Can Sanctions Stop Iran?

February 17, 2012 10:50 am 2 comments

President Obama. Photo: wiki commons.

Last Saturday, despite the new sanctions being proposed by the U.S. and EU against Iran’s nuclear program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced defiantly: “In coming days we will witness [the] opening and operation of new nuclear projects in Iran.” He further declared on the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution: “The world should know that despite all pressures, Iran will not withdraw one inch from its principles and rights.” He thus spurned the new sanctions reminding the West: “All countries have put pressure on us for not obtaining nuclear know-how, but all these pressures were futile.”

Are sanctions futile, as Ahmadinejad has tried to assert? According to a major report on Feb. 8 in The New York Times, the Obama administration still believes sanctions can be effective. The article reports U.S. officials telling Israel that it is important to give the new sanctions a chance either to force the Iranians back to the negotiating table or abandon the nuclear program altogether. The big question is whether the new sanctions, which for the first time threaten the sale of Iranian oil, can be expected, by themselves, to change Iranian behavior on the nuclear issue.

Iran has been under sanctions for a period of time. The U.S. began to institute sanctions in the 1980s, but the first sanctions adopted specifically against the Iranian nuclear program — which were backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution — were only instituted in 2007. These U.N. sanctions failed to stop Iran from enriching growing quantities of uranium over the last five years.

The most famous case in which economic sanctions appeared to completely change a regime’s behavior was with the apartheid government of South Africa. The U.N. Security Council began with a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa in 1977. Europe and the British Commonwealth imposed broad trade and financial sanctions in 1985. That year international banks began to hold back on short-term loans to South Africa, leading to a decline in the value of its currency.

But it was not until 1994 that South Africa formally dismantled apartheid and introduced a new constitution. That year Nelson Mandela won the elections to become the country’s first black president. In other words, sanctions took roughly nine years to have any real impact that forced South African policy to change. Using the South African timeline, and taking 2007 as the starting point in the Iranian case, one cannot expect to see a major change in Iranian behavior until 2016. In other words, sanctions take a long time to kick in.

Another recent case of sanctions was Iraq. At the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 687, which established a cease-fire between Saddam Hussein and the U.S.-led coalition that forced his forces out of Kuwait and defeated them. The resolution required Iraq to declare all its nuclear, biological, chemical and long-range missile weapons systems as well as to destroy them. Until these actions were verified by international inspectors, Iraq was not permitted to sell its oil to other countries.

In other words, Iraq was under international economic sanctions to force it to comply with U.N. demands with respect to its weapons of mass destruction. But despite these harsh U.N. sanctions, in the following 12 years, Saddam refused to fully cooperated with U.N. inspectors, who could not say he had destroyed all his prohibited weaponry. The sanctions did not produce the desired political result they were intended for. At the end of the day, the suspicion of Western intelligence services that Iraq still had these weapons was one of the reasons the U.S. and Britain launched the 2003 Iraq War.

In the Iranian case, the fact that, according to international precedents, sanctions can take nine or 12 years poses a serious problem. There is a debate among experts about how much time Iran needs to complete its nuclear program: Some say it is a matter of months before Tehran can produce weapons-grade uranium and perhaps two years until Iran can mount an operational nuclear warhead on a Shahab-3 missile that can reach Israel. But given the history of sanctions, it is doubtful the new sanctions against Iran can have a decisive impact on Iranian decision-making within the timelines that are currently being projected for Iran’s completion of key aspects of its nuclear-weapons program.

At the end of January 2012, the head of the CIA, Gen. David Petraeus, admitted that the new sanctions being proposed against Iran were already “biting” into the Iranian economy, but the critical question that still needed to be answered was whether the sanctions would force the Iranian regime to change its policy: “What we have to see now is how does that play out. What is the level of popular discontent inside Iran? Does that influence the strategic decision-making of the Supreme Leader and the regime?…” The problem is that authoritarian regimes like Iran’s generally don’t care if their population is suffering, unless their grip on power is about to be lost as a result.

One factor undoubtedly affecting Iranian decision-making is that, unlike U.N. sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s, the new sanctions on Iran are not universal. Iran has been exporting 2.3 million barrels of oil per day, and Europe’s use of 600,000 barrels per day is likely to end by July. But China and India, which have refused to adhere to the new sanctions, are expected to continue to import close to 860,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil (combined). That is a huge hole in the sanctions regime.

Economic sanctions can be made to work, but not alone. There are synergies that have made them more effective in the past. For example, what helped change the calculations of South Africa’s apartheid government was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the relaxation of the threat from neighboring states, like Angola and Mozambique. The idea that Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were Soviet proxies lost all credibility. Sometimes, the threat of force was critical for sustaining sanctions. After Saddam Hussein evicted UNSCOM arms inspectors from Iraq in 1998, the threat of a joint American-British air strike forced the Iraqi regime to take them back. If the new sanctions had been introduced in 2009, when Iran was facing an internal revolt, they could have had a decisive influence on Iranian decision-making.

The efficacy of sanctions against Iran is dependent on what they signify in the minds of Iranian leaders: If sanctions are perceived as representing the international community’s strong political will that can lead to even more severe steps, then they might have some impact. But if they are only perceived as a minimal action that the West adopted to show it is at least doing something, then sanctions are unlikely to effect any change. In the months ahead, Iran is likely to test the extent of the West’s commitment to the sanctions it is now proposing.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

2 Comments

  • No! Of course not, the only answer is to ATTACK AND KILL EVERY IRANIAN!

    Then there will be peace because if history has taught anything about the Middle East is wars are always the right choice, why else would the people there keep on having them?

  • They can all say what they like, but you have to be a realist, with UN and unilateral sanctions, covert actions. Iran has mastered the full fuel cycle, they can mine it, enrich it and turn into plates. It is a hell of an achievement. So it is one thing to play it down in public and to the public, but if they actually believe that themselves they are mistaken and one would question their judgement.

    See back in 2006 when Iran was enriching, they did not have the legitimate cover of a full civilian program, now they do, you can included Bushehr being operational too. This allows the emerging nations not to support sanctions and the Russians and PRC at the UN not to support sanctions as the program has become legitimate and the centrifuges can keep on spinning.

    In relation to sanctions the west is no longer the powerhouse it use to be as such using those examples I would add years, many years as long as the emerging powers do not participate.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.