Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund on diverse network that led to Iran nuclear agreement

The Iran Agreement: A Victory for Diplomacy

How We Won

The Iran Agreement is working. Not by force, but by diplomacy. On January 16, 2016, Iran's four pathways to a nuclear weapon were verifiably blocked. Since then moderates and reformers won major victories in elections in Iran, new channels of communication between the US and Iran helped quickly secure the release of 10 Navy sailors who had been held by Iran, and Iran is becoming a popular destination for US tourists. These are early side-benefits to the national security achievement of a generation.

The Iran Agreement stops an Iran Bomb; it stops an Iran War. If the next US president were to shred the deal, as some have promised, plans to use military force would be revived. War is sometimes necessary, but not for this reason. The Iran Agreement is a historic victory for diplomacy. We hope it leads to many more.

How did we win?

Overcoming three decades of hostility, President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's negotiating teams forged an agreement that peacefully resolved what many considered the greatest nuclear proliferation threat in the world.

They prevailed over hard-liners who pushed for policies and positions that would dramatically increase the risk of war. Hard-line conservatives in Iran opposed any compromise with America. Neo-conservatives in this country insisted that only a military attack could eliminate a nascent nuclear threat. They threatened to start a conflict that would make the war in Iraq look like a warm up act.

However, on Saturday, January 16, 2016 the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran completed all its commitments under the historic nuclear accord and sanctions were lifted.

Iran ripped out two-thirds of its centrifuges, neutralized its plutonium reactor, shipped out tons of enriched uranium and accepted an unprecedented verification regime.

We blocked all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear bomb without another war in the Middle East. America is safer, Israel is safer, the world is safer. 

How did this historic agreement come about?

From his first day in office, President Barack Obama waged a dogged effort to block an Iranian bomb using all the tools at his disposal. With this accord, he achieved what Washington Post columnist David Ignatius calls “the most determined, strategic success of his presidency.” He was aided by the diplomatic proficiency of Secretary of State John Kerry, the nuclear expertise of Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz, and the political acumen of Leader Harry Reid in the Senate and Leader Nancy Pelosi in the House.

The president and congressional leaders always saw diplomacy as the best way to prevent an Iranian bomb. Over the past four years, their incredibly talented teams worked around the clock to negotiate and defend the deal. They faced relentless opponents. And they prevailed. But they were not alone. Arms control experts, regional experts, ethnic groups, peace advocates, military leaders and countless others also supported this historic agreement.

These groups and individuals were decisive in the battle for public opinion and as independent validators of the negotiated solutions. They all endorsed the deal, but they lacked a common platform – a network to exchange information and coordinate efforts.

What was Ploughshares' role?

Ploughshares Fund provided that network. Often, networks can make all the difference. Astronomers use a technique called interferometry to link together a cluster of relatively small telescopes so that, together, they can resolve distant objects that no single instrument could acquire. We built a network of over 85 organizations and 200 individuals in favor of a negotiated solution to the Iranian crisis. Together, they achieved a victory no single group could have secured.

All of our partners wanted to stop an Iranian bomb. They also wanted to stop an Iranian war. Many had been through the wrenching experience of 2003, when the tragedy of September 11 was used to twist intelligence estimates of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program, provide a false picture of imminent threat, and lure an entire nation into a costly, unnecessary war that led only to greater regional and global insecurity.

Many of the same people responsible for the greatest blunder in US military history were trying to do it again, but with Iran. 

So our network came together to sharpen its collective focus. We met and wrote and reasoned together. We pooled ideas, debated strategies, and forged a common effort. We partnered with like-minded foundations. By sharing information, reducing redundancies, collaborating where possible, and applying savvy digital organizing techniques, each partner strengthened the collective impact of the whole.  

We credit this model of philanthropy - facilitating collective action through high-impact grantmaking - with creating the conditions necessary for supporters of the Iran agreement to beat the political odds.

Our effort to educate and inform the public and policymakers about the merits of the deal brought together Jewish-Americans and Iranian-Americans. We assembled peace groups and think tanks. We connected seasoned diplomats with social media mavens. And we provided funding with support from those who understood the urgency of securing this agreement. Ploughshares Fund raised and disbursed over $11 million in grants over the past five years. (A complete list of grants is available in our annual reports.) We shared investment strategies with sister foundations to ensure that critical voices supporting the agreement were heard loud and clear. And it worked.

For every claim denouncing the agreement, there was a calm, reasoned exposition of its security benefits. For every critic on cable news, there was an advocate answering. Those who stepped up to organize letters from scientists, military leaders, rabbis and experts found others to help them. Others produced ads, videos and educational panels. None were told what to do. All did what they deemed best. All found they had a robust, coordinated network to amplify their efforts.

Thanks to swift action by our leadership, staff, and vital outside supporters in the final hour, we surged funding into our network during the last few months of the campaign to counter the millions pouring in from billionaire deal opponents. They had more money, but we had the people. They had the scary TV ads, but we had the truth about the merits of the agreement. The town hall meetings in August that many feared would be the deal’s downfall turned into pro-deal rallies. Supporters outnumbered opponents, encouraging members of Congress to cast their vote in favor.

The campaign showed that with the right resources, the right vision and the right organization, determined citizens can work with government leaders to achieve what many thought was impossible. Collectively, we stopped Iran from getting a bomb. We stopped another unnecessary war in the Middle East. We demonstrated the power of diplomacy to accomplish what no military action could.

Together, we made history. 

How can we sustain the victory?

We will have to be every bit as resolute and as vigilant as the opponents of this peaceful agreement, who have promised to “use every tool” at their disposal to derail it, including the presidency. We will have to ensure that all the nations fulfill the terms of the accord. We will have to make sure that Iran does not exploit the agreement to engage in expanded regional misadventures.

The opportunities presented by the agreement go far beyond its substantial security benefits. The deal itself is a model for future nuclear agreements. It may be possible to enshrine the strict limits and stringent inspections procedures of the Iran agreement into global standards. Then, when “in 15 years Iran will leave one set of restraints,” says Delaware Senator Chris Coons, they would enter another: new global agreements toughened up to at least the standards of the Iran accord.

The fight isn’t over. Many in Congress are trying to kill this security agreement and on the campaign trail presidential candidates have threated to tear the agreement up on their first day in office. They put their own political and ideological interests above the national interest. They are well-resourced and relentless. If we let up now, we could still lose.