LOS ANGELES – International efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons will be given a new lease on life this month, because France has assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council. As Council president, France, which shares America’s views about the need to strengthen sanctions on Iran’s government, can raise the matter, something that China eschewed during its tenure in January as Council leader.
But, even were a revived Franco-American effort to succeed in getting the UN organ to endorse targeted penalties to hamstring the financial underpinnings of the Revolutionary Guards and other Iranian elites, the proposed measures appear to be too modest. They arguably add little to three prior sanction resolutions that ban the export of nuclear and ballistic-missile technology and conventional arms, and that freeze the assets and travel of a handful of Iranian officials. Moreover, despite the pain they impose, economic sanctions historically have a poor record of prompting countries to change fundamental policy.
But there is a notable exception to this pattern: Libya’s decision in December 2003 to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The country’s dramatic shift from the nearly quarter-century effort to get the bomb marks a remarkable proliferation reversal – and sanctions played a key role. How those sanctions worked in tandem with other forms of pressure provides hope that they may yet help turn Iran around.
If nothing else, Muammar Qadaffi’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons were far more audacious than Iran’s. The saga began within a year of Qadaffi’s 1969 overthrow of King Idris. With no wherewithal to manufacture a nuclear bomb, Qadaffi sought to buy one.