The findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran has continued to develop its uranium enrichment program, despite Security Council Resolution 1737, raises the possibility of further sanctions being imposed on Iran.
Such action, though welcomed, is unlikely to stop Teehran's march towards membership in the nuclear family, as Iran has already shown that it can and will ignore international norms and standards. Economic sanctions refer to the deliberate withdrawal or threat of withdrawal of trade and financial relations with a country in an effort to alter its behavior/policies.
The first recorded example of economic sanctions was the Megarian Decree in 433 BC. The Athenian Assembly imposed a trade embargo on Megara for supporting the Corinthians, Athens enemies. In response, the Megarans turned to Sparta, which issued an ultimatum to Athens to withdraw the embargo. When the Athenians refused, a devastating war (Peloponnesian War) ensued.
Since the Megarian Decree and with the growing desire to avoid warfare economic sanctions have been used to encourage democracy, respect for human rights, end civil war, stop drug trafficking, fight terrorism, combat weapon proliferation and promote nuclear disarmament. In terms of UN sanctions, the Security Council operating under 41 may impose "measures not involving the use of armed force" to support the implementation of its decisions. These measures may include "complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations." To work, sanctions require four major commitments: patience, cooperation, enforcement and respect. Unfortunately, these elements are rarely present in international politics.
In the case of Iran, Russia and China offer the biggest hindrance to the imposition of an effective economic sanction. Their reluctance to support a comprehensive sanction regime arises from purely pure national interests to a desire to assert their position on the global map. Iran is a major energy supplier to China, and as to Russia, the two countries have good trade relations.
On the international scene, since the end of the Cold War, Russia has sought to curve a new place under the sun for itself, by challenging American hegemony as seen recently with President Putin's declaration that America's approach to global relations is "very dangerous."
For China, its foreign policy centers on energy as it strives for economic growth. These considerations are bound to impact on negotiations relating to the language in the new resolution, the imposition of sanctions and the monitoring process.
Determining whether sanctions work is a difficult and contentious. A rare example of successful usage of sanctions is the case of South Africa, which endured sanctions from 1962 until 1992, which slowly suffocated the South African economy. This eventually led the business community to pressure the National Party to abandon the apartheid system that it instituted in 1948.
There are, however, numerous examples where sanctions have failed either because they were ignored (Somalia) or because the regime found means to circumvent the sanctions (Saddam Hussein, oil for food program.)
Imposing further sanctions on Iran would only serve the Ahmadinejad regime. It would allow the Iranian president to claim that Western-imposed sanctions are the cause of Iran's economic failings and not the clerics.
Democratic presidential candidate and former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson has hit the nail on the head when he said that Iran would not end its nuclear program just because it is threatened. The sad truth is that the current situation is a direct result of the criminal negligence of national and international leaders who for decades failed to deal with the Iranian regime, and therefore imposing sanctions now on Iran would be tantamount to closing the barn after the horses bolted.
World leaders must therefore unite for two reasons, firstly, international cooperation may facilitate an agreement where Iran voluntarily surrenders its nuclear program (as seen with North Korea and Libya) and more importantly they must work together to ensure that the twenty-first century will not go down in the annals of history as the century of nuclear proliferation.
Isaac Kfir is an expert on international politics and a lecturer at the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.