Unfortunately, there is little in the historical record to suggest that the current agreement with Iran that Secretary of State Kerry has recently concluded will in fact to do anything to prevent the Iranians from going nuclear when it suits their convenience and view of their strategic interests. For the moment, they will undoubtedly lie low and use the agreement to dismantle the sanctions that have represented such a major impediment to the successful functioning of their economy. They will also probably wait until oil prices rebound before they come out of the closet. In the mean time they will make every effort to insure that when they believe the time is right, there will be a minimum period between their decision to go nuclear and the actual possession of at least one and probably several nuclear weapons.
Perhaps, the clearest example of an arms-limitation treaty that went wrong is the Anglo-German Naval agreement, signed in June 1938 between Samuel Hoare, Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Third Reich’s Foreign Minister. In direct contravention to the Treaty of Versailles provisions and without consulting with their allies, the British agreed that the Germans could build up to 35 percent of the ships possessed by the Royal Navy. Ironically the agreement did nothing to slow down the Reich’s naval rearmament. German dockyards were soon at maximum use and could not have built any more heavy ships or cruisers than were laid down between 1935 and the outbreak of the war.
Ironically, in retrospect, the agreement would work to Britain’s advantage, but only because of German stupidity. The leaders of the Kriegsmarine, paying no attention to Germany’s economic realities as well as Hitler’s penchant for taking monstrous gambles, built up a battle fleet of two battle cruisers and two battleships that achieved virtually nothing in the Second World War except to prevent the British fleet from sailing off to Far East, where the Imperial Japanese Navy would have sunk it.
But the point here is not about German strategic stupidity. Rather it is about the fact that over the long term Hitler had no intention of adhering to the agreement. Moreover, in the short term the Germans enthusiastically broke the agreement’s provisions, where it suited their interests. And then in April 1939, Hitler, furious over British protests over the German occupation of Prague and their guarantee of Poland, denounced the agreement. At the same time he ordered the Kriegsmarine to begin construction of a massive fleet, the so called “Z Plan,” to wrest control of the world’s oceans from the British.
The question then is whether the United States can rely on the Iranians to keep to the agreement. Given their contributions to the killing of Americans, especially during our occupation of Iraq, their rhetoric over the past 36 years, and their ambitions to wreck the stability of the Middle East, one could conclude that there is little chance that they take the agreement as a serious impediment to their aim of acquiring nuclear capabilities at a time that suits their purposes.