How Sanctions Can Work With Iran
Image Credit: Daniella Zalcman

How Sanctions Can Work With Iran


You wrote recently that you felt the sanctions on Iran were having some kind of success. What kind of effects are we seeing?

Certainly the sanctions are having two impacts—one is economic, the second is on reputation. Economically, the greatest damage to Iran’s economy is actually done by Iranian mismanagement. The economic sanctions, however, amplify that, and create some degree of pressure—not enough to change Iranian behaviour, but enough to raise the cost of their behaviour.

Reputation wise, Iran and Iranians look back on their legacy as being one of a great empire. They are one of the few countries in the world that have a near contiguous history going back more than 2000 years, the others being in Asia. Now the fact that Iran is being targeted by both multilateral and unilateral sanctions upsets ordinary Iranians. For example, when I lived in Iran, an Iranian who participated in the Islamic revolution talked to me about how when she got married she and her husband got on a motorcycle and drove all the way to Paris without needing to get visas in advance. They look at themselves as a country that was once on par with European countries like Spain and Portugal, and they see themselves now following headlong into the third world. That creates a great deal of friction between ordinary Iranians and their government because ordinary Iranians tend to blame their government for the isolation, rather than other countries.

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You’ve also talked about ‘augmenting’ sanctions. What do you have in mind?

There are a couple of different ways to augment sanctions. First of all, one of the philosophical debates the international community needs to resolve is whether to target sanctions at the top, or more broadly so they impact more Iranians. Since the Iraq sanctions, there’s been a backlash against broad sanctions, and so with Iran we’ve something called targeted sanctions, which the current UN Security Council has been targeting towards proliferators and people involved in the nuclear programme.

The drawback this approach is that ordinary Iranians don’t feel it. The argument for broader based sanctions is that when ordinary Iranians feel the sanctions more, this tends to create discord, which translates itself into the establishment of grassroots movements. So that’s one issue.

With regards to sanctions themselves, while the international community has been targeting banks, for example, the Iranians have been able to play a shell game. Generally speaking, they’re able to create new banks faster than we’re able to designate banks as subject to sanctions. What I would argue is that we need to sanction much more the Iranian central bank, employ similar provisions of both US domestic law and international law that went into sanctioning North Korea, specifically that went into sanctioning the bank in Macau. The US Treasury has also refrained from using the provisions of the Patriot Act against Iran, even though these would arguably add more pressure.

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