An Appeal to the EU Regarding Iran Sanctions

Reading articles like this just makes me mad. I’ve said many times that the multilateral and unilateral sanctions that have been levelled against Iran by the West over its nuclear program should not have been put in place to begin with.  I think that the reason they were has much more to do with hawkish, biased, pro-Israel politics and ideology in the U.S. than with any real, reasonable assessment of threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

I was so optimistic that a comprehensive deal between the P5+1 and Iran would be achieved last November. It appears that all the pieces were in place for a reasonable deal to be reached, and honestly I still don’t know what went wrong.  As I wrote at the time, and appears now to be coming true, the prospects for a deal will only dim with the passage of more time, due to domestic pressures on both sides.

Of course, it has long been known that even if such a deal were to be struck, the likelihood that the U.S. would actually follow through on meaningful sanctions relief on its part, given the poisonous partisan atmosphere in Washington, is vanishingly small. We can see evidence of this by the fight brewing even now on whether to impose yet additional sanctions on Iran.

I’m actually working on a paper right now that examines the limits which international law places on the application of international economic/financial sanctions, whether unilateral or multilateral. I think this is an important theme in the modern era of the use of coordinated economic sanctions as a method of foreign policy coercion, particularly by powerful states against developing states. Among the limits which international law places on economic sanctions are:

1) the general international law principle of non-coercion;

2) the law of countermeasures; and

3) human rights law, and in particular the principle of proportionality

I’ll have more to say about this after I finish the paper, but in brief I think that there’s a good case to be made that the sanctions being imposed on Iran regarding its nuclear program are violative of the principle of non-coercion, and principles of human rights law.

At this point my only real hope is that the EU and its member governments will demonstrate once again their greater regard for international law, and their more reasonable objectivity in foreign relations, as compared to that of our leaders here in the U.S., and actually meaningfully scale back their sanctions on Iran, to allow for a normalization of trade relations, whether a comprehensive deal between Iran and the P5+1 is reached or not.

The scholarly literature could not be more clear that economic sanctions are ineffective in changing a target state’s policies on an established, entrenched national security related issue such as nuclear nonproliferation.  Sanctions do not change state behavior.  They only hurt average people, like the people of Iran, contrary to principles of human rights law.

And in the case of Iran, if there is no deal and the international sanctions regime continues unabated, there’s every reason to think that the moderate government of President Rouhani will be short lived, and that conservatives in the Iranian government will gain in influence, which is in no one’s best interests – not the people of Iran, and not the world.

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