Costs of Sanctions Could Trigger “Military Option”

As the U.S., British and French UN envoys call for expediting the process to set up  a UN panel to monitor Iran’s compliance with sanctions, neoconservatives in Washington are increasingly focusing their attention on the countries which continue to trade with the Islamic Republic.

Numerous op-eds and opinion pieces have pointed to Russia, China, and to a lesser degree, Turkey as nations ultimately responsible should sanctions fail. Although not all pundits have taken this argument to its logical conclusion, some have suggested  sanctions have already failed and it’s time to move forward with military options.

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) has been one of the more outspoken organizations on the dangers of Chinese and Russian sanction-busting trade with Iran. Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, respectively a fellow and executive director of FDD, wrote in a September 13 Wall Street Journal op-ed that China and Russia  will continue to fill “the void” unless America punishes their “subversiveness” on sanctions.

They concluded that:

All of the offending Russian and Chinese companies could be banned from receiving U.S. government contracts and forcibly divested from state pension funds.

Of course, the diplomatic and economic fallout from such an aggressive policy against Chinese and Russian companies would have consequences, which appear to be of  little concern to the op-ed’s authors. This past July,  Gerecht made the case for an Israeli bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities in a Weekly Standard article.

Earlier this month, the FDD released a report co-authored by Dubowitz, “Iran’s Chinese Energy Partners,” which called for U.S. sanctions against Chinese companies that continue to engage in oil and gas projects in Iran.

Dubowitz, in a press release, said:

If the U.S. does not counter Beijing, then the progress the administration has made with the Europeans, Japanese, South Koreans, Canadians and Australians, as well as the scores of companies that have terminated their business ties with Iran, could unravel.

Last Friday’s report that Turkey might triple its trade with Iran over the next five years has already drawn the assurance of  Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin that “Iran Sanctions are Futile.”  American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Resident Scholar Michael Rubin was incredulous that the U.S. is selling Turkey the latest F-35 Joint Strike Fighters “without so much as a study to ensure that Turkey cannot transfer the technology upon which our Air Force will depend to Iran.”

While China, Russia and Turkey’s business dealings with Iran underscore the difficulty of imposing effective multilateral sanctions in a global economy, it’s worth considering what price must be paid to close the holes in the sanctions.

The Obama administration has made steady progress over the last year to improve relations with China and Russia. But with the recent falling out between Turkey and Israel over the Gaza flotilla, the Obama administration seriously risks damaging relations with one of the U.S.’s closest allies in the Muslim world.

While FDD’s Gerecht and Dubowitz may only regard a crackdown on sanctions-busting companies — or, for that matter, an outright acknowledgment that sanctions have failed because of Russian and Chinese obstinance — as items to be checked off prior to an inevitable Israeli or U.S. bombing run on Iranian nuclear sites, the costs might be higher than they would care to admit.

By putting the U.S.’s strategic and trade relationships with Russia, China and Turkey on the line, the proponents of “crippling sanctions” have dramatically raised the costs of their policies. Even neoconservatives admit that this policy — effective punitive measures against sanctions-busters — may itself trigger a potentially disastrous Israeli bombing run on Iran.

Dubowitz and Gerecht wrote:

Any U.S. action will surely infuriate Moscow and Beijing, as well as those in Washington who have worked to “reset” our relations with both countries. Russia and China could retaliate in a variety of hardball ways that could greatly complicate American and European strategic interests. If Russia were to start delivering S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Tehran, for example, it could well provoke an Israeli preventive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.


One Comment

  1. The holes can never be closed, sanctions are a futile exercise, and the logical conclusion is — one must either engage or contain Iran. The military option leads only into an abyss.

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