Statement by Stephen R. Shalom
We are opposed to sanctions and military threats against Iran.
Let me clarify that the sanctions we are talking about today are broad-based crippling sanctions that harm the Iranian people. We’re not talking about prohibiting the sale of heavy arms to Iran. We’re not talking about prohibiting the sale of technologies that enable nuclear proliferation. We’re not talking about penalties aimed at particular leaders who have committed serious human rights abuses (though we note that other abusers in countries allied with Washington are showered with aid rather than sanctions). These are matters about which members of the delegation may have different views. But what we all agree on is that broad sanctions that harm the Iranian people are unacceptable.
These sorts of broad economic sanctions are opposed by the leaders of Iran’s green movement, Mousavi and Karoubi.1
They are opposed by leading Iranian pro-democracy dissidents, like Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji.2
They are opposed by the National Iranian-American Council, the largest grassroots organization representing Iranian-Americans.3
And they are opposed rhetorically by the U.S. government. Secretary Clinton, for example, has said “Our goal is to pressure the Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements without contributing to the suffering of ordinary [Iranians] who deserve better than what they are currently receiving.”4
But despite this claim, U.S. sanctions are about as targeted as dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima was targeted. Let me quote the words of a leading expert on the impact of sanctions, Prof. Joy Gordon:
“If the U.S. or UN sanctions are successful, the damage to Iran’s economy, and its population as a whole, will be enormous, and indiscriminate.”5
“…the recent U.S. law refers to sanctions on Iraq’s oil and gas industries as ‘targeted,’ as though this is a narrow measure that will somehow not impact the entire population of Iran. But these industries account for one quarter of Iran’s economy. If the United States succeeded in shutting down the oil and gas industries, every aspect of life in Iran would be affected, far more than the impact of the 1973 Arab oil embargo on the United States. Eighty percent of the Iranian government’s income comes from the energy sector. The government’s extensive subsidies for food, gasoline, and housing – which, according to some estimates, account for over one-quarter of Iran’s GDP – depend on this income. The United States is essentially attempting to bankrupt the state.”6
U.S. sanctions against Iran are broad-based sanctions intended to change Iranian policy by harming the economy, which means harming the economic well-being of the entire Iranian population. We are essentially saying to the rulers in Tehran, give in to our demands or the people of Iran will suffer. Such a policy is morally unacceptable. Cutting off the importation of refined gasoline harms not only the Iranian military, but first and foremost the Iranian people. As the National Iranian-American Council has explained, gasoline “is used by ordinary Iranians for everything from heating their homes to producing food and transporting medicine.”7
Now we will be told that the sanctions legislation has exceptions for humanitarian supplies.
But the financial sanctions have made it burdensome for firms to do business with Iran, and so, for example, General Electric, had been selling equipment for medical diagnostic projects, but has stopped doing so.8
US legislation allows the president to sign a waiver providing official credit to be used for food or medical sales to Iran, but no president has signed such a waiver to date.9
But even if there was no interference at all with food or medical supplies, the whole logic of the sanctions is to put pressure on Iranian leaders by causing extreme suffering among the Iranian population. And this is morally unacceptable.
The sanctions are not just morally unacceptable, however. They are totally counter-productive10:
They enable Ahmadinejad to blame all the country’s economic problems on outsiders
They give Ahmadinejad an excuse to crack down on dissidents11
The sanctions along with other foreign coercion seems to have increased rather than decreased Iranian support for a nuclear program, which many Iranians see as a matter of self-respect (CIA veteran Paul Pillar)12
And when an Iranian plane crashes, many Iranians attribute this -- whether accurately or not -- to the effects of the sanctions.13
The United States and its close ally Israel have made many military threats against Iran
The Obama administration’s rhetoric has generally been less bellicose than that of the previous Bush administration, but saying you are taking no option off the table means that you are still making -- no matter how delicately -- a military threat
The Nuclear Posture statement explicitly excludes Iran from the U.S. guarantee not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear power
Military threats are illegal under international law. Article II, Section 4 of the UN Charter prohibits not just the use of force, but the threat of force as well
Military threats are also counterproductive. Nothing more inclines a country to contemplate the development of a nuclear deterrent than threats of military attack.
Our statement refers to threats of war and sanctions, but actually we’re concerned as well with actual acts of war, illegal aggression under international law.
Much of this has been done covertly and so we can’t say definitively what has or hasn’t occurred, but there have been many reports in the mainstream press at least suggesting U.S. involvement in such acts.
When US planes intrude into Iranian airspace to try to induce Iran to turn on its air defenses to allow U.S. pilots to grid the system for future targeting,14 that’s illegal and immoral.
If Jundallah, a Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials,15 that’s illegal and immoral.
If the United States has been involved in any way in the assassinations of Iranian scientists, that’s illegal and immoral.
Let me just comment on one operation that seems to be widely approved, namely the Stuxnet cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which, according to the New York Times, was a joint U.S.-Israeli project.16 There’s a lot that doesn’t compute about the Stuxnet story, and it may have been not nearly as successful as many claim. But let’s take these claims at face value.17
Stuxnet might seem like a way to destroy military facilities without any collateral damage. But actually, the collateral damage from this cyberattack is likely to be far more costly than most people imagine.
As Israeli reporter Ronen Begman wrote in the largest circulation Israeli newspaper, “There can be no doubt that the organization standing behind Stuxnet brought nearer, in a way that can never be undone, the ability to launch similar such attacks [by others] in the future.”18
Ralph Langner, the German computer expert and leading authority on Stuxnet, explained: “Unlike bombs, missiles, and guns, cyber weapons can be copied. The proliferation of cyber weapons cannot be controlled. Stuxnet-inspired weapons and weapon technology will soon be in the hands of rogue nation states, terrorists, organized crime, and legions of leisure hackers… the pure existence of the Stuxnet code in the Internet, ready for download and dissemination by anyone, creates a national security threat for highly industrialized nations, most notably for the United States and Germany.” Langner foresees the development of dirty digital bombs that will cause widespread harm. He concludes, “… If we account the risk of such follow-up attacks as collateral damage from Stuxnet, the cyber warfare approach no longer looks so smart and efficient after all.”19
But if we rule out broad sanctions, and military threats, and acts of war, how do we deal with Iran’s nuclear program?
Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and says it does not intend to acquire nuclear weapons, but according to the IAEA Iran stands in violation of the transparency requirements of the NPT.
Now the NPT is a treaty that sets up two classes of states, privileging those that already have nuclear weapons. But even accepting the NPT framework, we find that Iran is hardly the only one to be violating the terms of the treaty.
The United States, which does have nuclear weapons, has failed to comply with Article VI of the NPT which requires nuclear weapons states to make good faith efforts to move toward nuclear disarmament.
Instead, the Obama administration has just committed itself to spending $184 billion for modernizing the nuclear weapons production complex and delivery systems over the next decade.
Moreover, the administration’s nuclear posture statement refuses to declare a no-first-use policy and, as noted previously, makes Iran an explicit exception to its pledge not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states.
A far more fruitful approach to addressing Iran’s nuclear program is to:
Stop threatening Iran with attack, which encourages it to acquire a means of deterrence
Support a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East that includes all states, including Israel
Make real progress toward disarmament, rather than trying to lock in U.S. military hegemony
1 http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2010/05/24/Sanctions-misplaced-Irans-Mousavi-says/UPI-42121274713544/print/; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/world/middleeast/02iran.html; http://www.lobelog.com/mousavi-advisor-green-movement-wants-an-end-to-the-economic-sanctions/; http://uk.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=UKTRE67B08120100812.
2 http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USTRE61B3JY20100212 (supporting denial of visas and other political steps, but not broad economic sanctions); http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/11/16/do_neoconservatives_really_care_about_the_iranian_opposition
10 See Hani Mansourian: “Ironically, then, sanctions may do more to increase the power of the Iranian government and to weaken the domestic opposition movement, to the ostensible detriment of U.S. interests.” http://muftah.org/?p=403