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‘Put more pressure on Iran,’ a response

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Opinions


A few weeks ago, a column published in The Hoot titled “Put More Pressure on Iran” proposed that the United States should dedicate more of its efforts to increasing economic sanctions on Iran as well as undertaking more sabotage activities in the hopes of changing the Iranians’ “decision making calculus” through the destabilization of Iranian society through economic means. The article also suggested, that if all failed, the military option should be considered.

The possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, or any country for that matter, should always be treated as a matter of great concern, not only to American interests in the region, but to humanity as a whole. With this in mind, it is imperative that the Iran nuclear issue be treated with utmost importance and seriousness and should be examined in a wider context, one that is geographically broad and historically deep in order to look at the interlocking issues that are at play in the region. Here are only a few of the many issues that should not be overlooked in regards to a possible solution to this possible threat.

As mentioned in the previous column the creation of a resistance bloc of Shiite countries headed by Iran could be interpreted as direct response to the presence of the United States in the region and therefore a threat, however, this explanation fails to take into consideration the regional forces at play. The Shiite-Sunni conflict in the region is centuries old and has had moments of violent confrontations as well as periods of peaceful cohabitation. Today, unfortunately, the conflict is going through a moment of violent confrontation because the current civil war in Iraq has increased the intensity of this conflict. Historically, Iraq has been controlled by Sunnis, however, with Saddam Hussein out of the picture, Iraq is now leaning increasingly towards Shiite states because democracy will cause an increase in the Shiite influence as it reflects the larger numbers of Shiite Muslims in this country. The tensions in the region are increasing because Iraq is now a battleground with many regional spectators, which means that Sunni countries and Shiite countries daily read about the atrocities committed against their peers. This in turn puts more pressure on the governments to adopt a more pro-Sunni or pro-Shiite approach to diplomacy. Having said that, a solution to this civil war should include the dominant Sunni and Shiite countries, including Iran. Pressure on only one of these countries will only make matters worse, as these countries have considerable influence on the stabilization and peace in Iraq and any other country that also has a similar Shiite-Sunni conflict, such as Lebanon. In that light, it is extremely important that the United States remains constantly open to dialogue with both “sides.” Sunnis and Shiites alike fear that the United States government will favor one side more than the other. With this in mind, the United States has an incredible opportunity on its hands: to be a mediator in this conflict and to help ease tensions. Otherwise the United States risks failing in its mission to spread peace and democracy in the region.

The last point is in regards to economic sanctions. Even though it is a tool originally developed by the United Nations and has some legitimacy, it was originally intended for countries that have openly declared war on another country, such as when Italy engaged itself in war against Ethiopia in the 1930s. It is not intended for “regime change” as suggested earlier. In fact, in the case of Iraq, it is known that it increased the strength of Saddam Hussein’s regime because the sanctions deprived the citizens of their economic freedom to do business, causing many small businesses to go bankrupt and people had to revert to the State to feed and assist them. Also, this increased anti-American sentiment in the country by the exact same people that the United States wanted to help.

In terms of nuclear weapon development, regional geopolitics and current international instruments, regarding nuclear weapons can provide answers as to why any nation should feel compelled into acquiring the most heinous weapon known to man. Ironically, acquiring nuclear weapons is an act of desperation for states that feel extremely threaten by a potential foe. This was the case for the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, for Israel (who feels threaten by possible attacks from Arab countries), and for India and Pakistan who both have formally declared to possess the bomb in order to keep each other in only does Iran have increasingly discontent Sunni neighbors with large armies and powerful allies, but also a potentially nuclear Israel to balance, as well as civil wars occurring on both sides of its border in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is important to note that the nuclear neighbors of Iran (India, Pakistan and Israel) have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore do not receive visits of international observers from the IEIA as Iran has for the last couple of years. A solution to this problem should be approached multi-laterally. Is it too idealist to say that “nuclear free zones” such as Latin America, Africa and Oceania could be created in the Middle East? For this, the problem must be addressed strategically, looking at the region as a whole, instead of focusing efforts on a single country. The Iranian nuclear threat is the tip of the iceberg.

Hugo Reichenberger (an M.A. graduate student in Sustainable International Development) formerly worked for the UNHCR with Iraq Refugees in Brazil.