It took two months, since Iran first carried out a post-deal test of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile, for the UN experts to conclude that its actions violate international sanctions. The press, instead of leading, followed suit, perhaps unwillingly.
Media outlets, originally, exercised caution and hesitation in calling the October and November tests a clear-cut breach. The headline in The New York Times read: “Iran Tests Long-Range Missiles, Possibly Violating Nuclear Accord”. “Possibly”. Now, more and more outlets are highlighting one of the most important failures of the nuclear deal. The fact that the nuclear understanding does not deal adequately with the missile program, nor with such breaches of UN sanctions and Security Council Resolutions. Thus the Foreign Policy Initiative, in its paper titled “time to get tough on Tehran” concludes that The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ranks as one of the most deficient arms control agreements in history. The nuclear accord “does not meaningfully limit” the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program (as long-range ballistic missiles have “no legitimate function other than delivering a nuclear payload”), and even encourages Iran to be less reserved about “projecting” its military power. It is quite clear that Iran has no qualms about violating what limitations it does impose.
The confidential UN report, written by a panel of experts earlier this month, ruled that the ballistic missile tests were a clear violation of sanctions, leading the press to take a firmer stand. The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and other major outlets branded the tests a violation, ruling that the missile tested was “big enough to carry weapons of mass destruction.” Even Al Jazeera published an article on the report, but titled it “Iran threatened with new sanctions.”
With the US now seeking “consequences” for and “accountability” from Iran over the violation, according to UN Ambassador Samantha Power (who tweeted that the Security Council has “dithered” on the matter), Iran’s claim that the missile is a “quite a conventional weapon” seems to hold very little water. They may be correct in stating that they tested to demonstrate that Iran “will not accept any limitation” on its actions.
The blatant refusal of limitations, implicit in Iran’s response, does demonstrate that without international scrutiny, censure and deterrence, Iran is quite content not just to test the limits of the nuclear deal, but to break them as well – all while the West is busy debating if these breaches, clearly meant to gauge the world’s response to violations large and small, are “conclusive” or “inconclusive.”