Effective Sanctions on Iran – Oxymoron

“Israel Hayom”, http://bit.ly/SWcN0J, November 18, 2012

Twenty eight years of unilateral and multilateral US-led sanctions, accompanied by diplomatic pressure and cyber sabotage, have failed to deter Iran’s Ayatollahs from approaching nuclear capabilities. 


Fifty years of proliferated sanctions - since the 1962 military coup in Burma – have been largely unsuccessful in changing policies of rogue regimes.


In fact, the US focus on sanctions and engagement – rather than confrontation - has facilitated Iran’s nuclear drive. It has provided Teheran with more time to develop and acquire critical nuclear capabilities.


Sanctions have effectively eroded Iran’s economy.  Sanctions have been ineffective in diverting Iran from its nuclear path.

Effective sanctions require full multilateral cooperation, which is axiomatically unattainable.  China and Russia are inherent geo-strategic adversaries of the US that aim at weakening US power projection in the Persian Gulf and throughout the globe. Therefore, they cushion Iran in its struggle against sanctions. They oppose US policy on Iran, maintain security ties with the Ayatollahs and sustain their trade relations with Teheran, as do India, Japan, Turkey and some European countries, irrespective of their supposed support of UN sanction-resolutions.

Furthermore, the US has not fully implemented its own sanction bills and executive orders – e.g., May 1995, June 2010, November 2011, February 2012, and July 2012 – which are replete with commerce-driven waivers and exemptions, rendering them ineffective and counter-productive.

Europe has fizzled more miserably and cynically, ignoring its own sanctions.  Europe has sacrificed the long-term battle against a nuclear Iran on the altar of the short-term commercial interests of individual countries and companies.

Thus, the notion of “effective and biting sanctions” constitutes a classic oxymoron, as should have been concluded from the track record of multilateral sanctions against rogue regimes.

For instance, for 60 years, the US has assumed that sanctions on North Korea will convince Pyongyang to refrain from developing nuclear capabilities and moderate its aggressive policy. However, North Korea has offset the loss of the South Korean and Japanese markets by increasing trade with China, irrespective of the latter’s vote for UN Security Council resolutions 1718  and 1874 against North Korea. Just like other ruthless regimes and centrally-planned economies, North Korea has been less influenced by the global economy. It is the “Juche” ideology of national self-sufficiency and non-reliance on imports and economic aid which have made sanctions less effective. Unlike Iran, North Korea is inwardly inclined, devoid of religiously-driven megalomaniac aspirations. 

Sanctions did not bring South Africa to its knees since their imposition in the early 1960s (UN arms embargo), through 1973 (OPEC oil embargo) and the mid-1980s (US sanctions).  Contrary to US expectations, Pretoria’s economy surged following sanctions: 0.5% in 1986, 2.6% - 1987 and 3.2% - 1988. While exports rose by 26% from 1985 to 1989, the cost of sanctions was merely 0.5% of GDP - $354 million.  The Apartheid regime was toppled as a result of the effectiveness of the black majority, the 1988-9 evacuation of Cuban troops from Angola and the 1989 dismantling of the USSR. The latter removed the Communist threat, which haunted the white regime, and therefore transformed Mandela’s African National Congress into a palatable partner for peace negotiation.  In 1994, following thirty years of non-game-changing sanctions, Nelson Mandela was elected the President of South Africa.

The fifteen year defiance of US, British Commonwealth, French and UN sanctions by Rhodesia’s tiny white minority of 250,000, attests to the limited efficacy of sanction.  “Effective” and “biting” sanctions were imposed, following the November 1965 unilateral declaration of independence by Rhodesia’s white racist regime, in order to alter its ideology. But, Rhodesia adjusted its economy by expanding trade with South Africa and the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. It was the eruption of the guerrilla warfare in 1972, and the 1975 withdrawal of Portugal from its colonies, which forced Ian Smith to surrender.


It was a US military operation – and not the “effective” and “biting” sanctions - which triggered an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. The political change in Haiti came about only after the United States prepared to invade the island and not due to imposed sanctions. The refusal of ASEAN, Japan, China, and the European Union to support sanctions on the oppressive regime in Myanmar doomed the sanctions to failure. Fifty years of sanctions on Cuba have not changed the ideology or policy of the Castro regime.  The US and NATO bombing – and not the applied sanctions – forced Belgrade to accept the independence of its former provinces.   

The history of sanctions as a tool of national security demonstrates their doubtful and limited effectiveness. Sanctions constitute the least effective multilateral common denominator in facing rogue regimes.  Leaders who apply sanctions on rogue regimes wish to avoid the cost of more potent national security steps.  They learn from history by repeating – rather than avoiding – past mistakes, at the expense of their own national security interests.