A Lesson from the 1930’s: FDR’s Quarantine Speech
In October 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech in Chicago titled “Quarantine the Aggressor,” in which he challenged Americans and the world to take action to prevent the outbreak of war. Today, as we face the challenge of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, it is important to ask how we can implement Roosevelt’s vision of peaceful conflict resolution.
In the speech, Roosevelt warned: “The peace-loving nations must make a concerted effort in opposition to those violations of treaties… which today are creating a state of international anarchy and instability from which there is no escape through mere isolation or neutrality”.
He identified the key to preserving peace as “… a return to a belief in the pledged word, in the value of a signed treaty.”
In 2002, Iran was found to be in violation of its treaty obligation under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), by hiding a uranium enrichment program from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 2006, the U.N Security Council issued the first of four resolutions requiring Iran to cease all uranium enrichment activity.
Since 2006, Iran has continued to act in total defiance of the U.N Security Council and has not only continued to enrich uranium, but greatly expanded its enrichment facilities. According to the IAEA, Iran now has more than 12,000 spinning centrifuges.
Moreover, Iran not only violates the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, through its extensive support for terrorist organizations- including Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban in Afghanistan- Iran is in fundamental violation of it obligations to the Charter of the United Nations.
According to Chapter 1, Article 1, of the U.N. Charter, “The Purposes of the United Nations are: to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace…”
By providing weapons, funding and training to terrorists, the government of Iran is responsible for the killing and wounding of hundreds of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq and over 1,000 civilians in Israel. Through its extensive support to the brutal regime of Bashar Assad, Iran is responsible for the deaths of over 70,000 civilians in Syria.
Clearly, a regime that ignores the “…value of a signed treaty” cannot be entrusted with the ultimate weapon of terror: the atomic bomb.
Although the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council are weak and ineffective (thanks to Russia and China), as Americans we can be proud that the U.S. government has imposed much tougher ones. Today, U.S companies and their foreign subsidiaries are prohibited from doing any business in Iran except for humanitarian reasons.
In addition, over 20 states have adopted laws divesting their public pension funds from companies working in Iran’s energy sector. Seven states have adopted contracting legislation that prohibits companies working in Iran’s energy sector from signing government contracts.
Opinion polls also show that a majority of American people understand that a nuclear-armed Iran that sponsors terrorism would pose a clear threat to American national security and world peace.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of America’s foreign friends and allies. Beyond the effective embargo of European Union on Iranian oil, hundreds of major multinational companies, like Ericsson, LG, and Lufthansa, continue business as usual in Iran. Ending this corporate support is critical to pressuring the regime to consider halting its nuclear weapons program.
In 2008, the non-partisan advocacy group which I represent, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), was created to address this challenge. The goal of UANI is prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons by “…ending the economic and financial support of the Iranian regime by corporations, firms, entities and individuals…” (UANI website).
In the 1937 speech, Roosevelt challenged the world to take action: “Most important of all, the will for peace on the part of peace-loving nations must express itself to the end that nations that may be tempted to violate their agreements and the rights of others will desist from such a course. There must be positive endeavors to preserve peace.”
How can we as Americans pursue “positive endeavors” to convince the international community to join the United States and impose tough economic sanctions on Iran?
The CEO of UANI, Ambassador Mark Wallace, said it best, “We must give the world a choice, either you can do business in Iran, or in the United States, not both”.
Each of us has the power to support this effort. We can tell multinational companies the following: if you, as a company, do business in Iran, you should not count on earning our hard-earned taxpayer dollars through government contracts. If you produce or sell cars in Iran, we will not buy your cars. And if your company helps to enrich this brutal regime that abuses the human rights of its own people, sponsors terrorism and violates treaties, we will not invest in your company.
Roosevelt would certainly agree with the purpose of the “quarantine” on Iran described by UANI CEO Wallace: “We need to bring Iran to the point where it will have to choose between having the bomb or having a functioning economy.”
At the end of his 1937 Chicago speech, Roosevelt said, “America hates war. America hopes for peace. Therefore, America actively engages in the search for peace”.
If only the world had listened to Roosevelt then. Will we listen now?
Bob Feferman is Outreach Coordinator for the non-partisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). To join this cause, please visit www.uani.com, where you can see which companies are bad actors, and write to their executives.