Thursday, November 17, 2011

Post #82 - Sanctions and Incentives

The GDP of the United States is sixty-eight times that of Iran, its spending on defense 110 times greater. Yet we view them as a serious threat, and do everything we can to weaken them. The Jerusalem Post reported, after economic sanctions had had a chance to work for a while:

"At the end of 2007 the U.S. and Israel are expected to hold a joint assessment to ascertain the influence of economic sanctions against Iran.
"A new package of upgraded sanctions prepared jointly by Israel and the U.S., includes exerting pressure on European governments to cancel U.S. $22 billion in loan guarantees given annually to European companies trading with Iran.
"The new package also includes sanctions against banks working with Iran, non-renewal of oil infrastructure in Iran, and a long series of economic actions that are meant to seriously hurt the Iranian economy.
"Following the end-of-year assessment, Washington will decide how to move forward in the struggle against Iran's nuclear race."
Since then, a number of increments have been added to the sanctions regime, under both Bush and Obama -- actions against banking, against individual Iranian officials and against companies doing business with Iranian interests.

The United States took the step, too, of designating the 150,000+-member Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization (making possible additional sanctions that would directly affect an arm of Iran’s armed forces). This was unprecedented, in that there had never been such a categorization imposed on an agency of a recognized nation-state.

An article entitled “Ratcheting up Sanctions on Iran Is the Wrong Approach” was written in March 2007 by Ivan Eland, now director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute. His argument went like this:

Ivan Eland
"...Although the December 2006 United Nations Security Council sanctions that banned countries from exporting nuclear and missile materials and technology to Iran probably were prudent, widening the sanctions outside the nuclear and missile areas is a mistake. [This]...changes their main purpose from being instrumental to being merely punitive. ...[A]n instrumental embargo...could at least slow Iranian acquisition of such ingredients, or raise the price to do so.
"...punishment seems misplaced when no conclusive proof yet exists that Iran has an illegal nuclear weapons program. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Although there are reasons to suspect that Iran has an illegal nuclear weapons program, it has not been proven.
"...[Moves] to punish the Iranians for ostensibly legal activities create a “rally-around-the-flag” effect in Iran. Although not as pronounced as it would be if the United States were to conduct air strikes against Iran, sanctions do allow the Iranian regime to create an external enemy in order to win more support from Iran’s restive, youthful population, which is disaffected with the Iranian government’s austere Islamic rule...broader measures intended to commercially isolate Iran from the world would [shut] off the very ideas that could eventually topple the despotic regime.
"...History shows...that sanctions can...lead to war. Once the punitive road is selected, when sanctions fail -- as they often do -- to have the desired effect on the target country, pressure for military action can intensify. [For example,] when stringent financial sanctions against the Panamanian regime of Manuel Noriega embarrassingly failed to depose him, President George H.W. Bush then felt overwhelming pressure to oust him militarily—which he did...That same president went to war with Saddam Hussein in 1991, when the most comprehensive and grinding sanctions in world history failed to compel Saddam to withdraw Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Thus, starting down the road of broader punitive sanctions may lead ultimately to war with Iran.
"..Iran should be given positive incentives to forgo its [presumed] nuclear weapons program... Given that Iran lives in the vicinity of a nuclear Israel, and has other potentially hostile neighbors, even this offer may not make the Iranians willing to give up their nuclear program.
"As the United States accepted and deterred a nuclear China in the 1960s, when radical Mao Zedong was at its helm, it may ultimately have to accept and deter, with the world’s most potent nuclear arsenal, a nuclear Iran. History shows that when countries get nuclear weapons they usually moderate their behavior—for example, China, India, and Pakistan have become more responsible internationally after going nuclear. Like the governments in these other countries, the first aim of the Iranian regime is to survive and stay in power. Threatening a superpower with thousands of warheads would put that important goal at risk."

In the four years since that article was written, we have had a National Security Assessment that said Iran had halted programs directed toward acquiring nuclear weapons capability, followed recently by new assertions from the administration and IAEA that such a program has been resumed. Still no "smoking gun," no incontrovertible facts regarding an Iranian move to acquire nukes.  Iranian officials regularly deny such an intent.  Every few months, over the past ten years. a new estimate is issued by someone in the West of how far away Iran is from gaining the ability to launch a nuclear-armed missile. The estimate is usually from "a few months" to "two-to-three years" hence. No one ever revises them downward or extends their expiration date, one simply hears yet another assessment, based on "convincing intelligence" of the usual 12- or 24-months-out prognosis. (These statements of inevitability are customarily accompanied by a statement of unacceptability.)

There are those who would have us believe that economic sanctions, embargoes or other degrees of blockading an adversary are the “painless” way to apply pressure (as opposed to military options) on a country that refuses to comply with our demands. There are two issues here: what are the likely impacts of punitive sanctions, and have we sufficient evidence of a weapons program being pursued in Iran to justify a damaging sanctions regime?

Asne Seierstad
We must not fail to fully value the destructive impact of such seemingly benign approaches. Asne Seierstad, a Norwegian journalist reporting from Baghdad in early 2003 gave this analysis in her book A Hundred and One Days: Fear and Friendship in a War Zone (New York: Perseus, 2005):

"Sanctions were aimed at enfeebling the regime but have actually made people more dependent on it. Sanctions have isolated the country from the outside world and have made it easier to reward loyalty and punish deviation. It is virtually impossible to operate on any large scale without the regime keeping track…
"Since the Oil for Food programme [the West’s attempt to modify the sanctions regime to relieve humanitarian impacts] started, the number of undernourished and malnourished people has decreased. Sanctions had then been in place since 1991, originally introduced to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. But in spite of Oil for Food alleviating the situation somewhat, a quarter of Iraqi children suffer from chronic malnutrition. That and diarrhea are the most common causes of death amongst the youngest children.
"...There has been a large increase in premature births in Iraq. Between 1990 and 1999 the number of children born with a below average weight has increased fivefold, which might imply the mothers are also undernourished or malnourished. In the same period, the number of deaths during childbirth has doubled.

Dr. Nader Sadeghi
A physician at the George Washington University Medical Center, Dr. Nader Sadeghi, found, using UNICEF figures tracking child mortality rates since the 1960’s, that infant mortality in Iraq increased from 40 per 1000 live births to over 100 between 1991 and the beginning of the U.S.-led Iraq War; mortality in children between the ages of 1 and 5 increased from 50 per 1000 (in 1990) to 125, while the comparable figure in the United States or Canada was less than 10. The instances of serious malnutrition and chronic diarrhea in the first sixteen months of occupation were above levels found in Haiti, where I have done some medical outreach in poor villages and have seen the levels of deprivation that are prevalent there. A humanitarian aid group, Save the Children, estimates that by 2005, one Iraqi child out of every eight was not making it to his or her fifth birthday. Dr. Sadeghi stated: "The War and sanctions imposed on Iraq wiped out 30 years of steady reduction in child mortality in Iraq. Even the 8-year Iran-Iraq War did not prevent the two countries from reducing these mortality figures." Sadeghi extrapolated from the historical data to the potential impact in Iran, where the infant mortality rate has been halved since 1990, under such a sanctions regime: "There are 1,171,000 live births in Iran per year according to a 2003 UNICEF estimate. [Under similar sanctions] 80,000 more infants will die each year. 100,000 more children between 1 and 5 will die per year."

Are we so certain of an Iranian threat to our own survival that this is an acceptable price to pay in an attempt to force them to “cry uncle?” Or is it another case of dubious intelligence and of a defective moral compass guiding U.S. policy toward an outcome that does not even serve our own long-term interests?

There is an ironic side-effect of the sanctions regime against Iran (that which has already been in place): having been relatively isolated economically, Iran has a lower percentage of its GDP tied up in external debt than most other developing countries. Their comparative independence of the world's financial establishment may now be one more reason for the antipathy coming from the West, and for the fact that many countries have been harder hit by the current economic crisis than Iran.

Site of Israeli nuclear plant at Dimona
Selig Harrison, who directs the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, wrote in the Washington Post (October 2, 2007 OpEd Page), that Korea, in the negotiations over its denuclearization, was looking for "a no-attack pledge, normalized economic and diplomatic relations, economic aid and removal from the U.S. list of terrorist states," and that Iran would be looking for similar elements in a resolution, as well as "a freeze on Israel's Dimona reactor and a ban on U.S. use of nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf." In exchange, he believes, Tehran would accept "a verifiable ceiling on its uranium program that would bar weapons-grade enrichment." Harrison emphasizes the importance of recent Iranian history: "the Iran-Iraq war, in which an estimated 200,000 Iranians were killed, is still a searing memory in Tehran." He quotes the editor of a conservative Iranian daily as telling him, "If we had possessed nuclear weapons then, Saddam would not have dared to attack us." "The drive for sanctions will only strengthen Ahmadinezhad," Harrison said. "In place of economic and military pressure, the United States should seek to defuse the Iranian nuclear danger through bilateral and multilateral dialogue that addresses Iranian and U.S. security concerns from Dimona to the Strait of Hormuz and, eventually, includes all of Iran's key regional neighbors, including Israel."

In fact, according to news reports in early November 2011, Ahmadinezhad is having some success in thwarting his political foes, in part because he represents his country's resistance to foreign pressures and threats.

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