘loaded the bases.’

Carly Millenson