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