Publishe Date: 3:08 PM - 5/19/2013 | Print

Sanction is not the Solution

Economy - Nosratollah Tajik

It is obvious that the US is enacting a containment strategy towards Iran by use of gradually tightening sanction as it once did against the Soviet Union during the Cold War and Iraq in 1990s. In the contemporary debate among various scholars and in the media, the pivot is seen as a strategy based on American hegemony, financial monopoly, oil security, global governance or the military industrial complex’s need for an opponent. Although US policymakers don’t reject the notion of containment, but they believe that, it is a kind of policy engagement which could be highly successful in a number of spheres, including Iran foreign trade and financial resources. This means that the US has been enacting a much more nuanced policy than simple containment.
Rather, the US and Iran need to enact a policy that could be characterised as hedging policy because of uncertainty which could be described as structural in relations between two countries. Relation between two sides illustrates a crucial uncertainly and lack of trust, so policymakers are genuinely uncertain which line to pursue and analysts are confused and just make assumptions, but there is not any facts and intentions of US policy for this matter and no one knows how far two countries willing to go without putting region at a new war risk. In order to mitigate a hedging strategy, one must only address the causes of uncertainty in the relationship. Some of those are structural and difficult to address, but others are well within the reach of policymakers, such as trust and confidence building measures.
Appropriated from the financial world, the basic assumption is that hedging means a state spreads its risk by pursuing two opposite policies towards another state. In international relations, states carry out two contradictory policy directions simultaneously: balancing and engagement. A state prepares for the worst by balancing, maintaining a strong military, building and strengthening alliances, while also preparing for the best and engaging, building trade networks, increasing diplomatic links, and creating binding multilateral frameworks.
The concept of “hedging,” to be useful, needs to be defined properly. To have any coherent meaning, hedging must be distinguished from balancing, containment, bandwagoning, buckpassing, and other more straightforward strategic choices. For instance, while it may be argued that hedging strategies encompass balancing or containment, they must be shown significantly to differ from these, either through the inclusion of significant engagement and reassurance components, or more importantly the demonstration that apparent containment strategies such as alliances are regarded as means to ends that are substantively different from those of straightforward balancing or containment (Goh, 2006)[1].
Generally speaking utilisation of a hedging strategy by any state demonstrates that its policymakers are undecided on whether the other state constitutes a threat or not? And this is true about Iran as well. Because hedging is not simply defined by a state’s actions, but by its intentions and it is different from two opposing policies of balancing and engagement. So it is difficult to develop policy without strong knowledge of what the other state intends. While this uncertainty exists at some level between all states, diplomatic custom, international government organizations, and multilateral rule systems (like the WTO) minimize this uncertainty by imparting predictability to state-to-state relations. This predictability is enhanced by diplomacy, transparency, and on occasion, espionage (Hemmings, 2013).[2]
Iran has many potential aspects to be as a rising power at least in regional level in the first step and US denies Iran true abilities to project its power in an engagement policy towards region. This means that US is unclear about Iran power and influence in the region and the perception of how much of these will eventually be used in this game or Iranian new role. And more importantly it is difficult for US to confirm that does Iran have any willingness to use force to pursue this claim and its ability.
On the other side there is a very important cultural difference which will have a significant effect on this matter. Iranian foreign policy running makes it relatively difficult to read and understand; its foreign policy-making system is comparatively opaque for some reason, contrast to the US, where foreign diplomats can access US policy intentions by spending time in Congress, visiting think tanks, reading media, and so on. But it is important to think about a situation and design a relevant policy when US is hedging against Iran, what is the optimum policy reaction for Iran?
For example US policy makers can use their experience towards China in 1990s in US-Iran relation instead of containment. Hemmings (2013) states that” One advantage of the hedging discourse over a containment discourse was that Chinese leaders didn’t need to take the defensive. They could attempt to persuade the US and regional powers of China’s benign intentions through a re-engagement of China’s 1990s soft diplomacy. Beijing could begin by shelving or de-prioritising a number of issues. The Chinese leadership might opt for trust-building through new institutions and customs while resurrecting neglected ones”. So sanction is not the way to treat with Iranian people and government.

[1] Goh, E. (2006). Understanding “hedging” in Asia-Pacific security. Pacific Forum CSIS. August, 43.
[2] Hemmings, J. (2013). Hedging: The Real U.S. Policy Towards China? The Diplomat.


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