Friday, July 15, 2011

On the morality of economic sanctions against Iran: INTERVIEW Part II

Kourosh Ziabari: Over the past years, the United Nations Security Council, under the pressure of the United States and its European allies, imposed four rounds of crippling economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. These sanctions targeted Iran's oil and gas sector, aviation industry, health and medicine sector, consular affairs and in a nutshell, every aspect of the daily life of the Iranian citizens who had been trying to rise from the ashes of the devastating war with Iraq in 1980s. What do you think about these sanctions and their impact on the life of the Iranian citizens? Don't these sanctions resemble some kind of human rights violation? Iranian people are deprived of having access to the most essential commodities of their daily life as a result of these sanctions. What's your take on that?

Abolghasem Bayyenat: The sanctions against Iran have publicly been represented by Western powers as selective and targeted measures with the aim of only pressuring the Iranian government to reconsider its position on its nuclear issue. This public image has been promoted to avoid a public opinion backlash against Western governments. The experience of the U.S. sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, which contributed to a humanitarian catastrophe in that country whereby hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children reportedly perished as a result of malnutrition and shortage of medicines and other medical supplies exacerbated by the U.S. sanctions, had created public aversion to the use of sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy. Despite Western governments' rejection of any analogy between their current sanctions against Iran and those imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, the reality is that Western governments have set their feet on the same path especially by introducing unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Many of the measures adopted against Iran, such as those targeting Iran's energy sector, civil aviation and maritime transportation, among others, are indiscriminate by nature and have impacts much wider than that publicly advertised by Western governments. They are designed to inflict collective punishment on the whole country with the ostensible aim of pressuring the Iranian government. As such, they are contrary to international law and international moral principles as established and advocated by Western governments themselves.

To have a better sense of the impact of the Western sanctions on the general population of Iran, we can take a look at the sanctions imposed against Iran's energy sector as an example. The stated goal of these measures is to deprive Iran from its principal source of revenue over time by prohibiting foreign investments in its oil and natural gas sectors and disrupting Iran's international financial transactions in these products. Western governments justify these measures by arguing that revenues emanating from oil exports and the sale of other energy products help Iran finance its nuclear program. However, the reality is that while a fraction of Iran's foreign exchange revenues may also be channeled to finance Iran's nuclear program, Western governments tend to ignore the fact that these same revenues also account for the bulk of Iran's public budget which helps finance public health services, public education, subsidized food for the poor and many other social services programs.

Around 80 percent of Iran's foreign exchange revenues come from the export of energy products and any long-term disruption of such revenues can seriously hamper the Iranian government's capacity to provide public services to its people. Western governments may rejoice at this prospect but they would be disappointed to find out that this will have minimal impact on the resolution of Iran's nuclear issue. The Iranian government will be able to continue financing its nuclear program as it does not constitute a substantial item on the government budget and the public anger at the disruption of social services will also be directed at the West rather than the Iranian government. Other Western sanctions against Iran such as those targeting civil aviation and maritime transportation sectors also have the effect of inflicting a collective punishment upon the general population of Iran without making any meaningful contribution to the resolution of Iran's nuclear issue.



Excellent argument in relation to the crushing sanctions, much more poignant now than at the time the interview was conducted some months ago. It is true that despite denying its impact on the population, the collective punishment was, even if not intentional, always an inevitable consequence of sanctions.

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