Foreign Policy / Iran / National Security / Politics / Sanctions / U.S. Senate

Senate’s Iranian Sanctions are Self-Interested

Recently,  a new piece of legislation has hit the senate floor; one that entails expanding current sanctions on Iran as well as creating new sanctions for the purpose of impeding Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.  This bill comes at a time when talks and a Joint Plan of Action (JPA) have already been made in Geneva, Switzerland on November 24, 2013.

The JPA promises to lift United Nations, European Union, and United States’ sanctions on Iran so long as they stop their uranium enrichment program.  Furthermore, Iran would be subject to constant inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which would report the progress of the dilution of current enriched uranium as well as provide exhaustive information on Iran’s nuclear plans, facilities, and any other nuclear related programs in Iran.  These inspections would ensure Iran’s cooperation with the JPA at all times.

The JPA delivers hope that Iran may become a fully participant member of the economic community and possibly, one of the top 10 economies in the world.  But, the JPA comes with stark criticism from a 27 senator, non-partisan bill that not only expands current sanctions on Iran but, also creates new ones. One of the key sanctions that would be imposed by the new bill would expand sanction on crude oil to sanctions on all petroleum products, which is in exact opposition with what had been agreed to in the JPA.

The bill’s rationale for such drastic sanctions at a time when Iran could become an active member of the international system include statements such as, “[Iran] has used diplomatic negotiations as a subterfuge to advance its nuclear weapons program” and that they “continue to sow instability in the Middle East and threaten its neighbors”.  But, the true rationale for this bill lies in domestic, political motives of the co-sponsors of the legislation.

According to Texas A&M Professor Taehee Whang in his report titled “Playing to the Home Crowd? Symbolic Use of Economic Sanctions in the United States” the use of sanctions is primarily for political reasons. He explains that most of the academic community agrees that sanctions do not actually deter any country from doing what they want yet, “the frequency of sanctions did not decline in the 1990s despite their increasingly well-documented ineffectiveness”. He writes that sanctions are a way by which lawmakers can take a stance on current foreign policy issues and gain support from their constituents, without utilizing any actual coercive measures against another country.

What makes Whang’s report relevant now is the fact that 12 of the 29 senators that co-sponsored this piece of legislation are up for reelection this year and are looking for things to boost their constituency support.  If one could say they co-sponsored a piece of legislation that enacts more sanctions on Iran, a country against “fundamental freedoms”, as stated in the legislation, they would almost be guaranteed reelection. These self-interested sanctions may keep Iran away from nuclear energy and the pursuit of nuclear weapons but, could cost the U.S. 35 more years of lacking negotiations with Iran.

Other References:

Playing to the Home Crowd? Symbolic Use of Economic Sanctions in the United States” by Taehee Whang