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Long Live the Tyrant! The Myth of Benign Sanctions


Sacrosanct sanctions: A chimeric construction 

They aim to bring recalcitrant tyrants to their senses, to put an end to their external as well as internal malefaction. With surgical precision, they pull the noose ever closer around the tyrant’s neck, so that in hopeless despair he is compelled to behave reasonably in foreign affairs while, enfeebled, he lifts his bloodied hands from the throat of the oppressed people. It is a morally justified decapitation of evil, the salutary removal of a swelling tumor.

Undoubtedly, in this description sanctions are an extremely attractive option to do twice as well at a single stroke: The culprit is hunted down, right up to the tyrannicide, and the maltreated people are freed and released on to the path of democracy.

When it comes to the issue of Iran, debates revolve around a dual axis of war or peace, of dictatorship or democracy. Sanctions, it is implicitly assumed, are akin to peace and democracy. At a minimum, it is said, they constitute a necessary evil in order to put the tyrant in chains, and prevent him from completely unleashing his brutality, both externally and internally.

This is how the motivation for and the functioning of sanctions are portrayed within the dominant discourse. In short, sanctions are civilization’s magic cure against barbarity. Viewed in this light, they fascinate political circles in the West and even parts of the Iranian diaspora. And not seldom, even the most enlightened intellectuals of the Western world are spellbound by the rosy rhetoric of their political leaders, leading many of them to content themselves with simply calling for a targeted and therefore effective application of sanctions to kill the tyrant and free the people.

Thus lifted onto this sacrosanct level, the rejection of sanctions is branded as complicity with the tyrant – a refusal to “tame” him.

Forming a central part of the debate surrounding Iran, the Western public is afforded the dubious luxury of relying on rhetoric rather than reality when assessing sanctions. In the face of that fantastic image of sanctions, a serious discussion about their extent and impact is flagrantly missing. However, if one takes the trouble to take a look behind the glittery façade of the righteous global policeman whose noble aim is to bring the evildoer down on his knees by way of sanctions, the sheer negative image of this very picture cuts the surface.

The imposers’ mindset

“Unprecedented sanctions” against Iran are imposed, it echoes with an unmistakable sense of pride from the capital cities of the Western world. After all, the self-appointed “leaders of the free world” all have acquired a rather dubious specialization in designing and implementing a plethora of various kinds of economic sanctions, deployed to discipline the unruly tyrants of the Global South.

The automatic recourse to sanctions by Western policy-makers (most recently at the start of the Syrian crisis) is not only an expression of their perplexity and their delusional belief that you can meet a complex problem with a supposedly universal magic cure. Such desperate activism à la “Let’s do something” also unites these policy-makers with some Iranians, yet none of them contemplating the consequences of their sanctions policy or advocacy. At the same time, there is a moral superiority on display: After all, sanctions would represent an almost peace-loving antithesis to the crude use of force, they are at the least a means to avert war – but in any case they aim, in a targeted and intelligent fashion, at the Achilles’ heel of the tyrant.

Also, some policy-makers want us to believe that the never-ending tightening of sanctions reflected their paternal patience with which the democracies dealt with the evil opponent, in their noble aim to prevent the mad mullahs rushing to the bomb. These same politicians have all along displayed the apodictic certainty that Iranians would ultimately blame their own government for their economic malaise – in the improbable case this would not happen, the sanctions policy ought to be better “explained” to the Iranians, they insist. What does such a belief structure reveal about our appreciation of Iranians’ cognitive capability to adequately direct the blame for their increasingly desolate economic situation to either the pillages of a kleptocratic regime or the sanctions of the Western imposers?[1]

Crippling economic coercion

The Western-led sanctions regime against Iran, with its now virtually all-out financial and trade embargo, has since its qualitative leap in the course of the so-called nuclear crisis of the past decade, always been by its very design not aimed at a tyrannicide of any kind. On the contrary, as one of its main proponents has stated, “[Iran] must know that the West will work tirelessly to make Iran poor […]”.[2] These sanctions, routinely called “targeted” but now self-assuredly called “crippling”, have long been rather crippling than targeted when it came to their impact upon the Iranian economy. In this respect, the country’s unparalleled isolation from the international financial system has constituted the eye of storm, which wreaked havoc in even the most indubitable civilian sectors of Iran’s economy. The financial exclusion is precisely the reason why purely non-military items, most dramatically a great deal of life-saving medicine, cannot be purchased any longer. And, by the way, mind you that we can witness a stark case of “double-punishment”, namely when it comes to the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Iranian victims of Saddam’s chemical warfare of the 1980s who are now deprived of vital medicine due to the sanctions imposed by the very same countries who were back then the providers of those chemical weapons. Imagine, for a second, how each of them and their families might feel in the current situation.

The neutral-sounding technocratic term “sanctions” veils its true significance as a means of economic coercion.[3] Does it likewise concern us in the slightest that international law can hardly be reconciled with the economic strangulation of an entire nation?[4] In an age in which illegal wars of aggression, politically and morally disguised as “humanitarian interventions”, or likewise illegal drone attacks camouflaged as intelligent and clean police operations, have almost become the business of the day for Western democracies, warfare by economic means falls under the radar of public awareness. And when noticed sanctions are even thought of as a benign gesture in comparison to the military prowess that can be unleashed upon a country and the people inhabiting it.

The Trojan Horse carrying the “magic box”

But how come that for too long a time many have accepted the deployment of this economic weapon of mass destruction? What further rhetorical tools are used to justify the imposition of crippling sanctions?

To maintain the moral high-ground, at each and every round of ever-tightening sanctions Western leaders hasten to highlight that the measures adopted are not aimed at the people of Iran who, they never fail to add, deserve a better life than under the present regime. This implies that Iranians in turn somehow deserve the Western sanctions being proffered to them by a caring Uncle Sam to alleviate their misery and desperation, and to revitalize their hopes and aspirations. Many, including some Iranians themselves, have long bought into the rhetoric of the sanctions’ imposers that the economic measures will boost the people’s standing against a handicapped tyrant.

Asked what the sanctions entail, both representatives from the imposing countries and the proponents of sanctions promptly provide us with a glance into the “magic box” that is deployed in the fight against tyranny: the notorious human-rights violators, the tyrant’s accomplices, have been identified and placed on an ever-expanding blacklist that prohibits them from travelling abroad and from accessing their international bank accounts; means of repression and control used by the tyrant against dissent are not sold to him anymore (at least not officially by the West). Finally, to paralyze the tyrant’s external aggression, the provision of so-called dual-use items, i.e. items that also have a military purpose, are banned.

Rarely, someone will ask about the real utility and efficacy of such measures in alleviating the repression dissident Iranians are exposed to: What is the use of prohibiting someone to travel beyond the region who nearly never does so? Has the tyrant been so naïve as not to recognize that he can purchase the same instruments of repression from a panoply of willful sellers on a globalized market? Do we care that the vast majority of items banned under the “dual-use” rubric are in fact used for civilian purposes? As in the cases of the “dual-use” items prohibited from getting into Iraq yesterday and into Gaza today, they constitute the most basic goods needed by various sectors of the civilian economy.

If the usefulness of such measures is next to negligible, so is there no point whatsoever to this “magic box”? While all the above-mentioned restrictions may be morally justified, the key point is that its contents reflect only a very tiny percentage of the entire sanctions package that overwhelmingly has nothing to do with those measures enlisted and proudly enunciated.

However, because of the severity of the situation that has come about as a result of these sanctions, for over a year this Trojan Horse argument can no longer be sold with the ease that it used to be. The reason is that Iranians inside and outside the country have themselves felt the scourge of the sanctions on their everyday life, and begun to comprehend that the measures are by no means targeted but indeed crippling.

Nevertheless, respected figures such as the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi (whose tireless commitment for human rights needs to be commended) and some Western-based human-rights organizations (such as Justice For Iran whose executive director is human-rights lawyer Shadi Sadr) keep on feeding the Trojan Horse argument by incessantly calling for “intelligent” and “targeted sanctions against the regime”, thus demanding the senseless and utterly useless growth of that “magic box”. After all, is there any evidence to suggest that such demands have in any way benefited the cause of freedom and democracy in Iran? Or, rather, have they provided a cover of legitimacy for the continuation of the sanctions policy in its entirety? Hardly acknowledged by proponents of “smart sanctions” who succumb to the adventurous illusion of having a say in the design and implementation of sanctions is the larger institutional and political structures in which the latter occurs.[5] After all, in the “sanctions industry” – which includes shady figures from liberal “humanitarian imperialists” to pro-bellum neoconservatives – the potential suffering by Iran’s civil society hardly plays a role.[6] For those cheerleaders of “smart sanctions” both this larger picture as well as the domestic social, economic and political fallouts of sanctions is widely ignored in their analytical and political work. Therefore, one must bitterly admit, some freedom fighters have assumed the role of useful stooges for the economic strangulation of Iranians.

But how may Iranians themselves feel about the “free world’s” noble gesture of emphatical goodwill? Did the honorable cavalry of sanctions ever contemplated how it was for those people “who deserved a better life than under the present regime” to actually live in a country that is under a severe sanctions regime? What it felt like, when the cost of rent and basic food stuffs are constantly on the rise; when the country’s currency has lost half of its value; when the specter of unemployment is boundlessly rising due to an economy virtually cut off from the ever so vital international trade; when international banking transactions, be it for personal or commercial purposes, if possible at all, can only be made at much higher fees via an increasingly limited number of third countries; when every boarding of an aircraft resembles a gamble with your life due to the lack of spare parts; when food supplies from abroad cannot unload their cargo because of lack of insurance; and when the stock of life-saving medication and equipment is rapidly depleting, with the specter of a humanitarian crisis clearly emerging on the horizon. This is only a piece of the gigantic dimensions of their “targeted sanctions against the regime”. Similar reports from Iran are reaching us at an accelerated rate, day by day; they are accompanied by voices of desperation, people for whom in a repressive system the air to breathe becomes even thinner by way of sanctions.

The people as hostage: Economic sanctions and democratization

The sanctions narrative is predicated upon the idea that there is a positive relationship between sanctions and democratization, for the tyrant is tamed and the people empowered.

Furthermore, there is a silent but nevertheless clearly heard hope that seems to unite Western politicians and some exiled Iranians alike: The economic hardship thanks to the sanctions would direct the people’s anger towards the regime and ultimately bring it down in an act of extreme popular resentment. After all, there can be no freedom without sacrifice, echoes the loud heckling from parts of the Iranian diaspora from Los Angeles to London. The price is high but the time has come to pay it, Ramin also invokes on Facebook. Almost spitting, Sara replies, “We are paying the price for our freedom: In case you’ve missed it, the Evin prison is overcrowded!” Seen from the comfortable SUV in California, this concept which exhibits a misanthropic dimension hailing the principle “The greater the suffering, the greater the hope!” may have a certain charm. However, the underlying assumption is that it is acceptable to collectively punish Iranian society for the sake of a greater good – however ill-defined the latter may be.

On the ground, however, there is a connection whose logic we would never dare to doubt within the Western hemisphere: a sustainable and socially just democratic change is dependent not only on the energies of the middle class, but also on the intervention of working people and the poor. It is precisely this middle class, the workers, and the poor that are sanctioned to death in Iran. To put it differently, a person struggling for economic survival barely has the luxury of engaging as a citoyen in the struggle for democracy.

Young Iranians, who form the bulk of the population, suffer most extremely at the hands of economic sanctions.[7] These are the same people whom the West otherwise has chosen as torchbearers of a future democracy in Iran. Instead of assuming such a role, these same people are subjected to collective punishment.

Iran sanctions – A prime showpiece: Widening the power gap between state and society

Taking into consideration the academic findings about the impact of sanctions, the Iranian case can potentially qualify as a prime showpiece: authoritarian regimes driven into a corner usually increase their repression against all kinds of opposition and are also able to shift the costs of sanctions onto the population, as a result of which they can prolong their rule.[8] The sanctions-imposing governments can hardly be unaware that entities connected to the ruling system, such as the Revolutionary Guards’ economic empire, profit from the sanctions. With legal trade virtually illegalized, the civilian economic sectors across the board are damned to head-shakingly observe how black-channel operations run by powerful circles of corruption and nepotism flourish. Hence, as a precise negative image of the above narrative, the regime can even extend its power vis-à-vis civil society as a result of sanctions.[9]

Aware of such fatal consequences, civil-society representatives from inside Iran have consistently opposed sanctions. The West, which is always boasting of its support for the cause of democracy in Iran, has simply preferred to ignore these voices.

Sanctions halting centrifuges: A political fairy-tale

The pronouncement by the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the occasion of another round of sanctions reflects the prior concern of the West’s political class: “The point is that we cannot accept that Iran rushes towards the nuclear bomb.” Hardly anyone, however, recalls that since the massive tightening of sanctions in 2006, the number of centrifuges spinning in Iran has more than decupled (by mid-2012), before again doubling (by the end of 2013). In other words, in total inversion of Western political expectations, the escalation of the sanctions was accompanied by an escalation of the nuclear program.[10] It is a fair assumption that in fact the nuclear program has much to do with a sense of uncertainty, for after all the country, literally besieged by enemy troops, was ever since threatened with war in the wake of its revolution – a perception that can hardly be extinguished by way of sanctions.[11]

In addition, sanctions aim to force concessions from Iran. Rather than adopting the Western cost–benefit calculation, that is, giving in when the costs of sanctions become unbearable, Iran’s leaders react with defiance and proclaim their will to “resist” as long as it would take.[12] Sanctions also feed the regime’s propaganda machinery about the malicious West who aims at subjugating the Iranian people.

A very common claim about the success of the sanctions policy gains currency every single time the Western media reports that Iran has agreed to “return” to the negotiating table. Only as result of the ever-tightening sanctions regime, it is suggested, the stubborn Iranians have agreed to engage in negotiations. However, the truth is that Iran has shown more willingness to talk to the other side than vice versa – remember the Bush/Cheney administration’s refusal to talk to so-called “rogue states” precisely at a time when Tehran proved to be key in establishing a post-Taliban order after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan? Now, with the Hassan Rohani administration the same Iranian foreign-policy school of thought has resurfaced, which is likewise committed to constructive engagement with the West primarily out of strategic conviction and not the sanctions’ weight.[13]

The almost forgotten Iraqi tragedy – or: A favorite tool of Western policy

It appears as if there has never been the Iraqi tragedy – indeed a historical chapter of utter disgrace for Western civilization. First of all, this does not refer to the criminal invasion and occupation of the country in 2003. It was throughout the 1990s that this erstwhile cradle of civilization was already barbarically destroyed. The sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and pushed for by Washington and London, were soon thereafter condemned as genocidal by one UN humanitarian coordinator (Denis Halliday) to the next (Hans von Sponeck). Nothing less than the social fabric of Iraq was shattered; food supply, the health and education systems all collapsed, as did the infrastructure.[14] While women and children – the most fragile members of society – suffered the most,[15] the tyrant remained firmly in his seat. It was a “different kind of war” waged against Iraq, as Von Sponeck later chronicled in his book.[16]

Even then, it was said that sanctions would intelligently target the Iraqi leadership while sparing the population; even then, it was about the “credibility” of Western policy facing a danger of utmost proportions. “Sanctions will be there until the end of time, or as long as Saddam lasts”, then U.S. President Bill Clinton explained in November 1997. Confronted with the fact that the sanctions had killed half a million Iraqi children, his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded with the legendary statement: “I think it’s a very hard choice, but we think that the price is worth it.” The macabre logic to sacrifice countless lives on the altar of Realpolitik finds a certain resonance today, when Western politicians can hardly hide their joy about ever-stricter sanctions on Iran. Having this in mind, the famous Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji apocalyptically asked: “How many children under five years will have to die in Iran, which has three times as many inhabitants as Iraq?”[17]

Conclusion: Crippling sanctions as an act of barbarism

The fact that the concept of “targeted” or “smart” sanctions, which is an inextricable feature of the dominant political discourse, has been adopted unaltered and uncritically by the public discourse in general and many intellectuals in particular is a testimony of our complacency, our unwavering belief in the benign nature of any actions taken by the democratic West. It seems as if we prefer a convenient lie to an inconvenient truth. This self-deception is in fact a necessary act, if we seek to keep wagging the moralizing finger, both domestically and internationally.

Most importantly, what does this tell us about our moral constitution, if we are ready to sacrifice entire societies for our purported Realpolitik interests? Thus, in the righteous fight against tyranny, we hide our very own barbarity. For our sanctions are a brutal assault on an entire country and its more than century-old struggle for democracy and self-determination, whose survival has now become dependent on the drip of our incessant and crippling sanctions regime. Tumor-like the sanctions have infected all areas of Iranian life, acting like a slow poison injected into society.

In a move of Orwellian proportions, the dominant discourse has unhesitatingly turned sanctions into an act of peace. If we unmask that our sanctions discourse is infested by double standards and hypocrisy, the naked truth will be that we are waging an economic war against the people of Iran; that the sanctions are indeed targeted, but rather at the civilian population; and that the sanctions constitute a form of structural violence directed at Iran’s social fabric.

Therefore, two prospects are currently to be feared , if the election of the centrist Hassan Rohani as Iran’s new president will not be seized by the West to bring about détente and the removal of sanctions: either a suffering populace has to battle for sheer survival within a securitized system that will not cease to be cemented through the external threat of force and sanctions alike; or, in the wake of an officially proclaimed policy failure of “targeted sanctions”, the call for “targeted bombs” comes along swiftly, and needless to say, war will bury any prospect for democracy and decent life for decades to come.

So in the end, the entire image of the sanctions as civilization’s magic wand is nothing but an insidious illusion, the sanctions package merely a poisonous mix wrapped in gift paper, the story of a neat and clean tyrannicide nothing but a PR-spun fairy tale. The Iranian experience of the double burden was not long ago expressed by the famous dissident cartoonist Mana Neyestani on the occasion of the imposition of severe unilateral sanctions by the European Union. In that caricature, the EU’s leather shoe steps on the military boots of the regime underneath of which lies the democracy activist crushed into the ground. While the regime only reacts with a meager “ouch”, the now doubly crushed democracy activist yells in direction to the EU: “To hell with your support!”

All in all, the West has put together a narrative with which both itself and the Iranian regime can live; but the people of Iran cannot. We should pose ourselves two honest questions: Does not everybody enjoy the same human and social rights regardless of the political system they live in? And: If sanctions keep tyrants alive, what would happen if they were removed in toto?

[1] See e.g. Younis, Mohamed (2013) “Iranians Feel Bite of Sanctions, Blame U.S., Not Own Leaders,” Gallup, 7 February.

[2] Ottolenghi, Emanuele (2010) “Setting the Sanctions Agenda,” The Journal of International Security Affairs, Washington, DC: The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, No. 18 (Spring), pp. 19–30, here p. 26.

[3] See e.g. Carter, Barry E. (2008) “Economic Coercion,” in: Wolfrum, Rüdiger (ed.) Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Oxford University Press, last update by September 2009; online version available via www.mpepil.com.

[4] “No State may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights or to secure from it advantages of any kind.” UN General Assembly, Resolution 2131 (XX), 21 December 1965, para. 2. The resolution was decided without any vote against and with only one abstention. See also Carter, op. cit., Section 7. For a discussion, see Fathollah-Nejad, Ali (2012) “Der internationale Konflikt um Iran und das Völkerrecht: Versuch einer Gesamtdarstellung” [The International Iran Conflict and International Law: Towards a Complete Overview], in: Crome, Erhard (ed.) Die UNO und das Völkerrecht in den internationalen Beziehungen der Gegenwart [The UN and International Law in Contemporary International Relations], Potsdam (Germany): WeltTrends (Potsdamer Textbücher, No. 18), pp. 137–206, here pp. 187–196.

[5] See e.g. Fayazmanesh, Sasan (2003) “The Politics of U.S. Economic Sanctions on Iran,” Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Summer), pp. 221–240.

[6] See Fathollah-Nejad, Ali (2010) “Collateral Damage of Iran Sanctions,” The ColdType Reader, No. 46 (May), pp. 56–57.

[7] Salehi-Isfahani, Djavad (2010) “Iran’s Youth, The Unintended Victims of Sanctions,” Dubai Initiative – Policy Brief, Cambridge, MA: The Dubai Initiative, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

[8] For a good introduction, see Parsi, Trita & Bahrami, Natasha (2012) “Blunt Instrument: Sanctions Don’t Promote Democratic Change,” Boston Review (online), 6 February. See also Fathollah-Nejad, Ali (2013) Nefarious Fallouts of Iran Sanctions: Time for Abandoning Coercive Diplomacy, Asfar: The Middle Eastern Journal (UK), No. 3 (August).

[9] See Fathollah-Nejad, Ali (2013) “Iran’s Civil Society Grappling with a Triangular Dynamic,” in: Aarts, Paul & Cavatorta, Francesco (eds.) Civil Society in Syria and Iran: Activism in Authoritarian Contexts, Boulder, CO & London: Lynne Rienner, pp. 39–68, esp. pp. 52–62 (“Economic Sanctions and State–Society Relations”).

[10] Khajehpour, Bijan & Marashi, Reza & Parsi, Trita (2013) »Never Give In and Never Give Up«: The Impact of Sanctions on Tehran’s Nuclear Calculations, Washington, DC: National Iranian American Council (NIAC), March, pp. 26–28.

[11] See Parsi, Trita (2012) “How Obama Should Talk to Iran,” Washington Post, 14 January.

[12] See International Crisis Group (2013) Spider Web: The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions, Brussels: International Crisis Group (Middle East Report, No. 138, February); Khajehpour & Marashi & Parsi (2013) op. cit.

[13] See e.g. “Rohanis Agenda: Was will der neue iranische Präsident?” [Rohani’s Agenda: What Does the New Iranian President Want?], Ali Fathollah-Nejad interviewed by Regine Naeckel, Hintergrund: Das Nachrichtenmagazin (Germany), No. 4/2013 (Fall 2013), pp. 52–55.

[14] See Gordon, Joy (2010) Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[15] On women, see Al-Ali, Nadje (2003) “Women, Gender Relations, and Sanctions in Iraq,” in: Inati, Shams C. (ed) Iraq: Its History, People and Politics, Amherst, NY: Humanity Books.

[16] Von Sponeck, Hans-Christof (2006) A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq, New York: Berghahn Books.

[17] Ganji, Akbar (2011) “Mojâzât-e régime yâ mojâzât-e mardom-e Irân?!” [Penalties for the Regime or the People of Iran?!], Rooz online, 8 December.

[18] See e.g. “The Deal with Iran, and What Comes Next,” Al-Monitor, 24 November 2013.



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2014) “Long Live the Tyrant! The Myth of Benign Sanctions – plus Epilogue on the Geneva Agreement with Iran”, in: Konrad Adenauer Foundation [KAS] (ed.) Iran-Reader 2014, compiled by Oliver Ernst, Sankt Augustin & Berlin (Germany): KAS, pp. 81–96.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Long Live the Tyrant! The Myth of Benign Sanctions“, New Politics (New York), Vol. 14, No. 3 (Summer), pp. 17–24.



The text is a slightly updated version of the same essay that appeared in New Politics (New York), Vol. 14, No. 3 (Summer 2013). A shorter version of this article (that has initially been drafted in late 2011) has been published in the leading intellectual outlet of the German-speaking world, in the “Feuilleton” pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 3 January 2013. It was published in an Arabic translation on Jadaliyya (Washington, DC & Beirut: Arab Studies Institute) on 15 February 2013.

A version of the epilogue was first published as “The Geneva Accords and the Return of the »Defensive Realists«,” LobeLog (U.S. foreign affairs blog of the international news wire service Inter Press Service), 5 December 2013. A German version was published as “Das Genfer Abkommen mit Iran: Eine Folge der Sanktionspolitik?” [The Geneva Agreement with Iran: A Result of the Sanctions Policy?], inamo: Berichte und Analysen zu Politik und Gesellschaft des Nahen und Mittleren Ostens, Berlin: Informationsprojekt Naher und Mittlerer Osten (inamo), Vol. 19, No. 76 (Winter), p. 3.



Oliver Ernst (2014) “Iranisches Exil und Reformbewegung im Iran: Divergenzen und gemeinsame Transformationsperspektiven“, Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (APuZ), Vol. 64, No. 42/2014 (13 October), Bonn (Germany): The Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, bpb), pp. 36-41.

Nefarious Fallouts of Iran Sanctions


This article is based on a talk the author gave at the first-ever expert conference on Iran sanctions to have taken place in Europe. Organized by the Paris Academy of Geopolitics (PAG) at the French Senate on 3 June 2013, the conference assembled legal and economic experts as well as three former European ambassadors to Iran and former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. The passages on Iran’s new President Hassan Rohani have been added in retrospect.

The article has been originally published by the New York-based World Policy Institute, and republished by the Moscow-based Oriental Review. A version of this article has been published in its French original on Le Huffington Post (France and Canadian Quebec editions), Mondialisation.ca (Canada) and in the current issue of the PAG journal Géostratégiques. A German translation will appear in the upcoming issue of the Vienna-based international-politics journal International: Die Zeitschrift für internationale Politik.

The article demonstrates that on various grounds (socio-economic, politico-diplomatic, geopolitical and geo-economic) that the sanctions regime against Iran has been counterproductive. Crucially for Western policymakers and contrary to officially stated goals, the rapid escalation of economic sanctions during the past few years has been accompanied by the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program. The article concludes by urging the sanctions imposers to prepare the political and institutional grounds for meaningful sanctions relief – a prospect the bulk of Iranians wish for and their new President Hassan Rohani is predestined to deliver if the West reciprocates with goodwill.

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, has promised to ease the tensions surrounding the international relations of his country. In line with the will of the majority of Iranians, the issue of economic sanctions – weighing heavily on the latter’s day-to-day life – will be a key to that end.

In general, the purpose of sanctions is to force a political opponent to do what she would not do otherwise. In the case of the sanctions imposed on Iran – during the course of what is commonly but simplistically referred to as the “nuclear crisis” – the stated goal has been to force a reversal of Tehran’s nuclear calculus toward slowing down or even halting its nuclear program. This goal has clearly not been met. Instead this period has witnessed ever more crippling sanctions – a form of “structural violence” exerted upon an entire country and its people.

On the politico-diplomatic level: Hardening the fronts

Economic sanctions are one of the most preferred instruments of Western foreign policy. The immediate Western reaction to the Syrian crisis is the most recent evidence of this. In the Iranian case, sanctions have been an integral part of the transatlantic strategy pursued against Tehran, code-named “coercive diplomacy” in Diplomatic Studies. There, sanctions are usually presented as a quasi-peaceful means and as such inherently part of a purely diplomatic approach geared towards avoiding a military confrontation. However, as the Iraqi case demonstrates, sanctions are the last step before military action. In other words, “smart sanctions” are likely to be succeeded by “smart bombs.”

Apart from this worst-case scenario, sanctions have not proven to facilitate the resolution of conflicts; on the contrary, they rather tend to harden the opposing fronts. Frequently, opposing sides view sanctions through fundamentally different prisms. In this case, while the West conceives of sanctions in a cost–benefit framework – the heavier the costs imposed on the targeted country by way of sanctions, the more willing the sanctioned state will be to offer concessions. Iran on its part sees them as a means of illegitimate pressure against which she ought to resist. This explains why in the last couple of years the escalation of sanctions was accompanied by that of the nuclear program. For example, in 2006 – before the Iran sanctions were elevated to an undoubtedly crippling dimension by the United States and the European Union – Iran had a thousand centrifuges; the number today is much more than tenfold. This reality of the nuclear dynamics in the wake of sanctions remains largely ignored in Western capitals.

Moreover, it should be stressed that policymakers in the West have so far devoted much more time and energy to identifying which new set of sanctions to impose rather than to committedly and creatively finding a diplomatic solution of the decade-old stalemate.

On the socio-economic level: Widening the power gap between the state and society

The popular rhetoric of sanctions incorrectly characterizes the nature of the socio-economic effects imposed on the target country. Contrary to what is commonly claimed, sanctions actually weaken the lower and middle classes, particularly affecting the most vulnerable in society – workerswomen andthe youth. As a result, the power gap between the state and society widens. All this, as a matter of fact, actually dampens the prospect of popular uprising. A person struggling for economic survival barely has the luxury of engaging as a citoyen in the struggle for democracy. This explains the firm renunciation of sanctions by Iran’s civil society – voices that the West has largely chosen to ignore.

In political-economic terms, sanctions have largely paralyzed Iran’s civilian economy while state and semi-state economic entities – especially those associated with the Revolutionary Guards – have been able to benefit inter alia by monopolizing imports of various goods via “black channels.” State resources have buoyed those companies that have access to them, leaving others to drown in the tide of rising costs. Sanctions have also prompted enormous growth in the volume of bilateral trade between Iran and China (still about $ 40 billion according to the Iran–China Chamber of Commerce and Industries which is closely related to the regime) – to the detriment of producers and jobs in Iran. The reality of sanctions is that they have cemented the politico-economic power configuration in Iran.

On geopolitical and geo-economic levels: Putting a brake on Iran’s development

Sanctions produce far-reaching effects at the geopolitical and geo-economic levels. Corresponding with the implicit geopolitical rationale for sanctions – that if you cannot control or influence a country, you will resort to weakening it – these restrictions have indeed stunted Iran’s  development trajectory. This inflicted damage has not, however, produced the ultimate goal of reversing Iran’s nuclear and regional policies and has in fact damaged Western interests by boosting the clout of countries like China, Russia, and other regional states.

In the wake of the U.S.-pressured withdrawal of the Europeans from the Iranian market, Iran was virtually handed over to China on a silver plate – something Beijing is indeed quite appreciative of. China’s economic presence in Iran can be witnessed all across the board: from the construction of the Tehran Metro to the exploration of Persian Gulf oil and gas fields.

Iran’s technocrats – a prime victim of the sanctions – observe this development with great concern. Among other things, they have seen that a healthy competition between different foreign competitors is sorely missing, and that the lack of high-tech (formerly delivered by the West) has reduced the quality of domestic production. All of this has a negative impact (mid- and long-term) on Iran’s economic and technological development. If the situation remains unchanged, such damage can hardly be compensated. As another case in point, the sale of Iranian oil to large customers such as China or India has turned into barter – a de facto “junk for oil” program has emerged. In addition, during the past couple of years China has been given preferential rates by Iran for its oil imports.

Finally, some of Iran’s neighboring countries also benefit from the sanctions. Most significantly, due to the energy sanctions against Iran, Russia can safeguard its quasi-monopoly on Europe’s energy supply – a strategic interest held by Moscow which is unlikely to be reversed easily. To a much lesser degree but still noteworthy, Turkey – which has turned into the sole land trade corridor reaching Iran from the West – has seen its profits in its dealings with Iran risen sharply. Not surprisingly, its business press has been cheering the Iran sanctions as providing Ankara with a competitive trade advantage. Also off the radar, Qatar which in the Persian Gulf is sharing the world’s largest gas field with Iran, has been able to exploit South Pars much more rapidly than Iran given the latter’s lack of access to advanced technologies. This has resulted in a tremendous gap of revenues between the two countries of many several billion dollars.

Conclusion: Time for Abandoning Coercive Diplomacy

Ultimately, the policy of sanctions is counter-productive on multiple levels, most sensitively on diplomatic and socio-economic grounds. The sanctions – whether called “crippling” or “targeted” – disproportionately affect the civilian population. “Smart sanctions” are very much an oxymoron as “smart bombs” which allegedly function in surgical precision. And like their military counterparts, “targeted sanctions” inflict extensive “collateral damage.”

Despite the political need to seriously reconsider sanctions as a tool for a judicious and solution-oriented foreign policy, there are many political and institutional barriers to overcome before the extremely dense web of Iran sanctions can be dissolved – which remains not only a huge political challenge but also a moral one. The first step in this direction will be the sober realization among policymakers that while sanctions do have effects, these are not the ones officially proclaimed or desired – neither in socio-economic terms nor in the sphere of Realpolitik when it comes to altering Tehran’s nuclear calculation. Leaving the sanctions against Iran in place advances the specter of an Iraqization of Iran – with all its adverse effects internally (destruction of society) as well as externally (war and destabilization of an already too fragile regional balance).

To pave the way for a new chapter in Iran’s relations with the West, Rohani has already proved his wisdom by his choice of foreign minister. Mohammad-Javad Zarif, Iran’s former ambassador to the UN, has already been labeled as “Tehran’s leading connoisseur of the U.S. political elite”. All this undoubtedly presents the most suited prerequisite towards the aim of alleviating the multi-level liability that sanctions constitute. But at the end, it is the responsibility of those who have imposed the sanctions to initiate the process of their removal. The ball is now in the West’s court. It would truly be the “height of irresponsibility” if one missed this opportunity offered by the Iranian people who have already paid dearly for an utterly miscalculated transatlantic “coercive diplomacy.”



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Fallouts of Iran Sanctions“, World Policy Journal (online), New York: World Policy Institute, 31 July;

▪ republished on Oriental Review (Moscow), 1 August;

published as “Nefarious Fallouts of Iran Sanctions” on:

Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 5 August;

Payvand Iran News, 5 August;

Iranian.com, 5 August;

Fair Observer, 9 August.

Asfar: The Middle Eastern Journal, No. 3 (August 2013).





“a must-read” — Action Coalition Against Sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s Civil Society Grappling With a Triangular Dynamic



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Iran’s Civil Society Grappling with a Triangular Dynamic[pdf], in: Aarts, Paul & Cavatorta, Francesco (eds.) Civil Society in Syria and Iran: Activism in Authoritarian Contexts, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, pp. 39–68.


Sir Richard Dalton (Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London & UK Ambassador to Iran, 2003–6):

“I agree with [the] analysis and conclusions […] which is a depressing conclusion for the fate of civil society”

Editors in Jadaliyya interview:

“of particular relevance is the insight being delivered by Ali Fathollah-Nejad (“Iran’s Civil Society Grappling with a Triangular Dynamic”) on the nefarious effects of the international sanctions on Iran’s civil society. He convincingly shows that economic sanctions widen the gap between the authoritarian state and civil society, cementing and even boosting existing power configurations while hollowing out social forces indispensable to a process of democratization.”

From the introduction (“Civil Society in Syria and Iran”) by the editors

“The contributions by Line Khatib in Chapter 2 [“Syria’s Civil Society as a Tool for Regime Legitimacy”] and Ali Fathollah-Nejad in Chapter 3 [“Iran’s Civil Society Grappling With a Triangular Dynamic”] provide a sophisticated analysis of how the international dimension and domestic factors interact to not only shape the power structures of the regimes and their legitimizing ideologies but also reveal how such a dynamic interaction partly explains how civil society actors respond and operate. […] Fathollah-Nejad’s chapter on Iran focuses on the role of the international community in shaping activism. Iran traditionally had a rather lively civil society and the revolutionary spirit has always called for greater mobilization on the part of citizens. Over the last decade, however, Iran has become the focus of international attention as the country became a much more prominent regional actor. The nuclear issue and the support of Islamist organizations such as Hamas and Hizbullah have heightened significantly the tensions with the West. These international dynamics have considerable domestic repercussions, and Fathollah-Nejad argues that they are crucial in structuring activism in Iran.” (pp. 11-12)

Book description

What are the dynamics of civic activism in authoritarian regimes? How do new social actors—many of them informal, “below the radar” groups—interact with these regimes? What mechanisms do the power elite employ to deal with societal dissidence? The authors of Civil Society in Syria and Iran explore the nature of state-society relations in two countries that are experiencing popular demands for political pluralism amid the constraints of authoritarian retrenchment.

About the editors

  • Dr. Paul Aarts is senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Amsterdam. He is co-founder of ZemZem, a Dutch magazine focusing on the Middle East and North Africa, and co-author of Saudi Arabia in the Balance: Political Economy, Society, Foreign Affairs.
  • Dr. Francesco Cavatorta is senior lecturer in the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University. His publications include Civil Society and Democratization in the Arab World and The International Dimension of the Failed Algerian Transition.

Reviews (excerpt)

Max Weiss (Elias Boudinot Bicentennial Preceptor and Assistant Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University) in Syrian Studies Association Bulletin, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2013):

“Ali Fathollah-Nejad argues that Iranian civil society has been placed in a state of siege (63), caught between an authoritarian regime, on the one hand, and external factors—including a hostile geopolitical environment and crippling economic sanctions—that limit their capabilities, on the other hand.”

Stephan Giersdorf (Lecturer, Institute of Political Science, Heidelberg University, Germany) in Democratization, Vol. 20, No. 7 (August 2013), pp. 1-3:

“Overall, the volume is a useful contribution to an expanding focus of scholarly endeavour, one which aspires to unravel the dynamics of civil society activism within a seemingly unfavourable authoritarian context. […] Ali Fathollah-Nejad shows for the Iranian case that international sanctions on the regime had a counterproductive effect with regard to the development of vocal civil society groups by indirectly reducing the space of democratic activism. […] analysts interested in civil society actors in Syria and Iran will benefit from the book.”

Dr. Said Rezaeiejan (Political Science, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam) in: ZemZem: Tijdschrift over het Midden-Oosten, Noord-Afrika en islam (The Netherlands), 2013, No. 2, pp. 92-96:

“Interessant in geval van Iran is het onderzoek van de Iraanse promovendus Ali Fat[h]ollah-Nejad. In zijn bijdrage ‘Iran’s Civil Society as a Tool for Regime legitimacy’ [sic] laat hij zien hoe internationale sancties tegen het land de kloof tussen het bewind en de civil society vergroten en hoe de staat de leemte vult door de eigen GONGOS. De door het Westen ingestelde ‘smart sanctions’ blijken helemaal niet smart te zijn en hebben een averechtse werking. Ze maken de autoritaire staat sterker. Fat[h]ollah-Nejad laat de negatieve rol van de sancties overtuigend zien aan de hand van empirische voorbeelden met betrekking tot Iraanse vrouwen- en studentenorganisaties en arbeidersvakbonden.
De negatieve rol van de sancties op Iraanse studenten in en buiten Iran is noemenswaardig. Aan de ene kant worden wetenschappelijke artikelen van Iraanse studenten in Iran niet meer in ‘peer-reviewed journals’ geplaatst en wordt hun de toegang tot academische online bladen onmogelijk gemaakt. Dit beleid zorgt voor een negatieve beeldvorming over het Westen onder academici. In hun ogen maakt het Westen geen onderscheid tussen wetenschap en politiek. Iraanse studenten die in het buitenland studeren ondervinden op een andere manier de gevolgen van de sancties; hun visa worden vaak niet verlengd en ze kunnen geen financiële transacties doen omdat het Iraanse bankensysteem als gevolg van de laatste ronde van sancties uitgesloten is van het internationale betalingsverkeer. Ook krijgen Iraanse hoogleraren geen of met veel moeite visa om conferenties in de EU dan wel de VS te kunnen bijwonen. Bovendien heeft de instorting en de devaluatie van de Iraanse Rial ervoor gezorgd dat studeren in het buitenland voor veel families onbetaalbaar is geworden. Deze devaluatie is een directe gevolg van de crisis van de Iraanse economie wat het gevolg is van de sancties.”

Review by John Waterbury in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2014.

Dr. Jubin M. Goodarzi (Professor of International Relations, Webster University, Geneva, Switzerland) in Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 12, Issue 2 (June), pp.  506-508:

“Rich with information and analysis on the various aspects and effects of authoritarianism in Syria and Iran […]. Indispensable and highly recommended for those who study the Middle East and follow the literature on authoritarianism in general.”


David Lewis [Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK] (2013) “Civil Society and the Authoritarian State: Cooperation, Contestation and Discourse“, Journal of Civil Society, Vol. 9, Issue 3, pp. 325-340.

Economic Sanctions against Iran – Pargar (BBC Persian TV)

“Pargar” – Weekly roundtable in which our guests try to answer some of the challenging and controversial questions in modern society.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Moderator: Daryoush Karimi


Panel 1

  • Dr. Hassan Hakimian (Director, London Middle East Institute, School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS], University of London & Reader, Economics Department, SOAS)
  • Dr. Djamshid Assadi (Burgundy School of Business, France)

Panel 2

  • Ali Fathollah-Nejad (PhD candidate in International Relations, SOAS)
  • Fariba Shirazi (journalist, London)



Economic Sanctions against Iran – Pargar (BBC Persian TV) – October 2012 from Ali Fathollah-Nejad on Vimeo.

Download the audio file (26 MB; 56 mins).



  • The program has been edited towards the end. What I said at the end were basically two points: (1) I reacted to the debate at the end of the show about the Iran-West stand-off by merely pointing out that the West’s approach towards Iran is called “coercive diplomacy” in Diplomatic Studies not without a reason; (2) I asked whether “smart bombs” would follow in the wake of “smart sanctions.”
  • As to the number of children dying from the effects of the sanctions regime on Iraq (which lasted from 1991 to 2003), here is a collection of sources taken from the Wikipedia article “Sanctions against Iraq: Effects on the Iraqi people during sanctions” (accessed on 17 November 2012), which can provide the basis for both my own indication of 500,000 and the one by Dr. Hakimian’s of 250,000:

‘Researcher Richard Garfield estimated that “a minimum of 100,000 and a more likely estimate of 227,000 excess deaths among young children from August 1991 through March 1998” from all causes including sanctions.[27] Other estimates have put the number at 170,000 children.[14][28][29] UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that

if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998. As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues which states: “Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war.” [30]

Estimates of deaths due to sanctions

Estimates of excess deaths during sanctions vary depending on the source. The estimates vary [30][37] due to differences in methodologies, and specific time-frames covered.[38] A short listing of estimates follows:

– Unicef: 500,000 children (including sanctions, collateral effects of war). “[As of 1999] [c]hildren under 5 years of age are dying at more than twice the rate they were ten years ago.”[30][39]
– Former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday: “Two hundred thirty-nine thousand children 5 years old and under” as of 1998.[40]
– “probably … 170,000 children”, Project on Defense Alternatives, “The Wages of War”, 20. October 2003[41]
– 350,000 excess deaths among children “even using conservative estimates”, Slate Explainer, “Are 1 Million Children Dying in Iraq?”, 9. October 2001.[42]
– Economist Michael Spagat: “very likely to be [less than] than half a million children” because estimation efforts are unable to isolate the effects of sanctions alone due to the lack of “anything resembling a controlled experiment”[43], and “one potential explanation” for the statistics showing a decline in child mortality was that “they were not real, but rather results of manipulations by the Iraqi government.”[43]
– “Richard Garfield, a Columbia University nursing professor … cited the figures 345,000-530,000 for the entire 1990-2002 period”[8] for sanctions-related excess deaths.[44]
– Zaidi, S. and Fawzi, M. C. S., (1995) The Lancet British medical journal: 567,000 children.[45] A co-author (Zaidi) did a follow-up study in 1996, finding “much lower … mortality rates … for unknown reasons.”[46]
– Iraq expert Amatzia Baram compared the country’s population growth rates over several censuses and found there to be almost no difference in the rate of Iraq’s population growth between 1977 and 1987 (35.8 percent), and between 1987 and 1997 (35.1 percent), suggesting a much lower total.[47]

Collateral Damages of Smart Sanctions on Iran | Unkluge Kollateralschäden „smarter Sanktionen“ | Les dommages collatéraux des « sanctions ciblées »


»excellent« (Noam Chomsky)


For French and German versions, please scroll down.

The prospects for democracy, socio-economic development, and conflict resolution will suffer if the West continues to rely on punitive measures

This time, the warmongers’silly season found its apogée in U.S. neo-conservative Daniel Pipes’ advice to Obama to “bomb Iran,” which appeared shortly after Tony Blair, having outlined why he helped invade Iraq, remarked ominously, “We face the same problem about Iran today.” The Chilcot Inquiry in the United Kingdom on how the Iraq War was launched ironically coincided with a considerable military build-up in the Persian Gulf region. All this occurred amidst the continued struggle of Iran’s civil rights movement and proclamations of Western leaders to be in support of the latter’s efforts. But is there any evidence for this?

In contradistinction to war, sanctions are widely portrayed as necessary, almost healthy medicine to bring about change in the opponent’s policies. However, as the history of the West–Iran conflict proves, sanctions have rather the state of crisis alive than contributed to its resolution. Nonetheless, Western governments do not seem to have lost their dubious fascination for them.

As the call for “crippling sanctions” became morally questionable when last summer the impressive Green wave shook the streets of Tehran for fear of wrecking the same, today the benign sounding “smart” or “targeted” sanctions are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Yet, a close look reveals a great deal of wishful thinking as to the effects of such sanctions.

Gigantic dimensions of “smart sanctions”

“Smart sanctions”, it is claimed, are a magic wand with which to decapitate evil. In the Iranian case, evil is being identified with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Originally a defense organization erected to counter Iraqi aggression in the 1980s, the Guardians have developed into an expansive socio-politico-economic conglomerate which is believed to possess unrivalled economic and political power in today’s Islamic Republic.

As we are told, “smart sanctions” shall target the Guardians’ grip on the Iranian power structure. The much neglected difficulty here – though it is widely acknowledged that the bulk of Iranian economy is now in the hands of the Guardians – is that in the end millions of civilians connected to these wide-ranging sectors thought to be controlled by the Guardians will be affected. Seen in this light, the gigantic dimension of these alleged “smart sanctions” comes to the fore.

Moreover, so-called “crippling sanctions” that target petrol supply to Iran are still en route. In anticipation of those U.S. unilateral sanctions, the world’s largest insurance companies have announced their retreat from Iran. This concerns both the financial and shipping sectors, and affects petrol supplies to Iran which imports 40 percent of its needs. Also three giant oil traders ended supplies to Iran, which amounted to half of Tehran’s imports. Needless to say, such sanctions ultimately harm the population. To add, a complete implementation thereof – i.e. preventing Asian competitors to step in – would require a naval blockade which amounts to an act of war.

Crippling the ordinary population

As stressed by civil society figures and economists, the price of sanctions is being paid by the Iranian population at large. The Iranian economy – manufacturing, agriculture, bank and financial sectors etc. – has been hurt from almost three decades of sanctions. Even today, businesses cannot easily obtain much needed goods on the international market to continue production and must often pay above-standard prices. Moreover, the scientific community has faced discrimination in areas of research as has Iran’s technological advances been slowed down.

Reflecting the dangers sanctions pose to the Green Movement, last fall Mir-Hossein Mousavi stated: “We are opposed to any types of sanctions against our nation.” The same was recently uttered by his fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi in an interview with Corriere della Serra.

Meanwhile a more fundamental problem remains – hardly acknowledged by many proponents who succumb to the adventurous illusion of having a say in the design and implementation of sanctions: They are mainly designed by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), introduced to the U.S. Congress and finally implemented by the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Leveyan AIPAC confidant. Along this process, the potential suffering by Iran’s civil society hardly plays a role.

Sanctions – either “crippling” or “smart” – ultimately harm ordinary citizens. “Smart sanctions” is as much of an oxymoron as “smart weapons” which supposedly by “surgical strikes” only take out evil components. Indeed, much as in the case of their militaristic brothers-in-sprit, in the end the “collateral damages” of “smart sanctions” remain dominant.

A futile political instrument in today’s world

More generally, in an increasingly multipolar globalized world, sanctions imposed upon energy-rich countries are basically futile as an effective policy tool. Too numerous are business-driven actors that are only too happy to jump in. Thus, Chinese, Russian, and even U.S. companies (acting via Dubai) have hugely benefitted from the European, U.S.-pressured withdrawal from the Iranian market.

Thus, sanctions – a medicine with which Western policy-circles are so obsessed with – are not a cure but a slow poison applied to the civil society and thus the civil rights movement. Sanctions as prototype of economic warfare in concert with the seasonal flaring-up of war-mongering are a dangerous mix. The deafening “drums of war” continue to bang upon the beating heart of Iran’s civil society.

Sanctions and threats of war: Poisonous for democratic development

All this suggests that sanctions are perhaps a fig leaf for other agendas. For, in contrast to Western proclamations, sanctions do harm the civil society while cementing the position of hardliners. Iran’s middle class as a result will be affected by this further isolation of the country as sanctions punish honest traders and reward corrupt ones. The Guardians with their assumed 60 harbors at the Persian Gulf control the bulk of imports and sanctions will only bolster the trend of flourishing “black channels”.

One might indeed argue that the not-so-unconscious “collateral damage” of never-ending sanctions is any meaningful transition to more democracy in Iran – a prospect which would set an uncomfortable precedent for the West’s authoritarian friends in the region.

What next: “Surgical strikes” or serious diplomacy?

At the very least, the unending story of sanctions bears testimony to Western leaders’ commitment to uphold “credibility” in the face of adverse conditions as much as to imposing their will on Iran. A futile exercise – even a dangerous one – if one begins to contemplate the aftermath of “smart sanctions” being imposed: Will the next desperate move entail “surgical strikes”?

Instead of going on believing that sanctions will one day develop their desired effects, it is high time to put the brakes. Hence, the only way forward would be to adopt a set of policies that would disarm hardliners of all sides whose business flourishes in the vicious cycle of enmity. It is only by détente that grist to the mills of radicalism can be removed – and a sustainable de-militarization of Iranian politics attained. Revoking existing sanctions on goods for civilian use could work wonders that would shake the very fundaments of confrontational postures.

Despite all frivolous claims, the diplomatic route has not been exhausted. Indeed, we are far from it. Since the core problem remains the “security dilemma” in the region, it would be wise for the West to call upon Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The transatlantic “coercive strategy” vis-à-vis Iran – as it is accurately described in Diplomatic Studies – must be suspended for it undermines prospects for peace and development towards democracy.


Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2010) “Collateral Damages of Smart Sanctions on Iran“, Informed Comment, guest editorial, 12 March;

▪ republished as “Collateral Damage of Iran Sanctions“, The ColdType Reader, No. 46 (May), pp. 56–57;

republished on Monthly Review Webzine, 12/03;

republished on Europe’s World, 15/03;

republished on Payvand Iran News, 16/03;

republished on e-International Relations (e-IR), 19/04

▪ republished as “How Smart are Sanctions?“, Iranian.com, 15/03;

▪ republished as “Sanctions on Iran: What are the Implications?“, Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 16/03;

▪ abridged version published as “Collateral Damages of Smart Sanctions“, Truthout, op-ed, 23/03.

IN CZECH |Jaké jsou důsledky sankcí na Írán?“, trans. P. Kreuz, Eastbound.cz, 17/03.



Armen Gabrielian (2010) ‘US Collusion with Saddam Hussein and Effects of Humanitarian Sanctions on Iraq‘, Examiner.com (U.S.), 5 April:

“As President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and most member of the US Congress vociferously demand the imposition of new sanctions on Iran on a daily basis, it is instructive to review the history of the relationship between the US and Iran and to study what the effect of the new sanctions might be. The new sanctions are purported to be ‘smart sanctions’ and ‘crippling sanctions.’ However, as noted in a report entitled, ‘Collateral Damages of Smart Sanctions on Iran‘, such sanctions will most likely hurt the ordinary people of Iran, not its repressive Government leaders. Even the key champions of the so-called green movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, have stated publicly that they are opposed to any new sanctions on Iran. In an earlier era, during the Clinton Administration, a similar idea was proposed and implemented through the UN Oil-for-Food Program. […]”


* * *


Les dommages collatéraux des « sanctions ciblées » contre l’Iran

En s’obstinant à infliger des « sanctions ciblées» à l’Iran, l’Occident assombrit les perspectives de démocratisation, de développement économique et de résolution des conflits

Le retour saisonnier, sur la scène internationale, des bellicistes a culminé début février avec l’injonction à bombarder l’Iran du « néocon » Daniel Pipes à Barack Obama « afin de sauver sa présidence ». Peu auparavant Tony Blair avait encore glissé, lors de son exposé sur les raisons ayant justifié l’intervention militaire de son pays en Irak, une phrase inquiétante : « nous sommes aujourd’hui face au même problème en Iran ». Ainsi, il a prononcé pas moins de 58 fois le nom « Iran » lors de cette allocution. La commission « Chilcot »  en Grande Bretagne, enquêtant sur les évènements liés à la guerre en Irak, a cyniquement coïncidé avec un important renforcement militaire américain dans la région du golfe Persique. Et pour finir, il a été rapporté que des centaines de bombes anti-bunker avaient été embarquées en Californie à destination de l’île de Diego Garcia dans l’océan Indien, d’où étaient parties les deux dernières attaques aériennes contre l’Irak. Tout cela a exactement coïncidé avec la poursuite de la lutte du mouvement iranien pour les droits civiques et les proclamations des hommes politiques occidentaux qu’ils soutenaient celle-là. Mais quelles preuves existe-t-il de cela ?

Contrairement à la guerre, les sanctions sont très largement présentées comme un remède nécessaire et franchement salubre, permettant de pousser un adversaire politique à changer de cap. Cependant l’évolution du conflit irano-occidental prouve que les sanctions ont pérennisé la crise plutôt que de contribuer à en sortir. En dépit de cela, les gouvernements occidentaux semblent toujours en proie à une véritable fascination pour des sanctions.

L’appel initial à des « sanctions paralysantes » s’est tu dans un premier temps l’été dernier, lorsqu’une impressionnante vague « verte » a déferlé dans les rues de Téhéran, non pas en dernier lieu par crainte de « paralyser » cette dernière. Mais aujourd’hui de telles sanctions sont sur toutes les lèvres. On accole simplement aux mesures punitives désormais envisagées des adjectifs lénifiants tels  qu’« avisées » ou « ciblées». En y regardant de plus près, on s’aperçoit qu’on prend en fait largement ses désirs pour des réalités.

Le gigantesque impact de « sanctions ciblées »

Des « sanctions avisées » seraient, prétend-on, un remède miracle pour décapiter le mal. Dans le cas iranien, le mal est désormais identifié avec le Corps des gardiens de la révolution islamique. À l’origine créés pour défendre le pays contre l’agression irakienne dans les années 80, les Gardiens se sont transformés en un conglomérat expansif socio-politico-économique auxquels on attribue un pouvoir hors pair dans la République islamique actuelle.

On maintient que les « sanctions avisées » devraient affecter de manière ciblée la position des Gardiens au sein de la structure du pouvoir iranien. On néglige cependant la conséquence logique du fait qu’une grande partie de l’économie iranienne est aux mains des Gardiens : ce sont les millions de civils et leurs familles dont le revenu d’existence est lié aux vastes secteurs de l’économie détenus par les Gardiens qui seraient avant tout atteints. On devine alors l’ampleur gigantesque d’une démarche prétendument ponctuelle de telles mesures punitives.

Les prétendues « sanctions paralysantes », qui doivent limiter en  premier lieu les livraisons d’essence à l’Iran, sont actuellement en préparation aux Etats-Unis. Dans l’attente de ces sanctions unilatérales américaines les plus grandes compagnies mondiales d’assurances ont déjà annoncé leur retrait d’Iran. De même, les principaux fournisseurs mondiaux d’essence qui couvraient encore récemment la moitié des importations iraniennes ont cessé leurs livraisons. Ceci fait monter le prix des importations d’essence de l’Iran qui doit importer presque la moitié de sa consommation à cause de ses capacités de raffinerie insuffisantes. Là encore c’est la population qui paie l’addition. Ajoutons qu’une application totale de ces sanctions impliquerait un blocus maritime, ce qui équivaudrait à un acte de guerre.

Paralyser la population civile

Ainsi des personnalités de la société civile iranienne et des économistes le soulignent, c’est la la population civile qui paie le prix des sanctions. L’économie iranienne – de la production industrielle jusqu’aux secteurs bancaire et financier – a déjà été fortement endommagée par trois décennies de sanctions. Aujourd’hui encore les entreprises ont la plus grande peine à maintenir leurs affaires, car elles doivent compter avec des restrictions dans l’approvisionnement en biens indispensables et sont souvent obligées, pour les obtenir, de payer un prix plus élevé. Les faillites et les licenciements sont une conséquence fréquente de ces difficultés et approfondissent la crise économique du pays. En outre, la communauté scientifique souffre de difficultés d’accès aux dernières conquêtes de la recherche international, tandis que le développement technique est également freiné.

Les risques que présentent les sanctions pour la société civile ont été abordé par le chef de l’opposition Mir-Hossein Moussavi : « Les sanctions n’auraient pas d’effet sur le gouvernement, elles causeraient plutôt un mal sérieux à la population […]. Nous refusons toute sanction envers notre nation », a-t-il déclaré très clairement en automne dernier. Son associé Mehdi Karroubi s’est exprimé dans le même sens dans une interview accordée au Corriere della Sera.

Un problème de fond demeure, qui n’attire guère l’attention de tous ceux qui ont succombé à la dangereuse illusion qu’ils pourraient avoir leur mot à dire dans la définition et la mise en œuvre des sanctions contre l’Iran : c’est que celles-ci sont élaborées essentiellement par le lobby pro-israélien aux Etats-Unis – l’American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – et sont la plupart du temps soumises au Congrès pour la forme, pour être ensuite mises en œuvre par le sous-secrétaire d’Etat au terrorisme et au renseignement financier (Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence) Stuart Levey – un homme de confiance de l’AIPAC. Dans ce processus, les retombées potentielles sur le peuple iranien ne jouent pratiquement aucun rôle.

Les sanctions – qu’elles soient « paralysantes » ou « avisées » – nuisent en fin de compte à la population. Des « sanctions avisées » sont ainsi un oxymore comparable  aux « bombes intelligentes » qui sauraient prétendument ne cibler que les objectifs à détruire, au moyen de « frappes chirurgicales ». Et comme pour leurs consœurs  militaires ce sont en définitive les « dommages collatéraux» des « sanctions avisées » qui l’emportent.  Les trouver « avisées » ne peut donc être considérer que comme du pur cynisme.

Une arme politique émoussée dans le monde d’aujourd’hui

En outre, dans un monde mondialisé et de plus en plus multipolaire, les sanctions s’avèrent n’être qu’une arme émoussée, surtout lorsqu’elles visent des pays riches en réserves d’énergie. Les acteurs guidés par leurs seuls intérêts économiques ne manquent pas, trop heureux d’occuper le vide commercial ainsi créé. C’est ainsi que des firmes chinoises, russes et même américaines – agissant via Dubaï – ont largement profité du retrait des concurrents européens sous la pression de Washington.

Devenues une quasi-obsession dans les milieux politiques en Occident, les sanctions ne sont pas un remède efficace menant à la guérison, mais agissent plutôt comme un lent poison administré à la société civile iranienne et à son mouvement démocratique. Prototype de guerre économique, les sanctions conjointement avec les appels réguliers à la guerre constituent un mélange explosif. Les tambours guerriers, qui se font entendre à nouveau, battent à nouveau sur le cœur battant de la société civile iranienne.

Le développement démocratique empoisonné par les sanctions et les menaces de guerre

Contrairement à la doxa politique, les sanctions nuisent en fait à la société civile et consolident la position des faucons. La classe moyenne iranienne est touchée par cet isolement qui n’en finit pas, d’autant plus que les sanctions atteignent les commerçants honnêtes et profitent aux corrompus. Les Gardiens, qui contrôlent vraisemblablement 60 ports dans le golfe Persique, par lesquels passe l’essentiel des importations, peuvent poursuivre leurs affaires, souvent par des « canaux douteux ».

Et c’est pourquoi l’un des « dommages collatéraux » pas tout à fait caché de ces sanctions sans fin est de faire obstacle à une transition démocratique durable en Iran. En fait cette dernière représenterait un risque pour le statu quo régional, et notamment pour la stabilité des autocraties de la région, alliées de l’Occident.

Que faire ? «Frappes chirurgicales» ou une véritable diplomatie ?

L’histoire infinie des sanctions a au moins le mérite d’illustrer les tentatives quasi désespérées des dirigeants politiques occidentaux à imposer leur volonté à l’Iran : On se donne ainsi l’impression de « faire » quand même quelque chose, afin d’avoir au moins l’air « crédibles ». Une entreprise somme toute vouée à l’échec et même dangereuse. Car il est fort à craindre que dans la foulée des « sanctions avisées » l’appel aux « frappes chirurgicales » se fasse finalement rapidement entendre.

Au lieu de s’abandonner à l’espérance illusoire que les sanctions produiront l’effet souhaité dans un avenir pas trop lointain, on devrait y mettre un terme une fois pour toutes. La seule issue consisterait à avoir le courage d’une politique capable de désarmer les faucons de tous bords, dont les affaires prospèrent admirablement dans le cercle vicieux de l’animosité. Ce n’est que par une vraie politique de détente qu’on cessera de manière durable d’apporter de l’eau au moulin des radicalismes – et que l’on contribuera en prime à un renoncement durable à la politique sécuritaire en Iran. Lever les sanctions déjà existantes, qui s’en prennent souvent aux secteurs civils, pourrait faire des miracles et ébranler considérablement les fondements des acteurs qui poussent à la confrontation.

En dépit d’affirmations hâtives, la voie diplomatique est loin d’être épuisée ; bien au contraire. Une politique de détente devrait permettre de renoncer à des mesures punitives et à la menace de guerre, et au lieu de celles-là, par le biais de mesures qui créeraient un climat de confiance réciproque, permettrait une solution équitable des défis sécuritaires qui fragilisent la région. Le problème central se trouve en fait dans le dilemme de la sécurité à l’échelle régionale. L’Occident serait donc bien avisé s’efforcer résolument de contraindre Israël – puissance nucléaire majeure – au régime de non-prolifération. On devrait donc mettre fin à la « diplomatie coercitive » envers l’Iran – comme on la désigne avec pertinence dans les Études diplomatiques – car elle assombrit les perspectives de paix et celles du processus de démocratisation.


Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2010) “Les dommages collatéraux des « sanctions ciblées » contre l’Iran” [The Collateral Damages of “Targeted Sanctions” against Iran], À l’encontre: Revue politique virtuelle, Switzerland, 11 May;

republished on Mondialisation.ca, Canada, 15/05;

▪ slightly abridged version published as Sanctions contre l’Iran, sanctions contre les Iraniens [Sanctions against Iran, Sanctions against Iranians], Mediapart, France, 14/05.

* * *

Unkluge Kollateralschäden “smarter Sanktionen” gegen Iran

Getrübte Aussichten auf Demokratie, sozio-ökonomischer Entwicklung und Konfliktlösung, wenn der Westen weiterhin auf Strafmaßnahmen setzt

Das saisonale Aufflackern der Kriegstreiber fand ihren Höhepunkt in dem Aufruf des US-Neokonservativen Daniel Pipes an Barack Obama, Iran zu bombardieren, um seine Präsidentschaft zu retten. Kurz zuvor hatte Tony Blair – als er ausführte, wie er dabei half, den Irak zu überfallen – noch ominös bemerkt, dass „wir heute beim Iran vor dem selben Problem stehen“. Und ganze 58 Male führte er den Namen Iran im Munde. Der Chilcot-Untersuchungsausschuss in Großbritannien über die Ereignisse rund um den Irak-Krieg fiel zynischerweise mit einer beachtlichen militärischen Aufrüstung in der Region des Persischen Golfes zusammen. Zuletzt wurde gemeldet, dass hunderte Bunker brechende Bomben von Kalifornien auf die Insel Diego Garcia im Indischen Ozean verschifft wurden, von wo aus die letzten zwei Angriffe auf den Irak geflogen wurden. All dies ereignet sich inmitten der fortgesetzten Anstrengungen der iranischen Bürgerrechtsbewegung und Verlautbarungen westlicher Politiker diese unterstützungswert  zu halten. Doch gibt es Anzeichen für Letzteres?

Im Gegensatz zu Krieg werden Sanktionen weithin als notwendige, nachgerade gesunde Medizin betrachtet, mit der ein Kurswechsel beim politischen Opponenten erwirkt werden kann. Die Geschichte des Konfliktes zwischen dem Westen und Iran bescheinigt jedoch, dass Sanktionen eher die Krise am Leben hielten, als dass sie zu ihrer Beilegung beitrugen. Dessen ungeachtet scheinen westliche Regierungen eine regelrechte Faszination für Sanktionen nicht eingebüßt zu haben.

Der anfängliche Ruf nach “lähmenden Sanktionen” verstummte zunächst, als im letzten Sommer die eindrucksvolle „grüne“ Welle die Straßen Teherans bedeckte, nicht zuletzt aus der Besorgnis heraus, ebenjene zu lähmen. Heute sind Sanktionen wieder in aller Munde, nur schmücken die gutartig klingenden Adjektive „klug“ oder „gezielt“ die nunmehr angestrebten Strafmaßnahmen. Ein genauer Blick jedoch lässt hierbei eine gehörige Portion Wunschdenken zutage treten.

Gigantische Dimension „smarter Sanktionen“

„Smarte Sanktionen“, so wird behauptet, seien ein Zaubermittel, womit das Böse enthauptet würde. Im Falle Irans wird nun das Böse mit den Revolutionsgarden identifiziert. Ursprünglich zur Verteidigung des Landes gegen den irakischen Angriff in den 80er Jahren errichtet, haben sich die Garden zu einem expansiven gesellschaftlichen, politischen und wirtschaftlichen Konglomerat entwickelt, denen eine unvergleichliche Macht in der heutigen Islamischen Republik zugesprochen wird.

„Kluge Sanktionen“ sollen demnach gezielt die Position der Garden innerhalb der iranischen Machtstruktur beschädigen. Vernachlässigt wird jedoch die logische Folgerung aus der Tatsache, dass sich ein Großteil der iranischen Wirtschaft in den Händen der Garden befindet: Die in die Hunderttausende gehenden Zivilisten und ihre Familien, deren Auskommen mit den weitgefächerten Wirtschaftsbranchen der Garden verbunden ist, würden ebenso getroffen. Dies lässt die gigantische Dimension des angeblich punktuellen Vorhabens solcher Strafmaßnahmen erahnen.

So genannte „lähmende Sanktionen“, welche zuvorderst Irans Benzinzufuhr beschneiden sollen, werden in den USA derzeit auf den Weg gebracht. In Erwartung solcher unilateraler US-Sanktionen haben die weltgrößten Versicherungskonzerne ihren bereits Rückzug aus Iran angekündigt. Ebenfalls haben weltweit führende Benzinhändler ihre Lieferungen, die vor Kurzem noch die Hälfte iranischer Einfuhren abdeckten, eingestellt. Dies betrifft in empfindlichem Maße sowohl den Finanz- und Schiffssektor und verteuert die Benzineinfuhren Irans, der fast die Hälfte seines Verbrauchs importieren muss. Auch hierbei ist die Bevölkerung die Leidtragende. Hinzu kommt, dass eine vollständige Implementierung solcher Handelssanktionen eine Meeresblockade notwendig machen würde, was jedoch einem Kriegsakt gleichkäme.

Die Zivilbevölkerung lähmen

Wie Persönlichkeiten aus der iranischen Zivilgesellschaft und auch Ökonomen betonen, wird der Preis von Sanktionen von der breiten Bevölkerung getragen. Irans Wirtschaft – von der Produktion, der Landwirtschaft bis hin zum Banken- und Finanzsektor – wurde bereits durch drei Jahrzehnte Sanktionsgeschichte in Mitleidenschaft gezogen. Noch heute können Unternehmen mit Schwierigkeiten ihre Geschäfte aufrechterhalten, da sie bei der Beschaffung notwendiger Güter mit Einschränkungen zu rechnen haben und nicht selten gezwungen sind, höhere Preise zu zahlen. Des Weiteren leidet auch die wissenschaftliche Community durch den eingeschränkten Zugang zu Forschungserrungenschaften weltweit, während technologische Entwicklungen ausgebremst werden.

Die Risiken, die Sanktionen auch für die Zivilgesellschaft darstellen, hat Oppositionsführer Mir-Hossein Mussavi vergangenen Herbst in einer Erklärung zur Sprache gebracht: „Sanktionen würden nicht gegen die Regierung wirken – eher würden sie nur einem Volk ernsthaft Leid zufügen, das großes Unheil seitens seiner eigenen Staatsmänner davongetragen hat. Wir lehnen jede Art von Sanktionen gegen unsere Nation ab,“ schrieb er unmissverständlich. Ebenso äußerte sich sein Mitstreiter Mehdi Karroubi kürzlich in einem Interview gegenüber Corriere della Serra.

Unterdessen verbleibt ein grundsätzliches Problem, was kaum die notwendige Beachtung findet, vor allem von jenen, die der abenteuerlichen Illusion erliegen sind, die Ausgestaltung und Implementierung von Sanktionen mit bestimmen zu können: Iran-Sanktionen werden hauptsächlich von der American Israeli Public Affairs Committeekonzipiert, dem US-Kongress in den meisten Fällen zum bloßen Durchwinken vorgelegt und schließlich im Finanzministerium vom Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial IntelligenceStuart Leveyein AIPAC-Vertrauter – implementiert. Im Zuge dieses ganzen Prozesses spielen die für die iranische Zivilgesellschaft potentiell schädlichen Folgen kaum eine Rolle. (AIPAC)

Sanktionen – ob “lähmend” oder “smart” – fügen letzten Endes der Bevölkerung Schaden zu. “Kluge Sanktionen” sind ebenso ein Oxymoron wie “intelligente Bomben”, welche angeblich in gezielter Manier mit „chirurgischen Schlägen“ ausschließlich die üblen Komponenten ausnehmen. Und wie ihre militaristischen Geschwister im Geiste überwiegen schließlich die „Kollateralschäden“ „smarter Sanktionen“. Diese als „klug“ zu empfinden, kann denn nur als purer Zynismus gelten.

Eine stumpfe politische Waffe in der heutigen Welt

Darüber hinaus entpuppen sich Sanktionen in einer globalisierten, zunehmend multipolaren Welt als stumpfe politische Waffe, zumal wenn sie noch auf energiereiche Länder abzielen. Zahlreich sind jene durch Profit gelenkten Akteure, die nur zu froh darüber sind, das von anderen hinterlassene Vakuum zu füllen. Somit haben bislang chinesische, russische, sogar US-amerikanische (via Dubai agierende) Firmen beträchtlich durch den allmählichen, unter Washingtoner Druck erfolgten, Rückzug europäischer Wettbewerber profitiert.

Die in manchen westlichen Politikkreisen nahezu obsessiv betrachteten Sanktionen sind keine Heilung versprechende Medizin, sondern wirken eher wie ein langsames Gift, die der iranischen Zivilgesellschaft und ihrer Demokratiebewegung zugeführt wird. Als Prototyp wirtschaftlicher Kriegsführung stellen Sanktionen gemeinsam mit dem saisonal aufflammenden Ruf nach Krieg eine gefährliche Mischung dar. Die nun wieder vernehmbaren Kriegstrommeln schlagen wieder einmal auf das pulsierende Herz der iranischen Zivilgesellschaft.

Sanktionen und Kriegsdrohungen: Gift für demokratische Entwicklung

Im Gegensatz zu politischen Bekenntnissen schaden Sanktionen der Zivilgesellschaft, während die Stellung der Hardliner zementiert wird. Irans Mittelschicht wird durch diese weitere Isolation des Landes getroffen, zumal Sanktionen ehrliche Händler bestrafen, korrupte wiederum belohnen. Die Garden, denen man die Kontrolle von 60 Häfen am Persischen Golf zurechnet, durch denen sie ein Gros der Importe abwickeln, können weiterhin auf blühende Geschäfte durch oftmals “dunkle Kanäle” setzen.

So ist der nicht ganz versteckte “Kollateralschaden” der nimmer enden wollenden Sanktionen ein nachhaltiger Übergang zu Demokratie in Iran. Letzterer würde für den Status-Quo in der Region samt seiner mit dem Westen befreundeten Autokratien ein herrschaftspolitisches Risiko darstellen.

Was nun? „Chirurgische Schläge“ oder ernsthafte Diplomatie?

Die unendliche Sanktions-Geschichte spiegelt denn auch den nahezu verzweifelten Versuch westlicher Politiker wider, im Angesicht widriger Umstände ihren Willen Iran aufzuzwingen, ihrer eigenen „Glaubwürdigkeit“ wegen doch etwas „zu tun“. Ein alles in allem vergebliches, sogar gefährliches, Unternehmen. Denn nicht zuletzt wird zu befürchten sein, dass im Anschluss an „klugen Sanktionen“, der Ruf nach „chirurgischen Militärschlägen“ nicht lange auf sich warten lässt.

Anstatt der illusorischen Hoffnung weiterhin zu erliegen, dass eines nicht allzu fernen Tages Sanktionen ihre erwünschte Entfaltung ausbreiten, müsste man ein für allemal die Bremse ziehen. Der einzige Ausweg wäre, eine Politik zu beherzigen, die in der Lage wäre, Hardliner aller Seiten zu entwaffnen, deren Geschäft in dem Teufelskreis der Feindseligkeit nur allzu gut gedeiht. Nur durch eine Entspannungspolitik kann man das Wasser auf den Mühlen der Radikalismen nachhaltig abtragen – und überdies zu einer nachhaltigen Entversicherheitlichung iranischer Politik beitragen. Existierende Sanktionen, die oft zivile Güter betreffen, aufzuheben, könnte Wunder bewirken und erheblich die Fundamente konfrontationslustiger Akteure erschüttern.

Trotz unreifer Behauptungen, hat sich der diplomatische Weg nicht erschöpft. Man ist ganz im Gegenteil noch lange davon entfernt. Zumal ein Kernproblem im regionalen Sicherheitsdilemma besteht, wäre es in der Tat wirklich klug, wenn sich der Westen ernsthaft bemühte, die Atommacht Israel an das nukleare Nichtverbreitungsregime zu binden. Die transatlantische “Zwangsdiplomatie” gegenüber Iran – wie man sie in Diplomatischen Studien zutreffend benennt – sollte somit eingestellt werden, da sie Aussichten auf Frieden und eine Entwicklung hin zur Demokratie trübt.


Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2010) Unkluge Kollateralschäden „smarter Sanktionen“ gegen Iran, Telepolis, 23. März;

erschienen in FriedensJournal, Nr. 3/2010 (Mai), S. 6–7.

auch veröffentlicht auf ZNet Deutschland, 23.03.

auch veröffentlicht auf Global Research, deutsche Site, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 29.04.