On December 23, 2006 the UN Security Council (SC) unanimously adopted
Resolution 1737. The Resolution imposes sanctions on Iran for failing to
comply with previous SC demands and again insists that Iran suspend
proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities, including all enrichment-related
and reprocessing activities, research and development, and work on all
heavy-water related projects, including the construction of a research
reactor moderated by heavy water. There is nothing new in these demands,
which have been made time and again by the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) and the SC. Moreover, the present resolution is almost four
months overdue; the last deadline that Iran ignored was on August 31.
Although Iran has briefly suspended uranium-enrichment-related activity
twice in the past, it had been steadily progressing since it resumed work in
mid-2005. Since then, it has constructed several enrichment "cascades" and
has actually enriched (below the 5% level) very small amounts of
uranium-235. This degree of enrichment is needed for power-reactor fuel but
it is also the essential step en route to weapons-grade material (about
90%). In practical terms, this means that Iran has been unhindered in the
pursuit of its nuclear ambitions. It means that international opinion, in
the virtual absence of any real action, has had no effect on Iran's
progress. It means that unless something drastic is done, Iran will achieve
its aims in the foreseeable future. It is in this light that the present SC
resolution should be examined.
The imposition of sanctions on a state is meant to achieve several purposes:
to coerce it into taking action mandated by the imposer of sanctions; to
prevent undesirable actions, and to punish. The first purpose is clearly
defined in the Resolution, which states that the SC "shall suspend the
implementation of measures if and for so long as Iran suspends all
enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and
development, as verified by the IAEA, to allow for negotiations." Thus, the
sanctions have to be severe enough to force Iran to take verifiable actions
to stop its weapons-related activities.
The undesirable action to be prevented is continued progress in Iran's
nuclear programs. For this reason, the Resolution requires that "all states
shall take the necessary measures to prevent the supply, sale or transfer
directly or indirectly from their territories. to, or for the use in or
benefit of, Iran, and whether or not originating in their territories, of.
items, materials, equipment, goods and technolog[ies]." These measures are
further detailed in the text of the Resolution.
Punitive action is rarely taken for its own sake. In the case of Libya, for
example, punitive sanctions were applied in order to end the regime's
support of terrorism and halt Libya's nuclear program. These objectives
were eventually achieved without a change of regime, and when they were
achieved, the sanctions were rescinded.
Can Resolution 1737 achieve the aims of coercion and prevention? The
prospects are virtually non-existent. In order to coerce Iran into
suspending its nuclear activities, the penalties for failing to do so would
have to be much harsher at this late stage of the game. But under Russian
pressure, the sanctions originally proposed were gravely watered down to the
point where they cannot possibly persuade Iran to suspend its activities.
Technical sanctions, for example, cover only the provision of materials,
equipment and know-how that are not related to the Russian and the Iranian
power and research reactors at Bushehr, Teheran and Esfahan. As a result,
much material and equipment applicable to Iran's nuclear program can be
imported under these exceptions; restrictions in the form of end-use
declarations and some verification can be overcome. Moreover, plutonium
(albeit not of very good quality) can be extracted (albeit not easily) from
the nuclear fuel in the Bushehr power reactor, i.e., on Iranian soil.
In the economic realm, the Resolution states that "all States shall freeze
the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their
territories at the date of adoption of this resolution or at any time
thereafter, that are owned or controlled by the persons or entities
designated in the Annex, as well as those of additional persons or entities
designated by the Security Council." What does the Annex detail? Because of
the Russian pressure, the SC designates seven "entities"
(companies/organizations) in the nuclear field, seven persons involved in
the nuclear program, three entities and four persons in the ballistic
missile area, and one person involved in both. These are ludicrous numbers;
there are tens of organizations and hundreds, if not thousands, of people
involved in both programs. Moreover, the designated people are not
prohibited from travel if the purpose of the travel is related to the
permitted activities. Otherwise, only proper "vigilance" should be exercised
concerning their travel. It is difficult to imagine a greater display of
But for the pressure by Russia (with the support of China) a much stronger
resolution would almost certainly have been adopted. Why did Russia act in
this way? There are probably several explanations: economic interests,
preemption of Iranian assistance to Islamic dissidents (Chechnya comes to
mind), a wish to snub the US, and a desire to maintain Iran as an ally.
Underlying all of these is almost certainly the belief that a nuclear Iran
does not pose a threat to Russia. Otherwise, Russia would have acted
With the exception of the Iranian representative, all speakers at the SC
expressed their satisfaction with Resolution and all stressed that the door
remained open to negotiations for a diplomatic solution. On that happy note,
they retired for the Christmas holidays. However, the most probable future
scenario leads to an entirely different outlook: Iran will not heed the call
for suspension but will persist and eventually accomplish its military
nuclear goals. The non-proliferation regime, the IAEA and the SC will prove
to have been ineffective, and the world will find itself in a much more
difficult and dangerous situation. Because it does too little and comes too
late, Resolution 1737 will not prevent this outcome.
INSS Insight is published through the generosity of
Sari and Israel Roizman, Philadelphia
The Institute for National Security Studies
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