The biggest challenge facing sanctioning Iran’s nuclear program? Mission creep.

I posted a little less than a week ago on the effectiveness of Iran’s sanctions, and yet the debate continues apace on the Internets. The need for this is simply beyond me, but what are you going to do? I suppose that more useful discourse is being produced. I suppose. In any case, we’ve seen a few different pieces crop up in the last few days, the latest to come across my Blackberry being a piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter. In it, she pushes for a solution that allows both the United States and Iran to save face, advocating away from a regime of sanctions for sanctions sake, a conclusion that many others have come to. This is hard to do, though, in light of pieces like the Washington Post piece that was published last night, originally with the title “Goal of Iran sanctions is regime collapse, U.S. Official”.

Which leads me to think about the noticable mission-creep that seems to be occuring when it comes to Iranian sanctions. I noted on Friday the growing scope of the national and supranational embargoes being placed upon and considered against Iran. In that post, my focus was on the unconsidered humanitarian effects that these sanctions would impose, but I want to take a step back and consider the larger picture surrounding them. When the international community first agreed to place sanctions upon Iran through the UN Security Council in response to their lack of cooperation with the IAEA in 2007, they were extremely targeted, focusing only on the clear-cut pieces of their nuclear production. Since that time, their scope have grown both in the Security Council and from the United States and its allies.

At the same time, the United States has had sanctions and embargoes of its own against Iran in place since 1979. There is no question that these are in place to punish the regime as a whole, with the intended effect of breaking their ability to have any sort of sway or power on the world stage. The place where the current standoff with Iran gets tricky is when you try to delineate the two sets of sanctions. On the one hand, you have the goal of a pause or complete halt of Iran’s nuclear program and cooperation with the IAEA in verifying its claimed peaceful nature. On the other hand, you have the United States’ broader goal of weakening Iran and countering its many, many uses of proxies and asymmetric force to push back against US aims and policies in the region. Over the last month, we’ve seen a blending and merging of the two into one homogenous mass of punishment where it’s hard to tell where one begins and one ends.

The United States is not making this any easier, in overtly lobbying its allies to unilaterally up pressure against Iran, including long-sought embargoes on oil. This leads one to wonder whether it is in the national interest of the US to separate the two more forcefully. Increased pressure on Iran on all fronts does have the possibility of a greater willingness, in Washington calculus, that Tehran will change its behavior on any range of issues beyond its nuclear program. However, seeking to advance goals beyond those that can be resolved through the P5+1 negotiations hinders the United States’ case for continuing and increasing the sanctions regime. The national security and foreign policy components of the government need to find a way to make clear the distinction between the two movements. Mission creep away from merely slowing or halting Iran’s nuclear program is unacceptable to Tehran, and in fact serves as a greater impetus to want a nuclear weapon. If the regime feels that the only way to survive is to produce a nuclear weapon or face economic ruin, you can bet that if I were them? I’d be racing for full nuclear capacity.


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