On May 8, 2018, the U.S. government unilaterally withdrew from the comprehensive agreement on the Iran nuclear question. It has continually escalated its “maximum pressure” on Iran, once again opening the Pandora’s box of an Iranian nuclear crisis. Three years later, the parties to the Iran nuclear deal have gone to Vienna to negotiate a restoration of U.S.-Iran compliance with the agreement. A New York Times editorial said: “’Maximum Pressure’ on Iran Has Failed: A return to the nuclear deal is the first step out of the morass.”
The U.S. wanted to rely on “coercive diplomacy” to force Iran to submit, but three years on, nothing much has been gained. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said recently that U.S.-led hostile forces were trying to bring Iran “to its knees,” but the Iranian people firmly opposed it and prevented them from succeeding.
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has defied morality by increasing sanctions against Iran, interfering with its fight against the pandemic, seriously affecting local livelihoods and taking on a new “human rights debt.” In a report released in March, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said that the difficulties encountered by the Iranian government in fighting the pandemic partly stem from the cumulative effect of U.S. sanctions, which have dragged down Iran’s health system and its economic situation. U.S. sanctions have been denounced as “economic terrorism” and “medical terrorism” by the Iranian side.
In addition to imposing sanctions on Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and other countries, the U.S. has been engaging in “coercive diplomacy” by threats and bribery around the world. As well as sanctions and threats, the U.S. toolbox also includes malicious tactics such as containment [of countries] by small [intergovernmental] cliques.
With respect to China, the U.S. has tirelessly made a fuss about matters relating to Xinjiang and Hong Kong and crudely interfered in China’s internal affairs under the guise of “human rights” and “democracy.” In an attempt to weaken China’s international competitiveness and hinder the momentum of China’s long-term development, the U.S. has also launched trade and technology “wars,” illegally arrested Chinese citizens and suppressed Chinese companies for no reason. At the recent meeting of the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven major industrial nations, the U.S. once again took the opportunity to promote the “China threat” and tried to rope its allies into reversing history and engaging in “bloc” politics.*
The U.S. is not averse to using “coercive diplomacy” against its ”like-minded” allies. From making noise from the sidelines to blatant pressure, the U.S. has all sorts of methods to force its allies to coordinate their positions and serve U.S. interests. During a visit to Brussels in March, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for a halt to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project, warning Germany that sanctions may be imposed on the companies involved. There are numerous examples of the U.S. protecting its own commercial interests by maliciously suppressing competitors. European companies such as Alstom SA of France, Ericsson of Sweden and Germany’s Siemens AG have all learned about its bullying techniques. Deutsche Welle commentator Barbara Wesel has said that European nations have to pay a high political price to maintain their alliance with the U.S.
The core of American “coercive diplomacy” is that the U.S. uses its economic and military superiority to force other countries to comply with its demands and change their patterns of behavior. The objective is to achieve its own strategic goals and maintain its dominant position through unfair means.
However, the present Iran nuclear situation and current general trends show that U.S.-style “coercive diplomacy” is destined to end badly. The multipolarization of the world and the democratization of international affairs are historical trends. Hegemony and politics based upon power are unpopular and have no future.
Graham Allison, a Harvard University professor and author of the concept of the “Thucydides Trap,” writes in Foreign Affairs Magazine: “Unipolarity is over, and with it the illusion that other nations would simply take their assigned place in a U.S.-led international order.” I hope that such insights can wake up certain U.S. politicians from their grand dreams and stop them obsessing about “coercive diplomacy” around the world.
*Translator’s Note: “China threat” is a literal translation and is the phrase used in China’s English-language state media (such as China Daily). However, the G-7’s communiqué speaks only of “challenges.”