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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

The Hollow Language of Sanctions

Heads of government must employ one of the foremost skills of leadership - communication - and articulate why Iran poses a threat to all of us. They need to explain why Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his regime are dangerous; describe what might happen to the world if he is allowed to have his way; tell the citizens of the world -- from Japan to England to the United States -- how they could be affected by a nuclear-armed Iran. Such a clear, widely disseminated message has the dual benefit of solidifying world opinion as well as demonstrating to Iran the depth and breadth of the opposition it faces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested further economic sanctions against Iran. The historical record suggests, however, that sanctions don't generally achieve their intended goals. They tend to be primarily a device for saving face, enabling critics to claim the moral high ground without having to take strong action. Forceful language rings hollow unless it conveys the understanding that serious consequences will result from a continuous flouting of the norms of acceptable behavior. For sanctions to work, they need to be universally embraced. Consider Cuba. We've had sanctions against the Castro regime for 50 years, and Castro remains in power, in part because the U.S. is alone in imposing sanctions. Similarly, sanctions against North Korea have done little to budge Kim Jong Il.

Sanctions tend to hurt the people of rogue nations more than they damage the regimes of those dictators. That was certainly the view of Margaret Thatcher, who held out against world opinion with regard to sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Her refusal to impose sanctions against South Africa provided Robin Renwick, the British Ambassador to South Africa at the time, the credibility and access to play a pivotal role in securing the release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island, which in turn led to the subsequent dismantling of apartheid. In the case of Iran, sanctions may work, given that Iran does not have a single oil refinery, but they must be enforced with vigilance by all -- an extremely difficult task. I'm not suggesting a bombing run on Iran's nuclear facilities. But if the world's leaders are going to talk tough to Tehran, they must be prepared to back up their words with a plan of action that shows they collectively take this problem very seriously. Otherwise, they lose credibility in their future dealings with Iran or any other international bully.

At the same time, we must be careful that any move against the government of Iran doesn't stir up nationalist feelings among its citizens - never mind that the citizens themselves have expressed unhappiness with their government. That's why any action and statement against Iran must come with an explanation that our complaint is with the leaders of Iran, not with the Iranian people. If the people are somehow inspired to stand up in defense of their government, then our problem worsens.

Another option would be to engage Iran diplomatically. President Obama has suggested as much in the past. Margaret Thatcher pursued this option in South Africa. Can it be done in Iran? We won't know unless we try.

By Yash Gupta

 |  September 30, 2009; 9:49 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Our arrogance makes us think in terms of "bulllying others". It is precisely this attitude that makes the rogue nations get roguer and dig in their heels.

Our arrgance should be in our humility in finding solutions to turn things around without threats and harm.

Iranian leadership understands our power, there is not need for us to flaunt it. We need to show our power to mitigate conflicts without aggravating them.

Dialogue is the hallmark of civil societies and we need to prove that on the ocassion of Mahamta Gandhis's birthday, a champion of non-bullying.

Mike Ghouse
Foundation for Pluralism

Posted by: mikeghouse | October 4, 2009 1:56 AM
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If a bombing run on Iran's nuclear facilities is not the right approach, then a forceful universally embraced sanction is needed as to hammer home that the international community collectively takes this problem very seriously. We've had sanctions against North Korea and the Castro regime and they still remain in power.
Sanctions obviously tend to hurt the people of rogue regimes more than they damage the dictatorial rule. Any action and statement against Iran must come with an explanation defusing the stirred up nationalist feelings among the people of Iran.

Posted by: mansorparhizgar-pooyan | October 1, 2009 12:38 PM
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you may have facts but you don't know what you are talking about...

Posted by: DwightCollins | October 1, 2009 7:38 AM
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Why introduce sanctions against Iran? And why do so many people in USA believe that the people of the world would rally around an American battle cry for sanctions? Have not American leadership and its business community caused hardship both to the democratically elected government of Iran as well as the people of Iran. And concerning the half a century sanction of Cuba this is something that many US Administration and the people of US should be deeply ashamed of. I am very proud of one of my shipmates on the US run in the middle of 1950ยดs who as a ships captain refused to be bullied by the American Navy and President Kennedy 1962 when sailing right through the naval blockade around Cuba to deliver his cargo of herring fish to the Cubans.

Posted by: clark010 | September 30, 2009 1:38 PM
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