Sanctions on Iran: The Emerging Scenario

Sanctions on Iran: The Emerging Scenario

The UN Resolution 1737 was adopted by the UN Security Council (UNSC) on December 23, 2006. It followed a statement of the UN President on March 29, 2006

Policy Perspectives, Vlm 4, No.2

The UN Resolution 1737 was adopted by the UN Security Council (UNSC) on December 23, 2006. It followed a statement of the UN President on March 29, 2006 and the subsequent Resolution 1696 on July 31, 2006 urging Iran to close down its nuclear enrichment program. Laying down a series of measures to be taken by member states, Resolution 1737 says, “The Security Council decides that all states report to the committee within 60 days of the adoption of this resolution on the steps they have taken with the view to implement effectively.” It requests the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report whether Iran has established full and sustained suspension of all activities mentioned in the Resolution, and says that if Iran does not comply, further appropriate measure under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations shall be taken.

Analysis of the UNSC Resolution
Acting on Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council (UNSC) directed Iran to suspend all enrichment related reprocessing activities without further delay, including research and development that has to be verified by the IAEA. It also directed that work on all heavy water related projects, including the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water, be suspended. It decided that all states should take the necessary measures to prevent the supply, sale or transfer, directly or indirectly, from their territories or by their nationals.

This is a complex situation. An implication of the Resolution is that if any party interacts with Iran in any terms that may be interpreted as supplying technology or equipment, that party would be liable under the Resolution to be punished and penalized by its country, and if the concerned country fails to take action, the UNSC will take measures against that party. However, Article 41 does not give power for restoring or preserving peace through military action.

The Resolution also says that anything that contributes to Iran’s enrichment related reprocessing, or heavy water related activities, or to the development of a nuclear delivery system — i.e. anything related to a missile programme, is subject to sanctions. This is an especially important point: since missiles are also used for conventional weapons, the Resolution would adversely affect Iran’s conventional military strength. All states are also required to take necessary measures for preventing the provision to Iran of any technical, training or financial assistance related to the supply of manufacturable items for nuclear reactors.

It can be analyzed that these sanctions are rather broad-based, although they are mild in comparison to what was expected, or what the US desired. Iran condemned the Security Council members for passing this resolution, saying that it had a right to acquire nuclear technology. It also accused the UN of following double standards, pointing out that despite Israel’s open declaration of being a nuclear power, the UNSC and the West act blindly with regard to its aggressive policies. The Iranian leadership’s defiance of the international community in this matter indicates its resilience.

Moreover, Iran perceives that the issue is not only its possible acquisition of nuclear weapons but also this acquisition would bring change in the balance of power in the region, which would ultimately challenge the hegemony of the United States. It has said that the big powers wants Israel to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East. This fundamental point is confusing the world, especially the Middle Eastern countries. In an environment of hostility and mistrust, there is a wide divergence in the perceptions of the situation.

Apart from the problems of perceptions regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, the whole concept of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) itself is a challenge; in the last “Non-proliferation Review Conference,” it appeared that the NPT was losing its value and importance because the world has divided between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of nuclear power. The ‘have-nots’ insist that disarmament should take priority, whereas ‘haves’ says that non-proliferation should take the lead. Therefore, any development in this case will have far-reaching global effects.

Options and Choices
Iran may be isolated from the international community on various levels. The US and the rest of the West are in a position to squeeze the banks and pressurise international conglomerates and companies to not do business with Iran. Through such an action, they can stop the flow of money from the world into Iran. This situation would create immense problems for Iran. On the other hand, many in the US, especially in the Bush administration, have said that they would rather face the consequences of military strike than have Iran become a nuclear power. This option would be the most dangerous and catastrophic choice. However, another school of thought in the United States believes that, even if Iran does become a nuclear weapon state, the US may use the same deterrence against Iran that worked against the Soviet Union and would work against China.

There is also a point of view that Iran should be attacked before its nuclear program becomes active. This would involve strikes on about 1,025 targets. Once the aggression starts, it will not be confined to the nuclear establishments because they are all placed in civilian areas; therefore, there will be a large number of civilian casualties. If and when these casualties are exposed to the world, anti-Americanism will increase, which the US might not be able to afford.

If Iran reduces its oil production to counter these sanctions and coercive measures, there are always other countries willing to step up their oil supplies. In any case, the US has sufficient reserves to cope with any oil squeeze for a period of five to six months. Therefore, Iran may not consider oil to use as a weapon.

Iran could try to disrupt the oil supply through the Strait of Hurmuz with mines. However, US aircrafts conduct constant surveillance in the area, and are likely to immediately detect any mine placed in the Gulf or around the Strait of Hurmuz. Thus, this tactical option may also not work for Iran.

The Emerging Scenario
There are some important emerging scenarios:

  • The sanctions are specific only to the nuclear capability of Iran. This means that, in the long-term perspective, the performance of Iran may not be affected. However, the foreign direct investment in the country is certainly going to be impacted.
  • Through its defiance vis-à-vis the UNSC resolution, Iran has shown a strategic defiance, not only against the USA, but also against the international community in general. There is a debate going on inside Iran about the efficacy of strategic defiance. The founders of the Iranian nuclear programme, Rafsanjani and Khatami, did not let rhetorical bases reach the point where Ahmedinijad has taken them. This debate leads towards three fundamental aspects: 1) the efficacy of the UNSC resolution, 2) the efficacy of the Iranian nuclear program itself, and 3) the limit to the Iranian defiance when America is expanding its force structure in the region.
  • Aggression against Iran could bring sectarian or other areas of conflicts by virtue of exploitation by those who are trying to seek dominance in the region. This issue has the potential to bring the concept of “clash of civilizations”.
  • The international community may be able to bridge the gap between the two sides and the prevalence of sanity may bring about a negotiated settlement to the problem. The international community may also struggle to remove the injustices and inequality by giving a nations the right to continue its civilian nuclear program, while at the same time preventing it from producing nuclear weapons. Iran would be willing to comply with such a plan, provided there is greater understanding, threats to its regime are withdrawn, it is removed from the group of countries considered to belong to the outrageously labelled “axis of evil,” and, last but not the least, it should be treated as an equal partner in the international community.

US – Iran Relations: Emerging Trends, Security Challenges & Implications
The US and Iran have remained more or less antagonistic towards each other since the dawn of the Iranian Revolution. The nuclear standoff between the two countries took the rhetoric to such heights as it seemed that the US might plunge into another war in the Gulf. However, in the context of recent direct US-Iran talks in Iraq, there are a few obvious reasons behind the US consent to dialogues: one is that Iran is the largest geopolitical entity in the Gulf — a pivotal area connecting West, South and Central Asia. Secondly, Iran has a long border, stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Shat al-Arab. This fact, which is called in academics “limited acceptance of Iranian hegemony in the Gulf” is accepted by all the regional states and even by the US. Moreover, there are several factors owing to which it would be unwise for the US to opt for aggression against another State in the Gulf region, including the cost of war in Iraq and Afghanistan; mounting anti-Americanism in the region in particular and the world in general; the resistance that the US has faced in Iraq and Afghanistan; the popular uprising of the anti-US Hamas in Palestine; and the successful resistance of a small Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, against Israeli aggression.

Nevertheless, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and rising militarism in the region pose some grave security concerns for other regional and extra-regional states, especially when there is no serious efforts on their part to deal with these concerns collectively. There is a security threat, not only in military terms, but also in terms of direct and indirect political pressure, the economic characteristic, cultural invasion, the media war, and the war of ideas. The external forces, mainly the US, are exploiting the internal problems of the region to create wider gulfs between the regional states, highlighting sectarian and ethnic divisions in the name of combating terrorism. Thus, it is very important to understand the US plans — at the global level, at the level of the Muslim world, and at the level of Iran and the Arab world — behind its strong stance on the Iranian nuclear crisis. US designs to dominate the world through military power are quite obvious from the fact that almost half of the US army is now present in more than 40 countries of the world.

There are some important scenarios and implications of the emerging trends in the region:

  • The US War on Terror has failed as far as the objectives of containing or eliminating terrorism are concerned. In fact, the war has led to escalation, and even glorification, of terrorism. The US war is rather erratic and is clearly being used to achieve some other objectives. It is very important to realize what those objectives are, and how the world should respond.
  • The idea of security is a very important concept but security cannot be understood merely in military terms. The concept has to be redefined along with its political, economic, and human dimensions, and the internal causes of insecurity. Unless these aspects are addressed, the concept of security remains superficial.
  • In the current context, the US is creating more problems in the world than addressing. Iran has not shown expansionist or hegemonic designs in the region or elsewhere, but the US has. These are American policies and its erratic war against terrorism that create instability and aggression around the globe. Unless it changes its hegemonic agenda and stops relying on ‘the greatest military machinery in the world,’ the problems will remain as they are. The Muslim world, the Third World, Europe, Russia and China should review their alignment and relations with the US in this context.
  • Although the threat is looming in the world at large, there is also a silver lining to the dark clouds. The next few years may see the emergence of countervailing powers — popular resistance, realignments and reassertion of Europe, Russia and China, and closer cooperation between them. Such cooperation may be inspired by the common need to protect their economic interests: oil is not merely an American interest; Europe, China, Russia and other Asian countries also have their interests and stakes in the oil-rich region of the Gulf and the Middle East. Thus, the nations of the world may rethink, review and develop a new strategy to face the challenges emanating from US aggression.

This segment of the brief is based on the seminar on “US-Iran Relations: Emerging Trends, Security Challenges & Implications.” During the event, Mr. Khalid Rahman, DG IPS, made opening remarks. The panel of speakers included Dr. Nazir Hussain, Assistant Professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad; Lt. Gen. (R) Asad Durrani, and Prof. Khurshid Ahmed, Chairman, IPS, while Mr. Tanvir Ahmed Khan, former Foreign Secretary, chaired the event.

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