Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Round of Iran Sanctions... Yawn?

. Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Note: The following is a guest post by Christopher Dittmeier, a fellow grad student at UNC.

The UN Security Council has passed a new round of economic sanctions against Iran, touted by the White House as a major ramping-up of pressure against Tehran's nuclear weapons program. However, despite the press surrounding the negotiations, pre-negotiations, and side deals involved in today's UNSC vote, can we expect the new round of sanctions to effect progress in the nuclear-program negotiations? I think not.

The theoretical backing to sanctions is to translate economic damage (the interdiction of trade and financial activity) to political damage (weakening the target's support among its winning coalition sufficiently to induce a change in policy). While the US has laid out its coercive program quite clearly over the fourteen years of the nuclear- and terrorism-oriented sanctions, both previous sanctions as well as today's new round fail to connect the political ends to the economic means: any effective sanctions regime must place pressure on the support structure for Iran's leadership, namely the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Today's UNSC resolution fails to achieve that. There is no comprehensive ban on financial or military dealings with the IRGC, and the asset freeze / travel ban list, which was expanded today, has proven ineffective against the most basic use of shell companies. If the US is unable to interdict the economic activities of the IRGC, there is no economic pressure, and therefore no political impetus for a change in policy. Assuming an optimistic outlook for the effectiveness of sanctions as coercive tools (a position which has its own detractors) the new round will fail to reach even the first objective of economic coercion, and can be relegated to the category of noise.

Not that noise is entirely without purpose in this respect. Sanctions are also considered to be signals of resolve (en route to the ultimate means of military conflict to correct the undesired policy). However, this can best be used to signal resolve not to Iran (which has seen these signals for fourteen years, and is well-informed of the US lack of resolve for militarized conflict) but to the American public, which wants its officials to "do something" about the Iranian threat. Paradoxically enough, the best way to accomplish this is to do nothing (and not even to do it that well). While the new round of sanctions may placate moderates in the American congress, it will not prevent the Iranian nuclear program from moving forward, nor will it induce any favorable changes in the Iranian government's near-term feelings for the United States.

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New Round of Iran Sanctions... Yawn?
 
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