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Monday, December 07, 2009

Can sanctions still work against Iran?

Orde Kittrie argues that President Obama should impose strong sanctions against Iran immediately after the passing of the December 31 deadline for Iran to 'engage.'
There is evidence that sanctions pressure could similarly dissuade Iran from proceeding with aspects of its nuclear program. The threat, thus far unrealized, of strong sanctions, in some cases supplemented by the threat of military action, reportedly contributed to Iran’s decision to cease assassinating dissidents in Europe in the 1990s, to reach out in 2003 to the Bush administration with a conciliatory fax and a halt to its nuclear weaponization research, and agree in November 2004 to a proposal by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom for a temporary suspension of its uranium conversion and enrichment plans.[12]

There is more recent evidence that sanctions could force Iran’s leadership to modify its behavior. For example, a September 2006 report by an Iranian parliamentary committee said that a cutoff of Iran’s gasoline imports could force Iran “to modify its national priorities and devote most of its resources to prevent a major social upheaval.”[13]

In addition, some Iranian elites have suggested that Iran make compromises to avoid economic sanctions. In November 2008, as Iran began to experience the economic pain resulting from a sharp drop in oil prices, 60 Iranian economists sent a letter calling on the regime to change course drastically. The letter said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “tension-creating” foreign policy has “scared off foreign investment and inflicted heavy damage” on the Iranian economy.[14] During the recent Iranian presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad’s opponents blamed him and the sanctions engendered by his combative foreign policy for the country’s economic woes.

Additional sanctions could further increase these feelings of discontent. Iran’s leadership presumably values its continued control over the Iranian people even more than it values its nuclear program. Tehran might be willing to make concessions on its nuclear program if it feels that strong new sanctions are contributing to social upheaval sufficient to reach the tipping point at which the regime loses its grip over the Iranian people.

Kittrie assumes that Iran is still far enough away from nuclear weapons for sanctions to have an impact. That assumption is at least questionable. It may take months for sanctions to have an effect and in those months Iran could 'go nuclear.' In fact, the list of countries in which Kittrie argues that sanctions have been effective really comes down to one country: South Africa. Conspicuously, he lives Iraq off the list.

But there's another issue that needs to be considered. I've already discussed the simulation that took place at Harvard University over the weekend in which the United States failed to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and found itself in a crisis with Israel instead. Here's another interesting aspect of that simulation.
The second by another participant in the simulation, veteran NSC Iran hand Gary Sick, below the jump:
1. The US team went to work with a vengeance to get a consensus on sanctions. This didn't bother the Iran team in the least. We didn't think they could put together a package that would hurt us in any serious way, and that proved to be true. But more important, in the process they managed to offend all of their ostensible allies and wasted so much time and effort that Iran was better off at the end than they had been at the beginning. Since this represents a version of actual US strategy (and its results) over now three administrations, I think there is a lesson there that is ignored at our peril.

2. I compare the actions of the US team (and the US government since at least 1995) as the dog chasing the bus -- what do you do with it when you catch it? As far as I could tell, the pursuit of sanctions was essentially an end in itself. What if the US actually succeeded in putting together a reasonable set of sanctions (as, in fact, we have)? Maybe our efforts will please the Israelis and a few others, but does it stop Iran? To be honest, the Iran team scarcely paid any attention to all this massive policy exertion. Admittedly, we felt lonely at times. But we never felt that our core objectives (freedom to proceed with our nuclear plans and our growing appetite for domestic political repression) were at risk, much less the survival of our rather peculiar regime, which was of course our most immediate concern.


6. The fact that Russia and China initiated their own secret accommodation with Iran was an interesting development, and one that is also indicative of the way things are going. But I had the impression that they took this initiative out of dismay at the single-minded pressure of the US team futilely seeking their support for a sanctions regime that was fundamentally contrary to their

This game provided an opportunity for me to test my understanding of the dynamics propelling each side in the Iran debate. And the result, I am sorry to say, was even more depressing than I would have imagined. The fact that it was seasoned veterans of the policy process playing these roles makes it even more significant. The lesson was not so much that Iran could "win" this game so easily; it was that the US and its allies were unable even to imagine any alternatives.
And the simulation's outcome?
The result: that Israel acts alone, and finds itself denounced by the U.S., opening up the largest rift in U.S.-Israel relations since Suez. Or Iran gets the bomb.
The sanctions are useless unless everyone goes along with them, a proposition that seems improbable right now. Moreover, the sanctions will be useless unless backed with a credible military threat and unless they have sufficient time to work before Iran can become a nuclear power. Both those scenarios seem unlikely.

Most depressing, however, was this paragraph from Sick's description:
5. It was probably realistic that no one challenged Iran's right to enrich. That has reluctantly been accepted as a fait accompli. But why was there no push to test Iran on safeguards, inspections, or other techniques that might assure the world of reliable and on-going intelligence about what Iran is doing (early warning); or restricting certain key elements of Iran's nuclear program that would lengthen the time required to actually break out into production of a nuclear device Nobody tried.
It wasn't considered a fait accompli eleven months ago.

What could go wrong?

Read the whole thing.


At 11:18 PM, Blogger nomatter said...

Iran will get the bomb.
The world will then beg Iran to not use the bomb...etc., etc.

Israel can not stop them alone. Only the most naive can think so.

No one cares. No one ever cared.

History repeats, the world winks.

At 12:38 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

As long as its seen by the world as only the Jews' problem, nothing will be done to stop Iran. As an answer, sanctions now are akin to bolting the barn door after the horse fled. Its all up to Israel now to stop Iran.


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