04 June 2022

Abstract: Donald Trump’s promise to lead an “America first” foreign policy captured the attention of both American and international legal scholars. This paper aims to join that debate by examining the international legal challenges of Trump administration’s policy towards Iran. It does so by examining two main approaches of the administration: the exercise of unilateral sanctions towards Iran and the negotiation strategy deployed by Donald Trump personally. In examining the former, the paper relies on doctrinal legal research. In examining the latter behavioral approach to international law and economics, I use a relatively novel approach borrowing insights from political psychology and behavioral economics to explain many of the high-risk choices that the Administration took over the course of events. I find that after the cancellation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “Iran nuclear deal”), unilateralism—as one of the main characteristics of this policy—failed to coerce Iran into negotiating a new deal. Instead, the unilateral exercise of sanctions reduced the “weaponized interdependence” of the sanctions’ regime into a negotiation leverage. Despite being almost unchallengeable before a legal forum, the lack of wider support for the sanctions led to considerations of their evasion from the European Union and other international actors. The negotiation style coupled Trump’s calls for a new deal with bold threats of military might and failed to lead to reconsideration of Iran’s approach to regional security. By staying within the Iran nuclear deal, Iran managed to strengthen its immediate negotiation position. Ultimately, after two and a half years of such policy, both the United States and international actors have launched a number of multilateral initiatives that are to remedy the damage done by high-risk negotiation tactics deployed by the administration and then President Trump personally.