By Siddarth Jain

Junior, UChicago

The U.S.’s refusal to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) serves little purpose other than to reinforce a neoconservative, colonial power fantasy. Not only is this refusal immoral, but it’s also grossly ineffective. The snapback sanctions had hoped, but ultimately failed, to accomplish two goals: prevent Iran from further enriching weapons-grade uranium and punish the current Iranian administration. Further, a continued U.S. policy of non-engagement with the Iranian government poses significant roadblocks to peace in the Middle East. The United States should rejoin the JCPOA due to the growing ineffectiveness and human rights concerns of sanctions, as well as its effect on strengthening the Ayatollah. Additionally, the JCPOA allows Iran to join the world stage, overall facilitating an avenue to strengthen US-Iran relations. 

Critics of the JCPOA assert that continued U.S. sanctions would permanently hinder Iran’s ability to produce weapons-grade uranium without formally welcoming them onto the world stage. This perception is flawed. Perhaps in the past, a united front, posed by the U.S., France, and the United Kingdom might have been able to stunt Iran’s industry to a degree where producing substantial amounts of highly enriched uranium would be unlikely. But with the loosening of French and British trade restrictions, unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. are not stringent enough to effectively prevent the movement of capital goods into the country it would meaningfully hamper Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. In fact, bearish estimates assume that Iran would reach breakout capacity within two years, with some estimating that weaponization is all that’s left for the country to produce operating nuclear devices. Moreover, oil embargos and fossil fuel shortages will likely accelerate Iran’s nuclear program as these traditional forms of energy become more expensive and less reliable — thus forcing them to turn towards nuclear power. Overall, U.S sanctions cannot impact Iran enough in order to prevent nuclear weapon production. As a result, rejoining the JCPOA is a largely effective solution for curbing any Iranian nuclear weapon production.

While the impact of JCPOA-induced snapback sanctions has dubious effects on Iranian nuclear capabilities, the human cost of this antagonistic policy has been horrific. Even though exemptions exist for humanitarian efforts, wide-reaching regulations on Iranian financial institutions have prevented the country’s public health infrastructure from securing vital medicines to treat serious diseases — which include epilepsy, leukemia, and chronic eye injuries. Over six million Iranian citizens suffer from diseases like AIDS and several varieties of cancers that require imported drugs to treat — all of whom are effectively sentenced to death if the U.S refuses to re-enter the JCPOA. 

Additionally, these aggressive sanctions have substantially raised the cost of living for the average Iranian citizen. In fact, their consumer price index (CPI) rose over 42% in 2019.2 This has increasingly affected food prices, with meat products seeing triple-digit inflation figures in the same year. Commerce is all but dependent on a national black market and basic services like education have become increasingly unattainable for all but the highest earners in the country. Overall, rejoining the JCPOA is critical in mitigating the humanitarian crises of Iran’s crippling health care industry and high living costs.

Ironically, the JCPOA-induced sanctions have tightened the Ayatollah’s grip on the country. Capitalizing off rightfully directed anti-American sentiment, the population is increasingly driven to extremist leaders as liberal solutions appear to be vastly ineffective. In other words, US sanctions have been counterproductive in limiting the Ayatollah’s authoritarian power. 

The JCPOA represented an olive branch, extended by the West, to formally welcome Iran to the world stage. It is undeniable that a globally integrated Iran would pave the way for democratic movements and eventually result in progressive reforms from within the Iranian government. If the U.S. continues to keep Iran off the world stage, not only do they permanently lose a valuable trade partner and strategic ally, but this antagonistic foreign policy permanently stunts any meaningful change for US-Iran relations. Those against rejoining the JCPOA capitalize off increasingly popular support for extremist politicians, the U.S refusal to join the JCPOA fundamentally subsidizes the authoritarian wings of Iranian political movements. 

These sanctions are ineffective and come with the immense humanitarian costs of high food prices, poor access to healthcare, and overall poverty. Additionally, it is illogical and immoral for the U.S. to continue a unilateral policy of collective punishment against the Iranian people given the lessening punishment of many other countries. Rejoining the JCPOA would dampen Iranian nuclear efforts and strengthen bilateral efforts and dialogues between the two countries, finally putting us on the path to peace.



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