What about sanctions?

I meant to mention this in my previous post on our dwindling options for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I continue to believe that genuine sanctions i.e. a complete suspension of trade, enforced, and extended to third party countries doing business with Iran would be an effective method of pressuring the Iranian regime. Iran is highly dependent on its oil trade—that’s what makes up most of its international trade. And serious sanctions would signal to the Iranian people that the world was serious without causing the rally-round effect that bombing or invasion surely would.

Unfortunately, putting such sanctions in place is just wishful thinking. What are the biggest barriers to putting such sanctions in place? Russia and China. Both have indicated their opposition to sanctions of any kind against Iran. Why?

One might suppose it’s because of Russia and China’s commitment to national sovereignty. Now I’ll tell one.

Perhaps Russia and China have some brilliant idea on how to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons development program without economic sanctions and without war.  Iran has rejected Russia’s recent proposals for Russian-supervised fuel enrichment.  I haven’t heard of any newer proposals.

Their extensive trade with Iran has also been proposed as a motive. The EU is Iran’s most significant trading partner and recently the EU3 (UK, France, Germany) have given some signs that economic sanctions against Iran would be acceptable to them. Here’s an entertaining little table:

Rank Country Oil reserves
1 Saudi Arabia 265.3
2 Iraq 115.0
3 Kuwait 98.8
4 Iran 96.4
5 United Arab Emirates 62.8
6 Russia 54.3

Any number of people have mentioned the likelihood of the Straits of Hormuz being closed in the event of war with Iran. That would close down practically all shipments of oil from the Gulf. What nation would benefit most by such an eventuality? The largest non-Gulf oil producer, Russia. China isn’t too much farther down on the list but China is now a net oil importing nation.

Russia and China’s opposition to any sanctions whatever make war more likely, not less so. As noted above, shutting down Gulf oil shipments would be in Russia’s interests. Why does China oppose sanctions? My best guess is that China is absolutely, positively convinced that it will not come to war.

If this line of speculation is correct, then Russia and China oppose economic sanctions for diametrically opposed reasons. And they both can’t be right.

3 comments… add one
  • Barnabus Link

    Seems the China-Iran relation is mutually beneficial and China does not see itself ever being on the receiving end of Iranian nukes or Iranian sponsored terrorism. It also seems as if Russia thinks the same thing; i.e. even though they have trouble with radical Islam, they don’t see Iran as the source of their problems. For both China and Russia there is the added benefit of causing trouble for the U.S.

  • You may be right but it’s hard for me to imagine either Russia or China being that naive. Both have Islamist terrorist within their borders now, no doubt with Iranian suppot.

  • kreiz Link

    Dave, I agree with Barnubus’ last sentence. Given that they don’t see themselves as being on the receiving end of Iranian nuclear ambitions, they can make life difficult for the US just out of principle.

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