Within the framework of its studies on the major geopolitical issues of our time, the Paris Academy of Geopolitics organised on Monday, 3 June 2013, the conference “Sanctions on Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Assessment and Evaluation of Requirements and Consequences” held at the Luxembourg Palace (Senate).
Nowadays, the international sanctions adopted by the UN and unilateral sanctions are decided and enforced repeatedly. These sanctions have gradually become the only available international instrument for coercion. One of the stated goals of these sanctions is the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, the impact and efficiency of this instrument in this field is a subject of debate. What are the consequences of these sanctions on the affected countries? Don’t they sometimes include objectives unrelated to non-proliferation?
The conference has been inaugurated by senator Aymeri de Montesquiou. He says that he is not convinced of the fact that making the Iranian people suffer is the best solution corresponding to the stated reasons of these sanctions; on the contrary, he believes that the population shall come out of it more united in front of foreign pressures especially with regard to the Iranian nuclear issue which he briefly recollected. There is indeed a certain hereditary particularity in the management of military nuclear programmes only by the five members of the United Nations Security Council, the same who have also unilaterally tackled the Indian, Pakistani and Israeli exceptions. The game is flawed; there is an extremely unequal aspect in determining those that may have a nuclear capacity and those for whom the new international system has decided that they may not develop it. Consequently, the senator believes that international sanctions not only reinforce the prevailing decision internally expressed by the Iranian people to develop a nuclear capacity, but they also further strengthen Iran’s strategic proximity to China and Russia. A change in perspective is therefore expected and recommended.
His Excellency Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary-General of the UN, has been unable to attend the conference due to his health condition. Nevertheless, he has entrusted one of his colleagues, Dr. Elie Hatem, with the delivery of his speech.
His Excellency Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali dwells on the fact that the expected objective of the sanctions must be a change in the approach of any state or entity that poses a threat on peace and international security, and not the punishment or adoption of repressive measures against them. That is also the foundation of the provisions of article 41 from the United Nations Charter.
According to His Excellency, sanctions are actually a blunt instrument. They raise the ethical question whether the inflicted sufferance on vulnerable groups in target countries is a legitimate means of exerting pressure on the political leaders of these countries. According to him, the question is to find out whether these measures really affect these political leaders or whether they use the civilian population as hostage in order to force the former by turning public opinion against them. In this respect, experience has shown that sanctions have surprising or unexpected effects inasmuch as the United Nations does not necessarily have the means to control them, he added.
Without questioning the call for sanctions against any action that is deemed as being internationally illicit, His Excellency Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali wishes that sanctions be adopted by judicial authorities instead of political authorities in a world in which the LAW should prevail and take precedence over political opportunism.
Dr. Ali Rastbeen, President of the Paris Academy of Geopolitics, then took the floor in order to thank all the people that have attended the Academy’s conference: special thanks went to senator DE MONTESQUIOU for the warm welcome with which he greeted the Academy. He also gave his thanks to the attending members of diplomatic bodies among which: Princess Ambassador of Belgium, Their Excellencies Ambassadors from the Kingdom of Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Georgia, Kuwait, Moldova, Togo, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Afghanistan to UNESCO, the diplomatic bodies of Brazil, Canada, China, Korea, Egypt, Guatemala, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Czech Republic, Tanzania, Romania, Russia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Togo, Turkey, and the High Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, as well as the Director of the United Nations, of international, human rights and francophone organisations.
Then the President briefly addressed the main issue of the conference explaining that sanctions are presently used unilaterally and multilaterally as an instrument of pressure on other countries. Nevertheless, he believes that this instrument may be sometimes used improperly to serve political purposes. He adds that these sanctions exceed the framework of the United Nations Security Council if applied extraterritorially and unilaterally to other people. According to him, it is extremely pressing to have the experts analyse the different political, economic, legal and human implications of these sanctions and find an appropriate solution to stop this process that is actually targeting the people of the countries subjected to sanctions.
During the last years, one of the declared objectives of these sanctions has been the fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, the President asked himself whether in the case of Iran the enforcement of large sanctions against this country has led to the strengthening of nuclear non-proliferation or, on the contrary, whether through it, the states that enforce these sanctions are after political interests.
The President has highlighted his will to see this conference insist upon the case of Iran as one of the countries that forms the object of these sanctions. He also expressed his wish that the exchanges of views and debate draw the attention of the decision factors in international relations over the issue of sanctions, and in the light of realism and understanding of the pressure exerted on the people of the countries subjected to the latter, these decisions be revised and their extent assessed in conformity and compliance with international law.
The conference has been organised in the form of two panels.
The first one was chaired by His Excellency Mr. Pierre La France, former Ambassador of France in Iran and United Nations Representative in Afghanistan.
His Excellency has immediately given the floor to the opening speaker in the first panel, His Excellency Mr. François Nicoullaud, former Ambassador of France in Iran who chose to speak on the topic of:“Is there a proper use of sanctions?” .
His Excellency Mr. Nicoulaud believes that the turn taken by the Iranian case once again raises questions on the use of sanctions. These usually get bad press in France where they are considered as being dangerous, expensive and inefficient. The truth is slightly different according to the speaker. In fact, the Fifth Republic has successfully had access to sanctions on a regular basis quite a few times. But the United States is undoubtedly the country that has made use the most of this instrument of foreign policy, he added. And after the Cold War ended, it was easier to make use of multilateral sanctions enjoying the legitimacy of the Security Council. The former Ambassador of France in Iran concluded from the issue of sanctions the conditions for success. For instance, the sanctions are more efficient provided their target is weak, politically and culturally close to the sanctioning party and has a pluralistic political system. He adds that their chances of success increase when their goal is defined and when a clear alternative is offered to the sanctioned country. However, this type of assessment is rarely performed prior to a sanctioning policy, hence the headlong rush and the spectacular setbacks of dissenting opinions. Notwithstanding the critics, according to the Ambassador, sanctions remain an important element of international action within a scale of instruments that ranges from the productions of norms – pertaining to the work of multilateral diplomacy, to the open use of force: the work of the military.
The second speaker, Thierry Coville, Professor of Economics at Négocia, has chosen to speak about the EU sanctions against the Iranian financial system, namely its legal grounds. In order to put pressure on Iran in the context of its nuclear programme , the EU has taken a certain number of measures targeting the Iranian commercial public banks, measures that are harsher than those adopted by the UN and that come close to the U.S. financial sanctions, Thierry Coville pointed out. As a matter of fact, he reminded that in June 2008, the European Council had frozen all assets and financial resources held or managed by Iranian companies on EU territory. Aside from these targeted sanctions, he added that the EU had implemented more general sanctions. Since October 2000, a provision states that nearly all asset transfers above 10,000 Euros originating from or towards a person or Iranian entity must be subjected to notification and authorization measures as the EU banks are restricted from having any correspondence relations with Iranian banks. In December 2012, all asset transfers between European and Iranian banks have been banned. Generally, there are exceptions concerning health and food, but these are not implemented, according to him, due to the complexity of performing transactions between the European banks and Iran. Professor Coville has nevertheless questioned the legal ground for general sanctions, especially with regard to the freezing of asset transfers. He supports his argument with a certain number of legal sentences that have been pronounced in the United Kingdom. Yet, he pleaded that the sanctions have had a great deal in proving that there was a direct necessary link with the Iranian nuclear authorities, especially with regard to the argument of “secret security” that is unrelated to democratic principles, in the speaker’s view.
The third speaker, Dr. Elie Hatem, attorney-at-law and Professor at the Free Faculty of Law, Economics and Management in Paris, has spoken about the extraterritorial sanctions and the political independence to third parties. Dr. Hatem has insisted on the notion of “sovereignty” which is, according to him, the legal expression of a state’s independence. It expresses itself through the inalienable right to organize internally and freely adopt regulations through its judicial or governmental systems (e.g. regulations in France). According to Mr. Hatem, extraterritorial sanctions are measures taken by one or several states enforceable on public or private factors in third countries that are in violation of their sovereignty and of the principle of non-interference in the home affairs of a country. The speaker believes that not only these measures are illicit because they violate jus cogens (i.e. peremptory norm), but they are also illustrative of the disorder that reigns in the international community.
The next speaker, Mr. Pierre-Emmanuel Dupont, legal expert and consultant in public international law and Senior Lecturer at the Free Faculty of Law, Economics and Management in Paris, has spoken about “The Role of Sanctions in the Implementation of the Non-Proliferation Programme”.
This contribution has been focused on the analysis of certain legal issues underpinning these unilateral measures (or sanctions) targeted against certain states or entities. Through unilateral measures, we understand measures that are different from those taken by the United Nations Security Council within the framework known as collective security in the United Nations Charter. Mr. Dupont explained that one of the most recent cases deals with the measures adopted against Iran by the European Union and its member states during the year 2012, targeted at forcing Iran to give up a certain number of actions in its nuclear programme, and which present an extended embargo on the imports of Iranian petrol and gas (in force as of 1 July 2012), and the freezing of assets from the Iranian Central Bank. From the point of view of international law, these measures firstly raise the question of their legal background on which depends the applicable legal framework. The author believes that these measures may be deemed as countermeasures. For that matter, he examines whether by deciding to enforce these measures, the European Union and its member states have complied with the procedural and fundamental conditions of appeal to countermeasures such as provisioned by the articles on the state’s responsibility for international illicit actions adopted in 2001 by the International Law Commission of the United Nations.
The fifth speaker, Ali Fathollah-Nejad, researcher in international relations at the University of London, has analysed the political reasons behind sanctions.
His presentation is in contrast with the previous arguments related to the sanctions enforced against Iran having measurable results. Economic sanctions are one of the favourite instruments in Western foreign relations. According to the researcher, these are generally introduced as an appropriate, almost pacifist diplomatic means of avoiding warfare. The latter gives an example of the Iraqi case that proves the fact that the general problem remains that sanctions are frequently the last step before a military intervention. In other words, “smart bombs” will follow “smart sanctions”.
According to the speaker, the sanctions shall not ease conflict resolution, but they will contribute to the tightening up of the opposing parties. In fact, each side sees sanctions through fundamentally different filters: while the Western world understands sanctions in a cost and benefit framework for the sanctioned country, Iran sees them as a means of illegitimate pressure against which it must fight back. Additionally, there is a widespread idea that there is a positive connection between sanctions and democracy. But in reality, by weakening the middle class layers, the state extends its gain in power as compared to the civil society. This shows that the perspective of revolt triggering due to these sanctions is a utopia rather than reality. Mr. Fathollah-Nejad concludes that the sanctions approach is counterproductive at different levels (diplomatic and socio-economic). Despite the political need to abolish sanctions as a judicious instrument of foreign relations, we are left with several political and institutional obstacles in order to destroy the extremely compact network of the sanctions programme enforced on Iran.
The address of Matthew Happold, Professor of Public International Law at University of Luxembourg, dwells on the humanitarian requirements related to the enforcement of sanctions.
According to the speaker, as opposed to global sanctions, targeted sanctions or “smart sanctions” should be imposed in order to avoid damaging innocent lives from a humanitarian perspective. Nevertheless, there was once the belief that global sanctions were not very efficient: it was thought that they affected the innocents, but in return, the leaders were spared, and due to their respective statuses, they escaped sanctions. According to Mr. Happold, the argument was two-sided: avoiding collateral damages while striking those whose behaviour had brought forth the situation that called for sanctions.
Professor Happold nevertheless warns that the phrase “targeted sanctions” is not in itself appropriately coined. On one side, it appears to refer to sanctions that target particular individuals specifically in relationship with the freezing of their financial assets and the enactment of travel ban. On the other side, it is also used to refer to situations where in reality sector sanctions apply in which special types of imports or exports are banned. He gives an example of the former case referring to the arm embargo.
The second panel on the consequences and perspectives of sanctions has been chaired by Chancellor Armel Pécheul, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law.
The first speaker, His Excellency Mr. Jean-Pierre Vettovaglia, former Ambassador of Switzerland in France and university professor, deals with the impact and efficiency of sanctions.
The contribution of Ambassador Vettovaglia is essentially focused on the analysis of the impact and efficiency of sanctions in general and in the field of nuclear proliferation in particular. His arguments have been inspired by the recent works of the “Targeted Sanctions Consortium” established under the supervision of Professor Thomas Biersteker from Geneva Institute. He attempted to prove the relative inefficiency of sanctions including in terms of non-proliferation even if the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) remains one of the most respected treaties in the field of public international law.
His contribution has highlighted the fact that sanctioned parties are less concerned with their impact and efficiency. Adding UN’s sanctions to unilateral and multilateral ones turns it into an opaque whole that is less and less legitimate, not to say anything related to legal grounds. This does not stop good faith protests that hide the real social, economic and political objectives of sanctions that should be entirely targeted from now on. The non-proliferation objectives hide others that are more mundane. It is likely that the evolution of the UN system and the transition to a multipolar world once again make more difficult the enforcement of multilateral coercive sanctions in the field of non-proliferation. Likewise, the interpretation that the Western Powers give to articles III and IV of the NPT in the case of Iran may become more difficult to handle in the future.
The second speaker, Mr. Alexander Orakhelashvili, Lecturer of the Faculty of Law at University of Birmingham, has entitled his paper “The Impact of Unilateral Sanctions on the UN Collective Security Framework”.
Dr. Orakhelashvili’s contribution concentrated on the sanctions of the United Nations Organisation and European Union against Iran and Syria in terms of impact on the UN’s collective security mechanism. According to the speaker, the sanctions against Iran and Syria raise questions about the relationship between countermeasures within the framework of a state’s own legal responsibility and about sanctions as measures of collective security. Mr. Orakhelashvili’s contribution has highlighted the idea related to what each of these types of measures may legally perform and the impact of their legal reach. This question is raised with regard to the risk of effort duplication in collective security between the UN and the EU which threatens to obstruct the efficiency of sanctions by inflicting losses on the population of the targeted country without proper justification.
The contribution of Professor François Géré, Founding President of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis focuses on the role of sanctions in the enforcement of the Non-proliferation Nuclear Programme.
Embargo and sanctions are an old classic strategy in which TIME is an essential element. However, in the case of Iran, Mr. Géré thinks that there is also a fundamental game with the time element: the development of the Iranian nuclear programme and the increasing proximity in the availability of raw materials that may be used for military purposes. We keep reading that Iran is trying to buy time. That its opponents count on the long terms effects of sanctions.
Professor Géré emphasizes that due to sanctions and inherent banking constraints, Iran loses money from its hydrocarbons revenues and has to sell below the market. Teheran must extend payment deadlines. There are already very complicated “barter” agreements for instance with India: hydrocarbons sold for wheat. However, the rising price of hydrocarbons since 2004 allows the Iranian Government to keep its revenues at approximately the same level despite the fact that sales have gone down by 25%.
Even if the majority of countries (i.e. Japan, South Korea etc.) agree to (partially) subject themselves to the orders of the United States, Teheran still finds enough support in China, India etc.
The paradox of sanctions is that they emphasize the dependence of the Iranian economy on hydrocarbons and provides an argument that is in favour of the nuclear industry development!
The fourth contribution, that of Admiral Jean Dufourcq, Chief Editor of the National Defence Journal, Research Director at the Strategic Research Institute of the Military Academy, is entitled: “The Geostrategic Effects of Sanctions”.
According to Admiral Jean Dufourcq, it is more and more clear that the mechanism of international sanctions against Iran weakens the entire international system. Further from increasing the gap between the population and the regime, they reinforce the latter and undermine the power strategies of emerging and BRIC countries that are unsatisfied with the status quo set by the West at the cost of their strategic dynamics. According to the Admiral, attention must be paid to three fundamental aspects:
– The game seems highly flawed and does not correspond to an authentic willingness to negotiate starting from a reasonable constraint;
– The collective pressure is a strategy that may be bypassed by the target in today’s context of the various types of support in favour of Iran and of the U.S. unilateralism;
– The sanctions against Iran such as enforced, pose a real problem related to the governance of the international system.
The call for a new kind of negotiations is particularly realistic and worth considering inasmuch as the Iranian regime appears today ready to what I would call minimal cold cooperation with all the negotiators.
The fifth speaker, Ali Reza Jalali, Researcher in constitutional law on Eurasia and at the Centre for Mediterranean Studies in Italy, examines sanctions and the origins of social change in target countries: the case of Iran.
Due to the importance of oil in the Iranian economy, Ali Reza Jalali believes that these sanctions have a negative impact on the country especially in the short term. The main effect is the devaluation of the local currency, the sharp rise of inflation currently around 30%. According to the speaker, this also reflects in a rise in prices which has caused a lot of problems especially for the middle and lower classes, and for the Iranian employees, but has benefitted the wealthiest families and some members of the middle class thanks to financial speculation.
In fact, Reza Jalali explains that Iran cannot perform international banking transfers and even if it can, it is done in very poor and difficult conditions. The sanctions are not going to “teach” anything; on the contrary, they are pushing towards policies that promote self-sufficiency in the energy sector. Without its oil sector, Iran loses its main source of revenue of the country. On the other side, Teheran is forced to find an alternative to oil and nuclear energy in order to survive; therefore it represents a historic candidate. He adds that in its turn, and despite the hardships in terms of sanctions, the Iranian people understand the irrationality of the latter, which has caused a feeling of widespread injustice, triggering an increase of hatred directed against the arrogant international powers, directly responsible for these unjust economic sanctions. This situation only leads to hatred within the Iranian society and not against the Iranian regime, but against the United States and some European Governments.
Pierre Berthelot, Teacher and Associate Researcher at IFAS and IPSE, speaks about the effects of sanctions on the economy of targeted countries.
According to Mr. Berthelot, when diplomacy seems to have failed and the use of force seems difficult, disproportionate or impossible, the weapon of sanctions, primarily economic in nature, becomes the essential way of relations between certain powers and the countries that they deem disruptive of the international system, particularly when they dispose of nuclear weapons or that they are notorious for wanting to acquire it. Nevertheless, experience has shown so far that even if sanctions are always likely to have a negative impact on the economy of these countries, they are however not enough to weaken them decisively. These “rebel” countries gradually succeed in developing a “guerrilla” economy that tends towards self-sufficiency and favours bartering, Mr. Berthelot explains. Worse than that, he argued that sanctions generally strengthen politically the regimes in place who in turn increase their control over the resources produced, that they then distribute to a population who witnesses the deterioration of its living conditions opposite those of its leaders and debtors.
Mr. Christophe Reveillard, Head of Research at the University of Sorbonne and CNRS has closed this international conference by means of an extremely extended summary that recalls the main topics of the different speakers and their arguments to these. He says that the main issue of this conference is the incompatibility of international sanctions with the stated objectives. Recalling the arguments belonging to senator Montesquiou, President Rastbeen and many others, he declares that hurting the Iranian population strengthens both its internal unity towards external factors and its prevailing wish to achieve a nuclear capacity. Therefore, this questions the real efficiency of these sanctions. Like many other speakers, Professor Reveillard also insists on the unequal characteristic reserved to the five members of the Security Council in determining who may have the nuclear power, with a few exceptions like the case of Iran who represents the main issue of this conference. Further on, sanctions have been decided undemocratically in absence of a debate and amid a widespread incoherence in decisions that made use of general arguments, he added, especially since violations of human rights, which are the last stop and limit before sanctions, have been confirmed without ensuing appropriate reactions from the international community. Indeed, by recalling the example of Professor Coville, when inflation rises above 40%, there is a direct violation of the economic capacity or even survival of a certain part of the population. For that matter, there is a qualitative and even quantitative leap without an apparent justification in the enforcement of sanctions by the EU in particular. From a legal point of view, Professor Reveillard speaks of the “pollution” of the public international law by an American hegemony of the decision power within the international system as explained by Dr. Hatem, and by the excessive characteristic of the general law expressed in the form of extraterritorial sanctions. The speaker believes that the misconception underpinning the chosen approach is flagrant. The question raised calls for a new governance in international negotiations. To conclude with, Mr. Reveillard praises the quality of the raised questions and observations taken from the floor that have enhanced the main substance common to the various presentations and the relevance of the remarks issued at this conference, unprecedented in the international and French scientific framework, as highlighted by many of the speakers.