How effective would UN sanctions be on post-election Iran?
While Iran’s nuclear program was one of the main concerns during Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Europe, the Islamic government declares that Iran has made its decision not to step back from its enrichment plans. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, three UN sanctions have been imposed on Iran as a result of his government’s insistence on continuing its nuclear program. In response to world concerns, Ahmadinejad clearly proclaimed that the sanctions are just paper work and cannot influence Iran’s determination.
Whether this claim is true or not, in order to achieve their goals, I would like to suggest that UNCS members need to contemplate the post-election era and the shift that has occurred in Iran's interior situation when proposing probable future sanctions related to the country's Islamic nuclear ambitions.
Although there may be some economic evidence to show that at least to some extent the three previous UN sanctions on Iran have been effective, the Islamic state endeavours to downplay the sanctions, publicly claiming that they are ineffective. There are both domestic and international factors which have helped the Iranian government to pursue its nuclear policy and to pretend that Iran can cope with the cost of its nuclear strategy. While the main purpose of the sanctions is to isolate Iran, the increase in the price of oil over a three-year period from 2005 to 2008, together with the global financial recession provided the Islamic state with a unique opportunity to persist with its nuclear policy and ignore the UN sanctions.
However, this picture would not be complete if we fail to consider the exterior conditions as well. Different views expressed by some UN Security Council members have given Iran a salient opportunity to continue its nuclear policy and to take advantage of these different viewpoints. To some extent, Iran’s reluctance to negotiate with the West over its nuclear case is based on the similar phenomenon of Russian and Chinese differing perspectives. Despite the fact that Russia and China are members of the UNSC, and have condemned Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has never considered them as enemies. It is thought that China and Russia have attempted to lessen the UNSC's anti-Iran approach and encourage more moderate treatment of Iran.
However, the most important way in which Iran justifies its determination to resist world concern regarding its nuclear ambitions may be found in the Iranian leaders' interior strategic shift.
Throughout the last three decades since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Iranian government has categorised all national issues under the name of “Islamic values”. Almost every national achievement under the Islamic regime is recognised as being of benefit to the Islamic world. In contrast, nuclear power is the only achievement the government acknowledges as “national”, comparable to the nationalisation of oil in Iran in 1953. By linking nuclear power to the Iranian identity, the government aims to delude the Iranian public sphere via the fantasy of re-establishing the bygone glories of the “Great Persia”.
In doing so, as many socio-political thinkers argue, total control of the public sphere is crucial. This is how the Iranian government tries to isolate its people from reality, both through censorship and by spreading propaganda throughout all sections of public life, for example education, leisure, sports, etc. in order to justify the cost and effect of its decision to develop nuclear power.
Freedom of information
One essential issue for authoritarian regimes is to isolate their publics from free access to information resources. In the case of Iran, throughout the past three decades, successive Islamic governments have limited Iranians' free access to information.
The government attempts to justify its monitoring and control over all aspects of the private sphere by portraying itself as “defending Islamic and revolutionary values”. Iran's Islamic government intrudes into all private spheres, raids people’s houses, offices, and cars, in a determined bid to control all facets of their behaviour. Revolutionary guards monitor Iranians’ personal and public communications on their phones and e-mails. Recently, the police were authorised to stop people to check their text messages and the numbers they communicated with by mobile phone.
The closing down of more than 121 newspapers over the last few years is an example of the Iranian government's intolerance. The Iranian Journalists Syndicate has declared this year (2009) to be the hardest ever for journalists; Iran has one of the highest rates of jailed journalists in the world. On the 6th of August, 2009, immediately after their declaration, the state proclaimed the Journalists Syndicate an illegal organisation. General speaking, the Iranian state prefers its people to be isolated from the world news.
But a great shift is anticipated at a time when the Iranian hardliner regime is under pressure from the outside world to modify its nuclear program. The state desperately needs the public's support in order to withstand international pressure and UN sanctions. With this firmly in mind, the Islamic regime, for the first time, has declared its nuclear program as being for the benefit of “the great Persia”. Well aware of the futility of applying the values of Islam to nuclear power, Ahmadinejad emphasises the importance of this technology for reviving “a glorious Persia”, knowing how important this notion is to the Iranian public in general, given that it distinguishes them from Arab Muslims.
A report issued by the Iranian tourism ministry shows that more than 81 per cent of Iranians refer to themselves as “Persian” rather than “Iranian” when they are travelling outside of the country. The removal of the name “Arab Gulf” from the National Geographic website, resulting from a petition signed by more than one million Iranians, saw its replacement with its original name of “Persian Gulf”, surely a telling example of this sentiment.