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Middle East Team Dispatch

Punishing Iran: 20 Years and Counting
April 26, 2000

If you have been following the trekkers' adventures though Iran up to this point, you already know that the United States government is not on the best terms with the government of Iran. It is no secret; the people of Iran openly refer to the US as "the Great Satan." This is because of past incidences in which the US has interfered with politics in Iran. In 1953, for example, the US participated in overthrowing an Iranian government of which it did not approve.

For its part, the United States claims that the government of Iran has been involved with, and supportive of, terrorist activities directed against the United States and its citizens. For example, US hostages were taken in a widely publicized hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979. In addition, the US claims Iran has been actively developing weapons of mass destruction, mainly nuclear weapons.

The question is what is the best way to deal with these tensions. The most extreme course of action would be the use of force. War (and its resulting loss of life) is a common result of disagreement between nations, but it is costly, tragic, and should be avoided if at all possible. So what are the alternatives? In recent years, the most common alternative to the use of force is the use of economic sanctions.

Your Turn!!!

Do you think the United States has a good sanctions policy? Should the US be able to just cut certain countries off from trade?

Share your thoughts
and see what others wrote!

Economic sanctions are rules about what kind of trade can go on between nations. The United States is the world's strongest economy. It is the leading producer of many essential products, including many kinds of food, machinery, and technology; it is also a big consumer of many of the world's products. This economic power puts the United States in a position to bully other countries. If the US refuses to trade with Iran, then all US products become unavailable, and Iran is forced to find these products somewhere else, or do without them entirely. In addition, Iran cannot sell any of its products to the US or its citizens. This policy is intended to have a crippling effect on Iran's economy, and in this way force the government to give in to US demands.

This is exactly the policy that the US government has decided to use in relations with Iran. For two decades, trade between Iran and the US has been very limited. The US has intended these economic sanctions to put pressure on Iran's government and force them to align their policies more with US desires. In particular, the US government is looking for indications that Iran does not support terrorists and that it is not developing nuclear weapons.

So, do economic sanctions work? The policy of using sanctions has been widely criticized. In many cases it can be very crippling to the economy of the target nation. For example, the US has imposed sanctions on trade with Cuba for years, and as a result, Cuba is a very poor and underdeveloped nation today. This is the intended effect, but is this right? Is it fair?

Many people have argued that sanctions do not hurt the people in power who are making the decisions. Instead, they hurt the farmers and craftsmen who cannot find buyers for their products. Another argument against sanctions is that the target country can simply buy products that are not produced in the US. In the case of Iran, US sanctions have prevented US companies from investing in Iran's oil industry, and as a result, the business has gone to the competing oil companies of other countries.

Despite the drawbacks of imposing sanctions, we have to ask ourselves, do they work? Have they forced countries to change their policies for the better? That remains an open question. In elections held in March of this year, moderates have come into positions of power in Iran's government. Moderates have shown less support for terrorism and nuclear weapons than their more radical counterparts, so the US has taken this as a sign of improvement.

In a gesture of appreciation, Madeline Albright, the US secretary of state, announced that some US sanctions on trade with Iran will be ended as a result of these elections. Now Americans can buy carpets, pistachios and caviar from Iran! While this move will not have a large effect on the economy, Ms. Albright said that it is meant "to show the millions of Iranian craftsmen, farmers and fishermen who work in these industries, and the Iranian people as a whole, that the United States bears them no ill will."

So what do you think about the use of economic sanctions? The good thing is that they provide an alternative to the use of force. The bad thing is that sanctions do not always have the effect they are intended to have. As I mentioned above, people in power are usually the least affected by sanctions and sanctions can hurt neutral companies that would otherwise benefit from trade. Check out the Web sites below and make up your own mind about whether or not economic sanctions are valid political tools.

This Web site provides information on what sanctions are, how they work, and the pros and cons of using them.
This government Web site lists all the countries on which the US has imposed trade sanctions, and details what areas of trade are affected.


Jasmine- Tehran - The BIG 10
Kavitha- The Jesus of Iran
Kavitha- The Great Satan
Monica- Failure, and What We Can Learn from It
Team - Earth Day: a Celebration and a Reminder

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