By John Bolton
Wall Street Journal
March 16, 2015
Press reports that
President Obama will enlist the U.N. Security Council to bless his imminent
nuclear agreement with Iran have unleashed considerable controversy. Many worry
council action would bind the U.S. to the deal, circumventing congressional
scrutiny. Moreover, Iran may see U.N. action as protecting it from a subsequent
change in U.S. policy.
There is no need for
worry. The Security Council can do nothing to limit America’s freedom to break
from this agreement or take whatever action it deems necessary to protect
First, even the U.N.
will require Iran to comply with any commitments made to the Security
Council’s five permanent members and Germany. Bureaucracy-loving diplomats and
Secretariat personnel will probably create a council committee to monitor
Iran’s performance, but neither the U.S. nor any other U.N. member must accept
the committee’s judgment that Iran is in compliance when it has contrary
information. Washington can act on what it knows, whether or not it discloses
the extent of its knowledge.
dismal performance in living up to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and
existing resolutions requiring that it cease all uranium-enrichment-related
activity, Tehran will almost certainly begin violating the deal before the ink
is dry. Security Council committees will be bystanders, and the U.S., Israel and
others threatened by a nuclear-capable Iran will rely on their own intelligence
to detect Iranian cheating.
The gravest danger
during Mr. Obama’s remaining two years is that the White House and State
Department will ignore, play down or suppress information that Iran is breaking
the deal. Ignoring palpable treaty violations is built into the DNA of many
arms-control theologians, and this administration will insist that the
bureaucracy follows the party line that Iran is complying. Congressional
committees (intelligence, armed services, and foreign affairs) will have a
critical role in overseeing White House efforts to minimize dangerous Iranian
Second, no Security
Council action can prevent the U.S. from using force to protect itself from
Iranian nuclear weapons. Article 51 of the U.N. Charter affirms “the inherent
right of individual and collective self-defense,” which means that decisions
relating to self-defense rest with each member state.
Third, as a purely
practical matter, the Security Council cannot restrain or sanction the U.S. as
long as Washington’s U.N. ambassador shows up for work. America’s veto power
is guaranteed by Article 27.
Suppose the new U.S.
president in 2017 decided to use military force to break Iran’s control over
the nuclear-fuel cycle at one or more points. The U.S. could veto any draft
resolutions designed to forestall an attack or halt one in progress, or impose
Assembly, the Human Rights Council and other U.N. bodies would doubtless be
summoned by Iran and its allies to pass resolutions critical of U.S. or Israeli
behavior. Let them. There are few better scenarios imaginable for provoking a
far-reaching debate about the U.S. role in the U.N. One could start with the
most basic issue: eliminating all funding through “assessed” (meaning
essentially mandatory) contributions, and moving all U.N. agencies to voluntary
Little or no good
will come of Mr. Obama’s plan to have the Security Council bless his Iran
deal. But it is far better to expose the deal’s manifold deficiencies than to
pay much mind to any charades at Turtle Bay.
Mr. Bolton, a
senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a former U.S. ambassador
to the U.N