ODVV interview: Sanctions have a negative...
US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal became the precursor for the imposition of new US sanctions against Iran which took effect on 6th August. President Trump has promised to penalize the countries which continue doing business with Iran and will introduce a new set of sanctions in early November, which reportedly include measures targeting against Iran's oil and petrochemical sector.
Many observers believe the US sanctions run contrary to the principles of human rights as they make the life difficult for ordinary citizens and complicate the livelihoods of innocent civilians.
To discuss the different aspects of the US sanctions against Iran, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence interviewed Prof. George A. Lopez, a founding faculty of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and the Vice-President of the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at United States Institute of Peace.
George A. Lopez has written more than 25 articles and book chapters, as well as five books, on economic sanctions and served one year on the United Nations Panel of Experts for monitoring and implementing UN Sanctions on North Korea. The following is the text of ODVV's interview with Prof. George A. Lopez.
Q: The United States has imposed extensive economic sanctions on several world countries. Have these sanctions been successful in meeting the US expectations and realizing the goals for which they were enforced or have they simply complicated and undermined the US relations with these countries?
A: There are many different ways to answer this question. With regard to the US, sanctions that have been most successful on any particular country are ones where the US is building its own sanctions targets from its already participating in the consensus at the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions. Thus, the more global the effort, as indicated by Security Council sanctions, the more likely US expansion of them to new targets and with the use of other measures from the US Treasury, are more likely to succeed. That stated, sanctions aimed at denuclearization, or sanctions aimed at ending violent hostilities between two parties, are much more likely to succeed than sanctions imposed on dictators to improve human rights in their country.
Q: The US President Donald Trump frustrated many of the US allies by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and created many questions, which have not been responded yet. What were the main reasons Trump pulled out of the JCPOA? What are the main impacts of his decision to de-certify the Iran deal on regional and global security?
A: I firmly believe that there were no substantial reasons related to the JCPOA -- and certainly no violations by Iran to the deal -- that provide either the logic or the evidence for the Trump administration withdrawing. I think it was a decision driven by the president being heavily influenced by Israel and the Saudis who made an argument about the continued existential threat that Iran might acquire nuclear weapons in the future and who latched on to the provision in the deal that some dimensions of it would expire 10 years hence. Rather than use the time between now and then to build a highly cooperative relationship with the Iranians in which they would have no need to seek new weapons, Trump went with the position favored by those he favors in the region. In addition, the president created for himself a self-fulfilling need to deliver on a campaign promise to do away with the deal. You will notice he never spoke of particular elements that made it the "worst deal in US history" and I personally believe he could not tell you what the agreement guaranteed, what the dimensions of internal inspections in Iran entailed, nor why Iran was able to retain the right to produce uranium for non-weapons needs under inspections. So my personal view is that this was a major violation of international law by the US, an unfortunate move in US foreign policy that damages our credibility, and the action itself will reverberate negatively against the US and various regional and global partners.
Q: Some of the critics of Trump administration and the observers of international politics say economic sanctions have replaced diplomacy and negotiations in Trump's world for solving problems in foreign relations. Do you see it as a threat for diplomacy in foreign relations to lose its stature and importance due to frequent application of economic sanctions?
A: I think there's no question that imposing economic sanctions has become a highly preferred tool of the Trump administration. My own view is that the administration fails to comprehend what types of sanctions work best under what conditions and they particularly fail to understand or operationalize that sanctions must be smart and precisely targeted against those very particular entities or individuals responsible for the behavior the sanctions are meant to challenge or end. Finally, Trump does not understand that sanctions only work because they're one of many tools being applied to persuade and engage a target to work out our differences diplomatically. He seems to think the coercive element of sanctions is what leads to the capitulation of the target and the achievement of US goals. This is a dramatically oversimplified and naive view of sanctions that destine them to fail.
Q: By citing the Algiers Accords, Iran has lodged a complaint to the International Court of Justice about the unilateral sanctions of the United States, saying that they are instances of intervention in Iran's internal affairs and run contrary to the principle of good faith in the relations between the two countries. How much effective will this complaint be? Do you think it will pay off?
A: On international law grounds alone, I do believe that Iran has a reasonably strong case against the US. But decisions from the ICJ are seldom one-sided and tend to move to each side winning a bit in order to push the parties ultimately to a sensible diplomatic solution. So some of the dimensions that Iran is arguing will be accepted and honored and the US may well be declared in violation of either the spirit or the letter of laws prohibiting intervention. But the central reality, unfortunately for Iran, is that the US does not feel itself bound by ICJ rulings. In this current administration is likely to mock its process and its ultimate decision.
Q: What's your viewpoint on the humanitarian impact of the US economic sanctions? Don't you agree that the negative impact of the sanctions on the ordinary civilians and their livelihoods and health are mostly ignored in the process of imposing them?
A: I do believe that sanctions can and often do have a negative effect on human security in the nations in which they are levied if those sanctions generally affect trade in the banking system of the country. This is why I favor targeted, or smart, sanctions aimed not at the general economy but at particular individuals or entities that have violated global law or norms. That would limit the reverberations of the sanctions against the general population. While these more targeted sanctions have proven quite effective, the new pressures against energy sectors, shipping and transport, and even the insurance underwriters of the shipping business, imposes a heavy burden on an economy that quickly is translated to deterioration of economic and social livelihood in the general population. I have respect for and praise for the nongovernmental organizations that monitor sanctions' impact and highlight their negative effect on a wider population. I think it's well known that in the last round of sanctions, Iranians lost a good bit of the purchasing power of the rial at home and abroad, and the dramatic decline in oil revenues reverberated through the economy, especially in various healthcare and pharmaceutical products needed by the general population. I suspect that, unfortunately, the same factors will negatively affect the lives of ordinary citizens again in Iran.
What is distinctive about the reintroduction of the punishing sanctions by the US at this moment is that it is guided by a naive theory that the more terrible and painful the sanctions make the life of the ordinary Iranian citizen, the more likely those individuals will blame their government for their plight and will seek to change the regime in order to attain sanctions relief. This notion that ordinary citizens would rebel against their government in this way are for these reasons is simply not supported in sanctions history. In fact, some analysts would claim that the belief in sanctions leading to government overthrow is precisely what service as a "trapdoor for war" because the imposing state finds that sanctions are not achieving their goal and thus it jumps higher on the course of ladder and moves from sanctions to the direct use of military intervention.
Q: The new US sanctions contradict the spirit of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Do you think the United States' partners in Asia and Europe will abide by the sanctions or will they stand up against the United States by continuing their trade and business relations with Iran?
A: As has been widely discussed in Europe, its companies and dealings now become targets of US sanctions as much as Iranian companies and US entities which deal with them. As these deadlines came, most European companies and banks will forgo their ventures with Iranian partners in favour of retaining access to more profitable US markets. At the same time the European Union has invoked a blocking statute to insult its companies from these as best as it can.
These secondary sanctions are mechanisms for further economic strangulation of Iran whereby the focus is not just the entities and government under economic siege, in this case Iran, but at the same time significant penalties are imposed on friend and foe alike for their dealing with Iran. To increase the bite of these sanctions on those still doing business in the Iranian economy, the President also expanded his tariffs against European partners. Nothing could more confuse or undermine a nation's sanctions against a country that you are trying to convince to support new sanctions.
By: Kourosh Ziabari