As tensions between the United States and Iran rise, awaiting the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump, a large amount of attention is turning to the nuclear deal that was negotiated in early 2015 between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, and Germany. In order to understand the significance of this deal and the impact it will have on Iran, it is critical to grasp Iran’s position as a world power, including their government, economy, and military.
Government: From the Top Down
Iran operates under a theocratic Islamic republic, but most offices that hold any sort of significant power are determined by appointment. Iran elects their leader every four years by popular vote. Their current president is Hassan Rouhani and their Supreme Leader is Ali Khamenei. Because the Supreme Leader is Iran’s head of state, Rouhani ends up reporting to Khamenei.
A highly autocratic state, Iran gives Khamenei power to approve most policy decisions. Because of his harsh and critical opinions of the United States, relations between the two countries are strained. In an address to students at an Iranian university in May 2003, Khamenei said,
“What the United States, which has been spearheading the aggression against our Islamic revolution, expects from our nation and government is submission and surrender to its hegemony, and this is the real motive for U.S. claims regarding weapons of mass destruction, human rights, or democracy.”
Although various economic sanctions on Iran were dropped under the ecent nuclear deal, it is not likely that Khamenei will become any warmer to prospects of relations with any industrialized country in the western world.
Economy: Patience Pays Off
With the second largest economy in the Middle East, Iran pulled in a $393.7 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015. According to World Bank,
“Iran’s economy is characterized by the hydrocarbon sector, agriculture and services sectors, and a noticeable state presence in manufacturing and financial services. Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves.”
World Bank also reports that through next year, Iran’s economy is expected to grow from 4.2% to 4.6%. Although this is dwarfed in comparison to a larger country like the United Kingdom or China, small, gradual growth is vital to a small nation like Iran. If the nuclear agreement maintains its forward progress and is not halted by an upcoming Trump administration, the economic recovery plan created in November 2013 will likely continue to spur industry and job growth.
Military: Nukes and Terror
The Iranian military, known officially as the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has an active force that hovers around 545,000. Although Syria garners much of the attention in regard to military conflict in the Middle East, Iran has developed a vast amount of connections with various terrorist organizations and Islamic regimes. These include Hezbollah, Hamas, Assad, the Houthis, and the Taliban.
Critics of the nuclear deal will race to point out that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. The State Department, which releases annual reports on terrorism, cites Iran as one of only three state sponsors of terrorism, the other two being Sudan and Syria. Their 2015 overview says, “Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2015, including support for Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.”
Although Iran has recently tested missiles, thus violating the nuclear agreement, Donald Trump will find it difficult to scrap given the current stance of many governmental officials. However, his recent pick for Secretary of Defense, Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, has been critical of the deal in the past. This appointment will provide an opportunity for sanctions to be reinforced and for the deal to, in some way, be neutralized.
The Wait Begins
With a Trump administration looming and tensions between several countries being on edge, one can only wait to see what will really come of the Iranian nuclear deal. Most likely, it will continue on as it is now or will be rebranded with different standards, in the hope of appearing as if it has been revoked. However, if there’s one lesson to have been learned this year, it is to expect the unexpected.