Foreign Policy Blogs

To Sanction or Not to Sanction, That is the Question

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Last week ended on a huge Iran shocker: discovery of a new enrichment plant near the city of Qom.  This week is also starting with a bang: Iran has tested two long-range missiles which defense analysts say are capable of hitting Israel or US bases in the Gulf region.  The Iranian Labour News Agency reported that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) successfully held the advanced military exercise on Monday.

Iran, who is seen as a miscreant, has only reinforced that belief with these two acts.  Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said that the tests were consistent with the “provocative nature with which Iran has acted on the world stage.”  France also condemned the tests as a “provocation”.

These acts have also renewed calls for harsher sanctions.  The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is trying to assemble a package of harsher economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program that could include a cutoff of investments to the country’s oil-and-gas industry and restrictions on many more Iranian banks than those currently blacklisted.  The administration also is seeking to build a broader coalition of partners for sanctions so that it may still be able to act against Iran even if China and Russia were to veto harsher measures proposed in the United Nations Security Council.

But as I have written before sanctioning Iran is not the right answer.  Sanctions do not work, they hurt the civil society in that country, and most importantly, sanctions hurt ordinary people.

I was glad to see my beliefs reinforced in Roger Cohen’s Op-ed, published yesterday in the New York Times.  In The U.S.-Iranian Triangle, Cohen opines:

Iran has proved resilient to sanctions, having weathered them in one form or another since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. And the political upheaval there creates a new complication: Western countries do not want to impose measures that deepen the misery of ordinary people, because it could help the government and strangle the fragile protest movement.

Cohen also presents an excellent suggestion on how to approach talks with Iran: we need to broaden the context.

Burns must seek to open a parallel bilateral U.S.-Iran negotiation covering at least these areas: Afghanistan and Iraq (where interests often converge); Hezbollah and Hamas (where they do not); human rights; blocked Iranian assets; diplomatic relations; regional security arrangements; drugs; the fight against Al Qaeda; visas and travel.

Isolated, nuclear negotiations will fail. Integrated, they may not. Iran’s sense of humiliation is rooted in its America complex; its nuclear program is above all about the restoration of pride. Settle the complex to contain the program. Triangulate. Think broad. Think E.U., not Versailles.

Dialogue is still the best way forward.



Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.