Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The Libya-Iran Connection That Should Be Taken Advantage Of

President Barack Obama is experiencing his first sigh of relief in quite a long time when it comes to the Iranian nuclear stalemate.  Chinese President Hu Jintao, who has been the main bulwark against western pressure defender on Iran, has finally agreed to sit down and discuss the possibility of further economic sanctions.

This could not have come at a better time for the White House.  Let’s face it; the United States hasn’t been all that successful when it comes to bringing the world together.  Key players, like Turkey, Brazil, and Lebanon, don’t have the same worry about Iran’s nuclear program as western powers do.  To them, Iran is exercising their international right to civilian nuclear energy.  Even if these countries were suspicious about Iran’s nuclear program, they would be hard pressed to actually do something about it; all three have extensive commercial ties with Tehran that they surely don’t want to destroy (especially in today’s sour economic environment).

But with China on board- at least for now- the possibility of stronger economic sanctions at the U.N.S.C. may be edging closer than anyone imagined.  But let’s not get our hopes up; these are only discussions, and Beijing as a long history of opposing economic sanctions as a legitimate foreign-policy tool.  After all, the Chinese are still selling products to North Korea, Burma, and Sudan, states that are hardly democratic and respectful to their own people.

Yet high hopes aside, this got me thinking about economic sanctions (it’s ok, call me a nerd).  And I arrived at a pretty pedestrian conclusion; sanctions are not an end in itself, but they can work depending on the country being targeted and the environment in which its used.

History is indicative of sanctions falling short of their main objective, which is to weaken an adversary or at least change regime behavior. Despite three decades of strong economic sanctions on the Iranian economy, nothing beneficial has resulted for the United States. In fact, these same punishments have only emboldened the Iranian regime to act in a more provocative fashion. Iran’s support for terrorist groups in the Middle East continues unabated, and of course, Tehran’s nuclear program is still pressing on without any difficulty (and no, technical problems don’t count).

And you can’t forget about other examples, like Iraq, where an unsuccessful sanctions regiment was used as an excuse to start drawing up plans for a preemptive invasion.

But sanctions aren’t all bad (and here is where country and environment come into play). What about the Libyan example, where economic pressure essentially forced Muammar Gaddafi to abandon his WMD program? Sure, it took close to thirty years of U.S. saber-rattling to finally get Gaddafi to clean up his act, but a persistent campaign did eventually work.

I’m not naïve; sanctioning alone wasn’t the only factor in squeezing Gaddafi. The Libyan Government was already feeling the heat from decades of international neglect, partly due to Gaddafi’s support for terrorism and partly due to Libya’s crumbling domestic infrastructure. But sanctions put his whole predicament over the edge. And the result was nothing but transformative…an end of nuclear proliferation in North Africa.

None of this is to say that unilateral sanctions on Iran will work. In fact, I don’t even think that sanctions at the U.N. level will work, unless they are strong and wisely implemented.  The Iranians are intent on building a nuclear capability, and it appears that nothing will deter them from taking the next step. But before we totally insult economic sanctions as a national security policy- which I have done on this blog before- maybe we should take an in-depth look into history.

The question for policymakers now is whether Iran will follow the Libyan path.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Lara Friedman of at Americans for Peace Now**


4 Responses

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  1. Budahh said, on April 20, 2010 at 1:33 am

    How do you suggest stoping Iran from aquiring nuclear weapons, the Iranian people are angry at their gov’t and if we will slap harsh senctions they won’t we like north Korea, they will know where to point the finger. They are a vonurable huge country which imports lots of oil.
    If you think that sanctions won’t help or only putting soft sanctions those won’t have much effect, than I don’t understand what you want to do, the only options left are a military strike, the obama administration has wasted lots of time this year, they are not taken seriously in the world anymore, they set up deadlines for talks and they were decieved again by the Iranian masters of manipulations, the arabs are more scared of Iran than anyone else even Israel and they are losing their trust in the white house .
    I don’t think that many in the U.S understand the implicatios of a Nuclear Iran, it will definitly do what it likes and achieve hagemonial power. and the U.S will just pay more in the long run. It is almost like world war 2 when the leadres of the free world could have chosen to act and save the world before they had to drag themselves war into a chaotic war because they didn’t act on time Obama can choos eto either save the world now or make it pay an unknown huge price later.

  2. Jacob Blues said, on April 20, 2010 at 1:34 am

    There are two levers that the US could push. Unfortunately, we don’t see either happening soon.

    The first is Iraq. More focused is the push to expand Iraq’s oil exports. While there have been some stirrings by both the Iraqi government, OPEC, and the US, to expand the production capacity of Iraqi fields, such increases take time and investment. But to date, I have seen little in the way of advancement of Iraqi production and capacity.

    Second, is the push towards alternative fuels. This week’s Economist highlights the potential reserves and lower price of liquid natural gas (LNG), and how there are large quantities of the energy in North America.

    Given the environmental benefit of this resource, especially over coal and oil, and the expected price decline of that market, so too, could you find a large rise in demand, depending on its use.

    The increase in these two sources, could have a significant impact on the price of oil, which is what Iran relies on to fund its regime.

    The old figure thrown out is that Iran needs oil prices around the $90/ barrel mark to fund its operations, including domestic subsidies and foreign armies.

    But if that’s the plan, then no one in Washington has been promoting such a diplomatic push.

    The closest hint of this is that Dutch Royal Shell announced that it will stop selling gasoline to Iran.

    Baby steps or just random actions? Either way, I haven’t seen any public coordinated efforts since last fall, after Iran rejected the US ovature to Iran to enrich its uranium overseas, in return for nuclear raw material that could not be enriched to weapons grade levels.

  3. Sami Jamil Jadallah said, on April 20, 2010 at 1:35 am

    When the late Shah was building nuclear facilities, Israel provided security and support. Surprising Israel with some 150 nuclear weapons, a country that has waged war against neighbors close and far from Tunis, to Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. This country leadership , deemed by UN investigators as war criminals, that waged war since its creation is deemed stable and can handle nuclear weapons while Iran leadership is deemed unstable to handle nuclear weapons. I am against all nuclear weapons and believe that Iran or the Arab desire for nuclear weapons is a waste of time and money and resources can be used much better in building society, on education, science and technology. Tens thousands of nuclear weapons did not save the Soviet Union from collaps. Same will be true for Israel, even a thousand nuclear bombs will not save Israel from its course of self destruct. The question is why the so called “international community” is keen on sanctions against Iran when the country denies its developing weapons while looking the other way knowing well Israel has some 150 nuclear bombs. For once we would like to see international law applies to all the countries of the world including Israel. Iran is not Iraq, or Egypt or Syria, it will hit back and will hit hard. Who knows may be Israel on a course of self destruct much faster than we anticipate.

    • Budahh said, on April 20, 2010 at 1:36 am

      Israel has never initiated a war it was always acting in self defense after being attacked, If israel was not attacked it would never have been in a war just like in Gaza when there is no shooting Israel does not shoot back, and when did Israel go to war with Iraq? When iraq shot missiles at it or gave money to terrorists. I don’t know where you get your information but you need to be more accurate.
      Iran is the number one state sponsor of terror in the world and that is the big differance between them and Israel, Israel does not talk about destroying other countries and Iran are fanatics who wants to become the superpower in the area.
      If belguim wante declared it has nuclear weapons tomorrow I don’t think the world would make a big deal out of it, because it is not like Iran.
      Iran is meddling in every country and the Sunnis are scared of them oh yes they are shaking, so please don’t tell us stories and get your facts straight.

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