Chen Weihua

Pursuing tougher, meaningless sanctions

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-12 07:14
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The pursuit of fresh sanctions against Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program may result in self-glorification for some politicians, but not necessarily in a solution for the thorny issue.

Many people, including some who actively push for tougher resolutions endorsed by the UN Security Council, know too well that sanctions will not work - not in the past, not now and not in the future. While comprehensive sanctions have not worked, the so-called targeted or smart sanctions being pursued now is also in doubt.

Neither the current nor the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano or Mohamed ElBaradei, is optimistic about the effect of new sanctions.

Sanction, which escalates tensions and increases hostilities, is simply not conducive to solving problems. Iran's nuclear program has advanced during a period when several unilateral and multilateral sanctions were imposed to stop its enrichment activities.

Some hope that sanctions will trigger strong domestic grievances against the government and leaders and thereby bring about a desirable regime change. In reality, they often find that outside pressures tend to unite the people in that country around their leaders. It is a form of national pride that many who grew up in the developed world can never fully understand.

At the same time, it is the vast number of the country's citizens who actually suffer under international sanctions. The impact on the lives of government, state or military leaders will be minimal.

In the case of Iran, fresh sanctions are only likely to harden the views of its leaders to develop the nuclear program more aggressively rather than force them to make changes, as evidenced by the sanctions in past years.

This does not mean that I love the idea for Iran, or any other country, to have nuclear bombs, although its government has repeatedly said its nuclear program is solely for peaceful energy purposes.

The security of nuclear material and weapons, a topic that world leaders and experts are discussing in Washington DC, is surely an important issue for every nation.

Diplomacy and more diplomacy is clearly a smarter way than "smart sanctions" to achieve that goal.

Unlike his predecessor George W. Bush who constantly vowed regime change in axis of evil and rogue nations, US President Barack Obama came to power a year ago promising more diplomacy and engagement. He did try, yet it will be too quick if he wants to claim that all diplomatic channels have been exhausted. He may not realize that diplomacy takes time and requires confidence building on both sides.

From what we have seen in the past year, the trust between Teheran and Washington has not been established. That is simply the key to the problem.

The problem is that pursuing more diplomacy may make Obama look soft in front of American people. That is not something Obama wants after he turned tough lately on both the domestic and international fronts.

Claiming a quick win, such as passing a new UN Security Council resolution, will add to the political capital he badly needs to save his declining approval rating.

This said, Obama does deserve credit for the nuclear-free speech he made in Prague a year ago, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or START treaty he signed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week and the meeting he called up this week in Washington, gathering more than 40 world leaders.

He can do better by trying to talk more with Iran with respect over a wide range of issues of mutual concerns, such as assuring Iran's security concerns.

Diplomacy and engagement are clearly more effective ways to ensure the peaceful pursuit of Iran's nuclear program.

If politicians are more interested in claiming quick victory than achieving tangible progress, they will pursue the easy path of meaningless sanctions, rather than a difficult but more effective path of diplomacy.

Sanction seems to be an easy option when powerful leaders are at their wit's end.


(China Daily 04/12/2010 page9)