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Iran and the Arms Export Game

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Iran Air Force Grumman F-14A Tomcat Sharifi.jpg
Iran Air Force Grumman F-14A Tomcat by Shahram Sharifi – Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at how Russia and China may compete for the Iranian arms market.

What does Iran need? Pretty much everything. Thirty years of sanctions and war have left the Iranian military with an arsenal of obsolescent weapons. The Iranians have done good work in a few areas, but the country simply lacks the size, technology, and market access to successfully develop an autarkic defense industry.

In the past, Iran has acquired weapons from both Russia and China (as well as the United States and others). We can expect this behavior to continue in the future. Iran offers one of the first, and potentially most important, battlegrounds in the emerging arms export competition between Moscow and Beijing.

But also read this, which has some detail on how the accord affects the arms embargo. Long story short, we’re looking at five years for the big effects to kick in.

That is, the UN arms embargoes will be terminated along with all other, nuclear-specific embargoes. Iran gets to claim that all UN sanctions were removed on Implementation Day.

But here is the clever part. An apparent copy of the proposed UN Security Council Resolution has been leaked to the press. It will terminate the previous Iran sanctions, but also impose a new regime that will retain certain restrictions, including the arms and ballistic missile embargoes for five and eight years, respectively. These new (but really continuing) restrictions come in a separate “statement” (which the UNSC requires all states to comply with) and actually take the form of permitting trade—but only with the advance, affirmative permission of the UNSC. In effect, this amounts to a ban where the UNSC can grant exceptions in advance on a “case-by-case” basis, and the West can use its veto to block any transfers it does not like. The West gets to claim that arms and ballistic embargoes will stay in effect for years after Implementation.

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