10 MAY 2018
The U.S. retreat from the Iran nuclear deal has undermined the rules-based global order
President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal is a huge setback to multilateral diplomacy and the rules-based international order. The agreement, signed in 2015 by Iran with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany and the EU, curtailed its nuclear programme in return for withdrawing economic sanctions. It was reached after 18 months of painful negotiations. Under the deal, most of Iran’s enriched uranium was shipped out of the country, a heavy water facility was rendered inoperable and the operational nuclear facilities were brought under international inspection. In Iran, the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani went ahead with the deal despite strong opposition from hardliners. Mr. Trump has just wrecked all these efforts,despite numerous reports, including from American intelligence agencies, that Iran is 100% compliant with the terms of the agreement. When the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is formally called, was signed, many had raised doubts about whether Iran could be trusted to comply with the terms. Three years later, unfortunately, it’s the U.S., which had initiated talks with Iran under the previous administration, that has acted in bad faith.
Mr. Trump’s decision is not about nuclear weapons. If his administration was actually concerned about Iran acquiring them, it would have supported a deal that closes the path towards nuclear weapons for Iran. Instead, the bigger concern for Mr. Trump as well as Washington’s closest allies in West Asia — Israel and Saudi Arabia — is Iran’s re-accommodation in the global economic mainstream. They fear that if Iran’s economic profile rises, it will embolden it to increase its regional presence, posing a strategic threat to the interests of the U.S.-Saudi-Israel axis. This crisis of trust could have been avoided had the Trump administration built on the goodwill created during the Obama years. Mr. Trump has always been a critic of the Iran deal, and the Islamic Republic in general. Now, by pulling out of the deal he has manufactured a crisis in an already tumultuous region. The U.S. action doesn’t necessarily trigger an immediate collapse of the agreement. For now, Europe, Russia and China remain committed to it. Iran has responded cautiously, with the Foreign Minister saying he will engage diplomatically with the remaining signatories. But the challenges will emerge, not only for Europe but also for other nations with strong trade ties with Iran, including India, once American sanctions are in place. The U.S. stands isolated in its decision. But the question is whether Europe and other powers will stick together to respect the mandate of an international agreement, or buckle under American pressure. If they do cave in, West Asia will be a lot more dangerous.
Drowning in dust
Better infrastructure and targeted forecasts are key to dealing with extreme weather
A wave of extreme weather over northern States in India has killed at least 124 people and caused much misery, mostly in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The residents of this ‘weather hotspot’ region are used to annual storms carrying natural dust clouds in the pre-monsoon season, from the Thar desert and further west. But they have been hit by aparticularly destructive version this year, one that combined hot western winds and moisture from the east. Record April temperatures in parts of Pakistan, at one place exceeding 50°C, are thought to have added to the ferocity of the dust-laden winds. This could be a recurring feature, and there is a need to develop accurate forecasting methods and protocols to mitigate the impact. Many of the casualties in the recent storms were caused by collapsing infrastructure, such as electricity transmission lines that were not built to withstand such weather. Good housing could have saved many. India’s vulnerability to such storms has always been underscored by scientific estimates of the flow of aerosols, or dust particles. Their presence in the country is three times the global average due to sheer abundance of mineral dust. There is also a body of research that points to altered climate patterns due to accumulation of dust particles, which affect even the Himalayan glaciers. Considering the large population in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, where the impact of weather on public health and agriculture is massive, the Central and State governments should do everything possible to cut loss of life and property.
Globally, the major dust-producing regions pump 1,000-3,000 teragrams of particles into the atmosphere annually, with the Sahara alone responsible for a third of this, according to the UN Environment Programme. India is at the receiving end of winds from West Asia, although some scientists reported recently an overall reduction in dust volumes in the pre-monsoon season due to a pattern of increased rainfall. Even if that were to be true, unexpected surges such as the recent one pose a challenge. The Centre has to raise its game in forecasting, and broadcast early warnings. In fact, as the World Meteorological Organisation points out, clarity and frequency of warnings are key to saving lives. In the wake of the storm on May 2, State governments have blamed the India Meteorological Department for not providing clear warnings, while the IMD claims to have conveyed the forecast of the coming storm to the Centre several days ahead. This clearly points to lack of coordination, that affects disaster-preparedness. Millions of people who are in the path of extreme weather each year expect better from official agencies. On the ground, strong public infrastructure and adequate capacity among administrators and personnel to handle rescue and rehabilitation must be ensured.