A Reuters report out of Dubai quotes Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s remarks to Iranian state media that Iran will not accept any restrictions on its ballistic missile program. Iran has conducted at least two ballistic missile tests that have been detected by the West since the agreement in Vienna to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Though the United Nations Security Council’s resolution endorsing that plan, UNSCR 2231, merely “calls upon” Iran not to undertake ballistic missile activity, currently Iran is actively banned from the practice under an older UNSCR, 1929. Earlier this week a United Nations panel of experts monitoring Iran’s weapons-related sanctions found that the first of the two tests, in October, was indeed a violation of UNSCR 1929. The panel has yet to rule on the second test. Both tests were of nuclear-capable missiles. Indeed, the October test was of a missile whose accuracy is so poor that only nuclear payloads would make it effective as a weapon.
Iran itself has never suggested that it might comply with international restrictions on its ballistic missile program. In August, between the agreement in Vienna and the failure of the United States Congress to vote on the deal, Iran’s military stated openly that it intended to continue to work on and test missiles as “a thorn in the eyes of our enemies.” Senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh made the remarks as part of a general assertion that testing would continue. Promising to hold new tests in the “near future” — a promise kept — he added that, “Some wrongly think Iran has suspended its ballistic missile programmes in the last two years and has made a deal on its missile programme.”
His remarks were agreed to by no less than Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said, “We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that.” Explaining his reasoning, he added, “We can negotiate with other countries only when we are powerful. If a country does not have power and independence, it cannot seek real peace.”
President Rouhani’s remarks are in line with Iran’s constitution, which has the surprising feature of specifying a foreign policy. It’s a constitutional provision that makes the whole deal extremely questionable:
Specifically, all governments of Iran are bound to reject “all forms of domination,” and to preserve “the independence of the country in all respects.” It further states that “[a]ny form of agreement resulting in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, army, or culture of the country, as well as other aspects of the national life, is forbidden.”
There is thus a real question about whether the Iranian parliament even has the authority to pass a law that would mandate compliance with the JCPOA. Accepting restrictions on the nuclear weapons program, which Iran does not formally acknowledge, would appear to fall under ‘an agreement resulting in foreign control of the army.’ Accepting restrictions on nuclear enrichment for allegedly peaceful purposes would still seem to fall under an agreement resulting in foreign control of ‘the economy’ or ‘natural resources.
Iran’s ballistic missile program is constitutionally incapable of regulation from outside Iran by an exactly similar argument. If Iran accepted the United Nations Security Council’s right to impose limits on its ballistic missile program, it would be violating the provisions of its constitution barring “any form of agreement resulting in foreign control over the… army[.]” Iran constitutionally cannot be bound by a United Nations ruling. It is not even allowed to agree to abide by such a ruling. It must reject any attempt by foreign powers to control its military programs, even controls to which it appears to agree voluntarily to accept.
This fact should call into question the whole concept on which UNSCR 2231 was based. The JCPOA likewise simply cannot impose restrictions on Iran, not even with Iran’s apparent agreement. The only roads are to accept Iranian independence from the United Nations Security Council and its decisions, or to re-impose punitive measures such as sanctions to try to force compliance. There are no alternatives.