Mohammad Mazhari

The world’s distrust of America has speeded up: Russian analyst

August 25, 2020 - 21:6

TEHRAN - Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based political analyst, believes that the world is heading towards multipolarity and many countries’ distrust of the U.S. is increasing more than before.

The signs that the world is moving toward multipolarity can be easily noticed. The most concrete example is an impending 25-year agreement between Iran, a regional power, and China as a great economic and military superpower. 

The 25-year agreement, called Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), includes sweeping economic and security cooperation that would clear the way for billions of dollars of Chinese investments in Iranian energy and other sectors, undercutting the Trump administration's efforts to isolate Iran.

Analysts believe that the Trump administration has endangered American economic hegemony by its unilateral sanctions on countries that don't follow Washington’s policies. 
Many countries, even the Europeans, have started to think about alternatives.

"The world was already naturally moving towards multipolarity even prior to Trump's ascent to power and many across the world distrusting America much more than before," Korybko tells the Tehran Times.
Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: The U.S. administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and unilaterally reimposed sanctions. Do you think this move has been successful?

A: It's been a mixed bag. It clearly didn't succeed in getting Iran to submit to the U.S., nor did it catalyze a regime change, but it did end up damage to the country's economy and pressuring the EU and India to distance themselves from the Islamic Republic. These are serious consequences, the impact of which shouldn't be downplayed.

Nevertheless, there are "silver linings" to those proverbial clouds since the very fact that Iran survived this vicious sanction onslaught is extremely embarrassing for the U.S. 

It's also very concerning for them that China is reportedly moving in real rapidly nowadays to fill the economic void left by the EU over the past few years. All told, while the unilateral reimposition of sanctions devastated Iran's economy and drove away some major investment partners, it failed to return Iran to the vassal status that it held prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and eventually created a strategic opportunity for China to deepen its economic presence in the region, provided of course that details about the reported deal are true and that it actually enters into force.

Q: What can Iran legally and politically do to confront U.S. policies, especially the “maximum pressure” campaign? The other side of the nuclear deal, including the European troika, isn't able to compensate for the U.S. sanctions and violations.

A: International law only matters if there are credible enforcement mechanisms that are applied equally irrespective of a violator's power and prestige; otherwise, it just functions as guidelines for making state behavior more predictable, and thus theoretically more manageable for everyone else. There were no punishments imposed upon the U.S. for unilaterally pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions. On the contrary, it imposed punishments upon others who violated its unilateral sanctions via so-called "secondary sanctions." It was this sort of pressure that compelled the EU and India to bend to America's hegemonic will, though such a scenario was predictable in hindsight considering how comparatively weak those countries are relative to the U.S. and the large extent to which the latter exerts its influence over them.

In fact, I predicted just a few days after the deal was signed that it could be spoiled if a Republican candidate won the 2016 election. In my article about "How The Next U.S. President Could Spoil The Iran Deal For Everyone," I accurately foresaw that the future Republican President would do this in order to "fulfill a campaign promise," and "payback old friends" like "Israel" and Saudi Arabia, "crash Iran's economy," all out of "economic jealousy." I concluded my piece by writing that "It doesn't matter if they're unilateral American sanctions (which could be the catalyst for this entire process) or the multilateral UNSC ones that the Republican President might want, once sanctions return, the deal is dead." My analysis proved to be very accurate because I keenly understood the underlying strategic dynamics of this issue.

A Democrat President had an interest in preserving their 'predecessor's deal,' whereas a Republican one had the opposite in wanting to reverse it. The agreement itself was extremely contentious because of the geopolitical pivot that it implied, namely that the U.S. would move closer to Iran at the expense of its traditional "Israeli" and GCC allies as part of a risky gambit to revolutionize West Asian geopolitics. The deal was premised on the belief that the U.S. and Iran would gradually grow closer to one another through economic means, after which their relationship could eventually take on an important regional political significance. The purpose was to preempt American rivals like China and Russia from turning Iran into their strategic partner and taking advantage of its enormous economic potential to revolutionize regional geopolitics, albeit in the direction of challenging American influence Mideast.

Respectfully speaking, any belief in the EU as a key player in these dynamics was naive because it overlooked the fact that the bloc has extreme difficulty operating independently of the U.S. and wasn't prepared to deal with the "secondary sanctions" scenario. It assumed that European rhetoric was sincere, which it probably was to a large degree until Trump came to office, but it wrongly assumed that the EU would risk devastating economic punishments from him through "secondary sanctions" just for the sake of preserving the Iran deal whose economic benefits they had yet to reap. They naturally had no interest in doing this because there wasn't any immediate incentive to do so. These strategic dynamics haven't really changed since then, which is why trusting the EU once again would be a mistake for Iran after it already learned this lesson the hard way.

 "Any belief in the EU as a key player in these dynamics was naive because it overlooked the fact that the bloc has extreme difficulty operating independently of the U.S. and wasn't prepared to deal with the 'secondary sanctions' scenario."

Q:  How do you assess the Iran-China 25-year agreement and Iran-Russia 20-year deal? Americans slam these agreements, claiming that deals with China and Russia are against Iran's interests. What will be the fate of JCPOA in light of the Iran-China and Iran-Russia agreements?

A: For starters, neither deal has entered into force just yet. There were only unconfirmed reports about the details of the Iran-China one while its Iran-Russia counterpart refers to the renewal of an earlier weapons and petrochemical deal originally signed in early 2001 and, therefore, not renewable until early 2021. It's too early to talk about any details concerning them because of the simple fact that neither has actually happened yet. Nevertheless, it's still possible to broadly analyze the geopolitical impact if both of them are successfully clinched, as many expect will happen.

Beginning with the Iran-Russia one, very little has been achieved in the past 20 years, so there isn't much precedent for predicting that it'll be a game-changer, though it would definitely be a positive development to renew the agreement. Because of simple geopolitical reasons, it's mutually beneficial for these two countries to continue to cooperate with one another in these fields, though some Russian companies might be hesitant to do so to a large degree out of fear of the U.S. threatened "secondary sanctions" unless a workaround mechanism is developed for mitigating this scenario.

However, Chinese companies generally have less fear of American sanctions than Russian ones, and several success stories testify to just how much of a game-changer massive Chinese investment can be for the recipient state's economy. Pakistan is the perfect example since it hosts the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the $62 billion flagship project of Beijing's Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). Although the Pakistani economy still suffers from some structural shortcomings, it's still relatively impressive compared to what it once recently was. There are also very high expectations for its future growth as CPEC continues to develop.

Iran could prospectively replicate the Pakistani scenario in the sense that it too could function as a key node in BRI, one which could potentially be part of what I've previously described as W-CPEC+ in my April 2019 analysis for CGTN about how "CPEC+ Is The Key To Achieving Regional Integration Goals." This neologism refers to the western branch of CPEC transiting through Iran en route to Europe. I also wrote a follow-up piece in September of last year about how "Iran's Interest in CPEC Strengthens Regional Integration" following comments from the Iranian Ambassador to India about his country's possible participation in this megaproject.

Regarding the fate of the JCPOA in light of Iran potentially clinching deals with Russia and China, the agreement itself will probably continue to be redundant since it only exists on paper nowadays after the U.S. left the deal and pressured the EU to de-facto to do the same. These prospective agreements are only related to the Iranian nuclear deal insofar as they might not have been seriously considered had the deal remained in force since Iran expected at the time that its future economic partners would be Western ones, not non-Western ones. It can thus be said that the U.S.' actions created opportunities for Russia and especially China.

  "Iran will seek to 'balance' between China, Russia, and India in the order of their reliability."

Q: Do you think the world is heading towards multipolarity as a result of U.S. policies and distrust in the American administration, especially its exploitation of the dollar through sanctions and "secondary sanctions"?

A: The world was already naturally moving towards multipolarity even prior to Trump's ascent to power and many across the world distrusting America much more than before. It's actually for this reason why his administration has sought to weaponize access to its economy through sanctions and "secondary sanctions" so as to slow down this process and potentially reverse it. 
In other words, that was the symptom, not the cause, of multipolarity, which had been slowly and to a great extent, silently developing for a while prior to the 2016 election. Instead of passively going along with the flow like Hillary would have done and therefore facilitating the gradual transition from unipolarity to multipolarity, Trump sought to aggressively push back against it out of the belief that such dramatic actions could make a meaningful difference.

Instead of preserving unipolarity, however, he only accelerated what could have possibly only been the brief transitional state of bipolarity and instead made that model the most likely one for the indefinite future. The world is increasingly being divided between the U.S. and China along the geopolitical, economic, technological, scientific, and other planes, which has changed the dynamics of the New Cold War. This global rivalry could have been mostly multi-sided in what was expected to be the Multipolar World Order, but nowadays, it is disproportionately two-sided whereby countries are being pressured to broadly choose between the U.S. and China. Some geo-strategically positioned players are attempting to "balance" between both, but as seen from the Indian example, sometimes such rhetoric is just a deception to disguise a de-facto pivot towards the U.S.

Iran had previously thought that it could "balance" between its Russian and Indian multipolar partners, but the latter's preference for the U.S. (motivated by their shared desire to "contain" China) made it difficult for Tehran to do so since Moscow, in turn, realized that the planned North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) through the Islamic Republic probably won't materialize to the extent that was originally expected as a result of New Delhi's general compliance with Washington's threatened "secondary sanctions."
 As a result, Iran had no realistic choice but to move even closer to China in today's increasingly bipolar world, which I wrote about for Pakistan's Express Tribune in a recent piece explaining how "India and Russia are responsible for pushing Iran into China's Arms."

Returning back to the question about whether the world is becoming multipolar, it's actually more bipolar, though its dynamics are more complex than they previously were during the Old Cold War and can, therefore, be best described as Complex Bipolarity considering some of the multipolar tendencies within this model such as the decline of the dollar and the rising importance of other Great Powers. Iran is obviously choosing China over the U.S., but it has an interest in not becoming too dependent on the People's Republic, hence why it'll probably seek to repair its relations with India and create incentives to motivate Russia to play a larger role in its economic and military affairs. Ideally, Iran will seek to "balance" between China, Russia, and India in the order of their reliability. China can certainly be counted on, Russia only sometimes, and India very rarely.

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