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...

  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated magazine featured an extensive profile on Orthodox-Jewish college basketball player Aaron Liberman on Wednesday.  The article details Liberman’s efforts to balance faith, academics and basketball at Tulane University, a challenge the young athlete calls “a triple major.” Sports Illustrated pointed out that Liberman is the second Orthodox student to play Division I college basketball. The other was Tamir Goodman, the so-called “Jewish Jordan.” As reported in The Algemeiner, Liberman started his NCAA career at Northwestern University. According to [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.