Can Sanctions Change Iran´s Mind? (AMERICAN THINKER) By Efraim A. Cohen 02/26/12)
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As the U.S. and Europe belatedly ratchet up sanctions against Iran,
some people cling to the hope that vigorous sanctions may yet force
Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Both America and the SC
are pressuring Israel to give international sanctions more time to
work before making a final decision to strike Iran´s nuclear
Some people have even cited the U.N.´s 1990-91 efforts to alter
Iraq´s actions as an example of a successful sanctions regime.
Indeed, one commentator recently asserted that those
sanctions "brought Iraq to its knees and forced it to accept the
provisions of [Security Council] Resolution 687 on April 6, 1991 --
just three days after they were passed."
Contrary to what some people now believe (or have forgotten),
sanctions on Iraq proved to be an abject failure. It is worth
reviewing what actually happened once the U.N.-imposed that sanctions
regime in order to apply those lessons to today´s situation.
In August 1990, the Security Council imposed a near-total financial
and trade embargo on Iraq. Eight months later, following the end of
the Gulf War, the Security Council passed an even tougher resolution
calling for the removal of weapons of mass destruction (including the
destruction of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles
with a range greater than 160 km). The U.N. further established
UNSCOM (the United Nations Special Commission) with which Iraq was
required to cooperate on WMD compliance matters (Resolution 687).
From 1991 to 2003, the Security Council passed a long series of
resolutions reinforcing the restrictions on Saddam´s government and
implementing the "Oil-for-Food" program (Resolution 986). The
program allowed Iraq to sell a fixed amount of oil on the world
market in order to purchase food and other humanitarian supplies for
its citizens, thus staving off a potential humanitarian catastrophe.
Taken together, the sanctions regime was far broader and harsher than
anything now being imposed on Iran. The goal of the many Security
Council resolutions was to convince Saddam Hussein to change his
brutal internal policies and terminate his WMD program while limiting
the suffering of the general population.
In practice, Saddam continued to brutalize his own people while
refusing to cooperate with the U.N.´s WMD inspectors. Time after
time, Saddam stated that he would allow full inspection of his
suspected WMD sites, only to renege on his promise or interfere with
those inspections at the last minute. For a number of reasons, "Oil-
for-Food" was only partially successful. Saddam ran an illicit oil
trade of his own and smuggled prohibited items into Iraq. He and his
inner circle lived in lavish palaces even as his people suffered
torture and privation.
Unquestionably, Saddam continued his efforts to obtain materials to
advance his WMD program. In 2003, the head of the U.N.´s Iraq Survey
Group, David Kay, reported the discovery of "dozens of WMD-related
program activities" hidden from the U.N. He later testified that
Iraq was attempting to produce deadly ricin "right up to the end."
Contrary to the generally held belief that no WMD were found, Kay
observed only that Saddam had not produced large-scale stockpiles of
Similar to today´s efforts vis-ŗ-vis Iran, Russia, China, and, to a
lesser degree, other Security Council members hindered successful
enforcement of Iraqi sanctions. It took the U.S. and its Coalition
partners over a decade to come to the realization that Iraq would
continue to play games without changing its fundamental policies.
Clearly, the tough Iraq sanctions were failing. Continuing
to "enforce" the ever-weakening sanctions regime was no longer an
option. Keeping sanctions in place would have resulted in many more
civilian deaths. Had sanctions been lifted without proper U.N.
verification and enforcement, it was certain that Saddam would fully
reconstitute his WMD programs with potentially disastrous results.
This was the impetus for the Second Gulf War.
Fast-forward to today:
Sanctions are predicated on the assumption that leaders will
make "rational" decisions based on economic calculations. They will
recognize that it is in their own best interest to accept the demands
of the outside world in order to avoid isolation and economic
deterioration caused by sanctions.
Iran´s leaders have so far failed to react according to the Western
concept of rationality. Iran´s treatment of the IAEA inspectors over
the past few days is a disturbing echo of Saddam´s actions. Similar
to Saddam, Iran´s leaders have little incentive to cooperate because
sanctions have not limited impact on their internal authority or
personal living conditions. They may feel that acceding to external
demands would be a sign of weakness and actually hasten their
downfall. They may rightly assume that, once they have achieved
their objective of developing nuclear weapons, Iran´s position as a
regional power will be strengthened, and the world will be forced to
lift the sanctions. For them, sanctions are only a temporary
Combine all of this with their radical religious beliefs -- Iran is a
superior society; martyrdom is the desired course for establishing a
worldwide caliphate through the coming of the Mahdi -- and Iran´s
leaders are acting "rationally" within their own non-Western frame of
Iraq is a perfect example of the futility of sanctions when there is
a disconnect between a people´s suffering and their leaders´ value
system and lack of compassion. With this historical precedent, it is
hard to understand why anyone would conclude that the weaker and more
porous sanctions now being imposed on Iran will cause that country to
terminate its nuclear weapons program anytime soon.
We all hope that Iran can be convinced to halt its apparently
inexorable drive toward nuclear armament without the need for
military action. However, in light of the U.N.´s experience with
Iraq, it would seem that even a much more robust series of sanctions
on Iran may be a futile exercise at this late date.
Let´s be clear: the choice is not between maintaining the status quo
and dealing with the aftermath of a military strike. The choice is
between stopping Iran now (even if that requires military action) and
facing a nuclear armed Iran later on. Sadly, if concerted action is
delayed much longer, it could well be too late for Israel and the
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