Iran Review | Ali Esmaeili Ardakani: The existing institutional order of the world was the product of the modern international system and thrived during the 20th century. Due to the high number of global issues, this order has undergone many alterations. All institutions and regimes related to this order have turned into a part of the global governance mechanism and have undertaken various roles and numerous special tasks in international politics, security, environment, health, education and economy. Therefore, any form of damage to the aforesaid regimes and institutions will lead to damage and disruption in the process of socialization of countries and various non-state actors within the international community.
At the present time, the institutional order is at the risk of collapse. The United States has defined its interests in a way that they are in contravention of the logic of institutionalism theory. US President Donald Trump and the present sovereign organs in this country have pointed to the costs of institutional membership and institutional activity, and while condemning it, have resorted to the “America First” as their main slogan in order to pave the way for quitting those international institutions and regimes, which appear to be cumbersome and costly for the United States.
The beginning of the gradual death of a dream
As put by Lisa Martin, under conditions of the Cold War, the United States considered “self-commitment” as its main strategy toward multilateral organizations and institutions. However, as time went by, and more accurately, following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States has changed this strategy. The United States invasion of Iraq without attention to the need for institutional and coalition-based support was the beginning of this strategy. Of course, under President Barack Obama, the United States tried to regain trust of its allies and emerge as a pioneer with regard to international regimes and agreements in order to somehow reduce the distrust that had been developed toward the United States under former US president, George W. Bush.
In the meantime, US withdrawal from many international treaties and regimes under Trump, including withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement; leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement; requesting renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); criticizing the text and contents of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on grounds that it harms American workers; criticizing and casting doubt on the multilateral international nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); and most recently, leaving the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have cast basic doubts on the possibility of maintaining the existing global institutional order. To the above list one can add Washington’s harsh criticism of the cost of NATO membership for the United States as well as supporting Britain’s divorce from the European Union, or Brexit, each of which can be the beginning of the end of the existing institutional order. Without a doubt, such steps will somehow lead to reduced legitimacy of the institutional order, which is made up of institutions and regimes part of whose agendas was previously dictated by the United States due to the global standing of this country.
Consequences of America’s anti-institutional approach under Trump
The question, however, is what goal does the US want to achieve by rejecting the current institutional order? Or how long can the US under Trump remain indifferent to legitimacy of international institutions and regimes? On the other hand, what consequences can the United States lack of commitment to the institutional order have for this country? It seems that this country has initiated this strategy in order to take advantage of the economic benefits of leaving international treaties and also to reduce the costs arising from membership in security treaties. However, the United States will in the long run jeopardize itself and the whole international system due to the rising international distrust at a time that international trust is a requisite for the resolution of various economic, political and security crises in the world. In response to the second question, one can say that Trump’s anti-institutional approach can only continue until an urgent international crisis emerges.
Due to absence of clear-cut historical experience about falling legitimacy and efficiency of big powers as a result of not respecting the rules and nature of international institutions and regimes, the critics of the institutional order believe that the US will not lose its legitimacy as a result of disregard for rules and nature of such institutions. However, these critics ignore the point that the most important differentiation between our time and previous junctures of history is not only the growing role of the emerging and non-Western powers, but also increased global awareness as a result of thriving communication technologies. On the other hand, such measures have increased the distrust in international agreements and performance of various institutions and regimes, and have jeopardized management of both urgent and long-term crises. An example to the point is North Korea, which has cited this distrust and mentioned the past experience of disarmament talks by the U.S. with Libya and Iraq to avoid signing any kind of international agreements with this country.
Trump’s anti-institutional approach and future of the JCPOA
In the case of Iran, in particular, the United States has been always facing difficulties for forging global consensus to impose sanctions on Iran following the war on Iraq. This is because the Islamic Republic of Iran has been always emphasizing the stabilizing and effective role of international regimes and institutions in order to boost its international interactions, on the one hand. On the other hand, the general trust in the US actions has been constantly on the fall. At that juncture, however, countries like China and Russia were convinced, though with a lot of difficulty, to cooperate with the United States for imposing sanctions on Iran. However, under the present conditions and in view of Trump’s hostile policies toward Iran, there are serious doubts about cooperation of China, Russia and European countries with the United States, at least in their official and institutional positions.
Let’s not forget that it was that cooperation, which previously led to the conclusion of the JCPOA with Iran. Despite all these facts, the realities of the international system call on Iran to not only continue extensive interaction with the world, but also exercise more caution in this regard. Iran must also monitor all actions taken by countries that are a party to the JCPOA following Trump’s remarks on the nuclear deal on October 13, 2017, and adopt suitable measures proportionate to those actions at regional and international levels.
Apart from Trump’s performance during the past few months and regardless of all debates on Iran and the JCPOA, any kind of effort by the United States to revise or withdraw from the current institutional order will be dangerous. This is true because such effort will deal a blow to multilateralism and lead to reduced cooperation among those institutions and regimes that are very important to preservation of order and management of international crises. Therefore, since rebuilding international trust in performance of international institutions and regimes is costly and needs a lot of time, such effective countries as Russia and China, as well as progressive European countries must criticize the current trend and try to inform the United States of the consequences of its anti-institutional strategy by pursuing a single policy. This is necessary because if the United States does not stop this trend and does not begin rebuilding international trust, its consequences will affect the international order and, in other words, will increase entropy in the international system.