But such sanctions may prove little more than political window dressing, say critics who point to hawkish chest-beating in the U.S. Congress and to the reality that overshadows espoused unity within the United Nations Security Council.
“It’s for domestic consumption,” suggests Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and an analyst with Antiwar.com. He does not believe sanctions will have any serious impact.
In fact, the efficacy of economic sanctions, according to many international policy experts, is highly suspect – merely a way to assure a worried electorate that something is being done while its intended outcome falls by the wayside.
“It will not work,” said Medhi Noorbaksh, a professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. “The purpose of any sanction is to cripple an economy,” Noorbaksh explained, adding that further punitive measures – either from the U.N. Security Council or U.S. Congress – still will not have a devastating affect on Iran.
“Always there are loopholes,” he said.
The United States first employed economic sanctions – restrictions on foreign commerce – against Iran in 1979, when former President Jimmy Carter banned Iranian imports following the hostage crisis. Most Iranian goods and services are still prohibited in the United States.
And the outcry over the Iran’s uranium enrichment program has spurred calls for new measures.
The House last week passed the annual military spending bill with an amendment to bar companies with military and energy sector ties with Iran from obtaining U.S. military contracts. The vote followed a tentative agreement between major powers to impose further sanctions on Iran through the United Nations.
That international accord, however, places China and Russia – major trading partners with Iran – in an awkward position. Unwilling to stem the flow of Iranian oil to their respective economies, both China and Russia are reluctant to support harsh measures.
“They always get watered down,” Eland said of such international sanctions. “In Congress you only have to convince one country’s legislature,” he added but dealing with sanctions among several nations is tough. “It’s even worse in U.N.”
Congress is expected to reconcile its current sanctions legislation, passed by the House in December and Senate in March, following the Memorial Day recess.
“They’re a middle-ground symbolism,” Eland said of the proposed sanctions, “between diplomatic slaps on the wrist that are perceived as too weak, and the military covert thing which is perceived as being too strong.”
Though they are a politically popular route – only 12 representatives voted against the House measure in December. In a war-weary nation with its armed forces stretched thin, sanctions might appear to circumvent another military front – a means to inflict pain without the fallout of a ground invasion. According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted May 21-23, 62 percent of Americans now oppose the war in Iraq. Support for opening a conflict with Iran is extremely low.
The danger, however, may be that sanctions fail to address uranium enrichment while actually raising the prospect of war.
“You put your prestige out there,” said Eland. If the U.S., for instance, claims progress on sanctions that end up ignored or impotent, there is little wiggle room to move back to the diplomatic table.
“It’s a paradox,” he added. “The more comprehensive you make them, the more likely the stakes get high and you’ll have to go to war.”