The Myth of Benign Sanctions

by Ali Fathollah-Nejad*

*A shorter version of this article (that was initially drafted in late 2011) has been published in the leading intellectual outlet of the German-speaking world, in the “Feuilleton” pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on January 3, 2013. It was published in an Arabic translation on Jadaliyya (Washington, DC & Beirut: Arab Studies Institute).

1. See e.g. Younis, Mohamed (2013) “Iranians Feel Bite of Sanctions, Blame U.S., Not Own Leaders,” Gallup, February 7. 

2. Ottolenghi, Emanuele (2010), “Setting the Sanctions Agenda,” The Journal of International Security Affairs, Washington, DC: The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, No. 18 (Spring), pp. 19-30, here p. 26.

3. See, for example: Carter, Barry E. (2008) , ‘”Economic Coercion,” in: Wolfrum, Rüdiger (ed.) Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Oxford University Press, last update by September 2009; online version available via

4. “No State may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights or to secure from it advantages of any kind,” UN General Assembly, Resolution 2131 (XX), 21 December 1965, para. 2. The resolution was decided without any vote against and with only one abstention. See also Carter, op. cit., Section 7.

5. Salehi-Isfahani, Djavad (2010) “Iran’s Youth, The Unintended Victims of Sanctions,” Dubai Initiative — Policy Brief, Cambridge, MA: The Dubai Initiative, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

6. For a good introduction, see Parsi, Trita & Bahrami, Natasha (2012) “Blunt Instrument: Sanctions Don’t Promote Democratic Change,” Boston Review (online), February 6, 2013.

7. See Fathollah-Nejad, Ali (2013), “Iran’s Civil Society Grappling with a Triangular Dynamic,” in: Aarts, Paul & Cavatorta, Francesco (eds.) Civil Society in Syria and Iran: Activism in Authoritarian Contexts, Boulder, CO & London: Lynne Rienner, pp. 39-68.

8. See Parsi, Trita (2012) “How Obama Should Talk to Iran,” Washington Post, January 14, 2013.

9. See International Crisis Group (2013) Spider Web: The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions, Brussels: International Crisis Group (Middle East Report, No. 138, February; Khajehpour, Bijan and Marashi; Reza and Parsi, Trita (2013) “Never Give In and Never Give Up”: The Impact of Sanctions on Tehran’s Nuclear Calculations, Washington, DC: National Iranian American Council (NIAC), March.

10. See Gordon, Joy (2010), Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

11. On women, see Al-Ali, Nadje (2003) “Women, Gender Relations, and Sanctions in Iraq,” in: Inati, Shams C. (ed) Iraq: Its History, People and Politics, Amherst, NY: Humanity Books.

12. Von Sponeck, Hans-Christof (2006) “A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq,” New York: Berghahn Books.

13. Ganji, Akbar (2011) “Mojâzât-e régime yâ mojâzât-e mardom-e Irân?!” (Penalties for the Regime or the People of Iran?), Rooz online, December 8.