Early View Article - The art of the Trump-Iran deal: An unsuccessful coercive foreign policy

The art of the Trump-Iran deal: An unsuccessful coercive foreign policy

The success of a state's coercive foreign policy depends on how much influence it has over a ‘target’ – a premise that assumes other factors do not obstruct the policy goal. In practice however, the nature of the international system complicates the potential for such a policy's success. This paper examines this idea using the 2018 US decision that aimed to dismantle the JCPOA by pulling out of the agreement and re-sanctioning Iran. To do so, this paper engages with the general and region-specific literature on coercive foreign policy, sets out a background of US-Iranian ties and examines the consensus-driven momentum that led to the JCPOA, along with the unilateral 2018 US decision to renege on the agreement. The findings demonstrate how the US and Iranian political environments made it difficult to realise the coercive foreign policy goal of dismantling the JCPOA. The reasons for this centre on the notion that the interconnected nature of the international system diminishes the effectiveness of this type of coercive foreign policy – even when considering the USA as a powerful implementer of this policy. Thus, I argue for the importance of capturing contextual factors when considering this type of international relations.

Policy implications

  • Policymakers should include actors that influence policy problems in the policymaking process to maximise the chances of achieving the intended coercive foreign policy goals.
  • Iran's perception of the USA operating separately to, or even against the fellow P5 + 1 signatories of the JCPOA diluted the potency of Washington, DC's 2018 decision. This highlights the need for policymakers to also capture the ‘target's’ domestic actors when formulating policy.
  • A coercive foreign policy is less likely to succeed in an increasingly interconnected international system as economic interests tend to outweigh political interests. While the rationale behind this may be sound – one of interdependency – the outcome requires wider considerations when implementing a contemporary coercive foreign policy.
  • The wider lesson here highlights how necessary it is to capture the broader policymaking context. This points to a need to develop comprehensive analyses of the policy problem in question while involving a wide range of actors to set up the best chances for success.


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