Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Iran Sanctions: Tickling an Alligator

Last week, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a set of sanctions against the government of Iran and a handful of Iranian companies and key individuals who are allegedly involved with Iran's nuclear enrichment program or their missile program.

Unfortunately, in order to get the buy-in from China and Russia, it seems the sanctions have been so watered down as to be completely ineffective.
  • They prohibit the sale of nuclear technology to Iran, except where that technology is for use in light-water reactors.
  • They sanction 10 Iranian companies, and 12 specific individuals employed by those companies, freezing their international funds, exempting contracts that were already signed when the sanctions were put into effect.

The exception for light-water reactors is a key item of note: it basically means that countries can still freely sell nuclear technology to Iran, so long as that technology is for light-water reactors. Another key item is the exemption for pre-existing contracts: this means that the Bushehr reactor that Russia is currently constructing for Iran can still go ahead without any glitches or delays.

Beyond these minor nuisance-sanctions, there is no real penalty against Iran for defying the world community on its nuclear technology.

Dealing with Iran is like dealing with an alligator: you need to either deal with it forcefully or leave it the hell alone. The toothless sanctions passed by the UN are rather like tickling the alligator - they may annoy it, but do nothing to stop it from wreaking havoc.

Worse yet, Iranian leaders may feel emboldened by last week's UN vote - after all, they scored a major victory. While the US was able to push through "sanctions" against Iran, they were so watered down by the time the negotiations with other security council members were done that they do not resemble sanctions in any conventional sense of the word.