In mere hours after the Iran-Turkey-Brazil nuclear deal on May 17, 2010, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton rebuffed the deal and insisted on what appeared to be a pre-determined course of action to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran. Washington’s attempt to thwart the growing importance of rising powers like Turkey and Brazil in establishing a role for themselves as arbiters of regional and global peace and security, may be fruitful in the short-term, it will prove a strategic blunder in the long-term and an indication of the United States’ ineptitude at using smart power.

There are many indications that such a posture goes beyond the concerns of nuclear proliferation and addresses much wider issues relating to the present international system founded in 1945. The response to Tehran Nuclear Declaration should be interpreted as an attempt to maintain the Great Powers' traditional authority in the existing international political-security order, first and foremost at the United Nations' Security Council. And this is why Washington’s reversion to the policy of “threat and coercion”, has attracted the support of those declining powers who once enjoyed great power status such as Britain, France and Russia.

With the transformation of the nature and sources of international threats, which have emerged predominantly in the form of asymmetric threats and concerning issues of human security, the future resolution of global and regional political-security crises will depend on close cooperation between the great powers and rising regional players  .

Barak Obama was in part elected president because of his promise to “change” the United States’ global and regional strategic orientation and thinking. Focusing on a strategy of smart power, one of the main goals of the Obama administration was to factor in and acknowledge the role of regional powers, both friendly and rival, to solve the pressing issues of international security. For example, in the ongoing battle against terrorism, drug trafficking and rising ethnic-religious extremism and in finding a lasting solution to such regional crises.    

As the experience of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine have shown, the United States cannot solve growing threats to international security by merely relying on American hard power and military force or by counting on the role of its traditional allies in the region. The Bush administration's overt use of military force challenged the legitimacy of U.S. global actions and further complicated the existing political-security challenges facing the Middle East, and provoked a concomitant rise in anti-American sentiment in the region.

The United States is also unable to accommodate Iran’s nuclear program because it is closely related to the security of the broader Middle East and issues such as international energy security, as well as comprehensive nuclear disarmament in the region.

It is in such a context that rising regional powers such as Turkey and Brazil can fulfill the role of active partners and help bridge the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the two sides; Iran and 5+1. These actors’ perspectives on issues such as international peace and security, comprehensive global disarmament and nuclear monopolies have many supporters in the international community, especially among the Non-Aligned Movement's members, who are fed up with duplicity and self-aggrandizing policies of some of the great powers.  

By allowing the rising powers more elbow room for active engagement in the ongoing international ball game and making meaningful contribution commensurate with their weight, these actors are perceived to advocate more balanced policies and are also trusted by both sides of the conflict. Therefore, they can act as a bridge for reconciling the demands of players such as Iran and the U.S. which have diverging views concerning the existing international and regional political-security orders.

Countries like Iran are more likely to place their trust in such actors, even regarding such important strategic and national issues as the nuclear program, because unlike the great powers, these new actors have common interests with Iran in such areas as global nuclear disarmament, the peaceful use of the nuclear energy, global economic trends, sustainable development, etc.

The Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear agreement, as emphasized by Brazil’s President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, takes into consideration all of the demands and concerns of both parties and is thus very similar to the agreement proposed by the United States and other world powers in Geneva in October 2009. Therefore, the U.S. opposition to the Declaration should in large part be interpreted as a pretext to scupper a deal which the U.S. itself cannot claim responsibility for brokering. It has since been revealed that President Obama had already written a letter to the President of Brazil on April 20, 2010, asserting his implicit consent to such an agreement. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Teyyip Erdogan has rightly described the great powers' opposition to the Declaration as their envious attitude toward the instrumental role played by these two rising states.

For the sake of safeguarding their traditional authority in the United Nations’ Security Council, other world powers namely Britain, France have jumped on the bandwagon alongside the United States in Iran's nuclear standoff.  Even rival powers like Russia and China have followed suit and taken the line set down by the United States in order to maintain their traditional position of authority on the Council. For these powers, the emergence of new actors will pose a challenge to the preservation of the status quo.

Of course, Russia and China's positions on strategic issues such as nuclear disarmament are distinct here. Russia sees its nuclear arsenals as a continued source of prestige and assuring Russia’s global status.  This is why it favors a process of step-by-step disarmament. By contrast, China's nuclear posture leans in the direction of zero nuclear weapons. Though generally speaking they support the existing political and security order, as far as it conforms to their national interests, and are for the time being willing to ensure its preservation.

The dismissal of the Tehran Nuclear Declaration will also deprive the United States of an opportunity to initiate strategic dialogue with Iran and from solving a number of regional crises confronting the Middle East. As Foreign Minister Motakki recently mentioned in a speech before the European Parliament, the imposition of new sanctions to contain Iran will in practice mean the beginning of confrontation, inevitably stymieing the possibility of the nuclear swap deal’s completion. Such a situation would be a heavy blow to Iran-U.S. relations, a corollary of which would no doubt be unpredictable political-security repercussions.

Under such circumstances, perhaps the fate of Iran's nuclear standoff depends on the mediating roles of new rising actors like Turkey and Brazil which are trying to reconcile the diverging interests of Iran and those of the great powers in a win-win manner, and within the framework of the existing world order.

By accepting the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear agreement, the United States would support and provide sufficient maneuvering room for new rising players such as Turkey and Brazil. The U.S. insistence on the continued use of hard power and unilateralism will encourage other countries like Iran to do the same in order to increase their deterrence power and relative security by all possible means. The final result of such a situation would be widespread insecurity and the continuation of a series of open-ended and potentially volatile crises in the region. This would of course be tantamount to the utter failure of the United States’ ability to effectively wield its smart power capability.

* Dr. Kayhan Barzegar is a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic Research (CSR). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the CSR.