• 26 March 2012
  • Posted By B.Farshneshani
  • Nuclear file, Sanctions

Applying the Lessons of South Africa Sanctions to Iran

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post

“My basic approach is that sanctions have a limited place in international diplomacy or pressure,” says F.W. de Klerk, the former president of South Africa who presided over the end of the apartheid regime and the dismantling of the country’s nuclear weapons. Discussing whether sanctions are a useful tool of statecraft, de Klerk observed, “In the case of South Africa, it kept us on our toes. It halted economic growth, but it hurt the black population much more than the white population. It didn’t help those who it was intended to help, it actually harmed them more than it harmed the intended victims of the sanctions.”

De Klerk’s comments, delivered earlier this month at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, may be useful in assessing the utility of broad sanctions against Iran. Proponents of Iran sanctions cite the case of South Africa as an example of a successful sanctions regime against a state that transitioned to a democracy and subsequently dismantled its nuclear weapons. But out of the 35 authoritarian states that have transitioned to democracies, South Africa is the only one that did so under the weight of broad economic sanctions.

However, according to de Clerk, “sanctions at times delayed reform. In our case the biggest change agent, which in many respects made nonsense of the apartheid, was economic growth and development. Economic growth and development created an impetus in black education. Because of economic growth and development, so many black universities were created. By the 1990s there were more black students in universities than white students. But economic sanctions twisted our economy.”

According to economist Mats Lundahl, many of the sanctions imposed on South Africa depressed the industrial sector and actually perpetuated the dominance of a skilled labor force led by whites. Lundahl argues that if industrial markets were allowed to flourish, the expansion of its labor market would naturally prompt a quicker end to the apartheid regime.

For Iran, some analysts have observed a similar phenomenon. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has assessed that the sanctions’ “basic effect has been to weaken civil society and strengthen the state” and that “the other effects of the sanctions has been that larger and larger parts of the economy are now controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – the elite corps of the armed forces.” Akbar Ganji, the popular dissident writer, argued that, by imposing sanctions “the unemployment rate in Iran will increase by millions, poverty will be expanded all over the country and the middle class will merge into the lower class.” And if the objective of sanctions is to create a revolutionary situation in which democracy will arise, “an economic crisis will marginalize the process of transition to democracy by wiping out the middle class as the main player in this process” and ultimately fail in bringing about its intended changes.

In the case of South Africa under apartheid, there is also significant evidence that sanctions actually were a motivating factor in the regime’s decision to build nuclear weapons in the first place, rather than being the force behind its dismantlement.

According to de Clerk, “sanctions force nations to become inward looking. Suddenly if the world grows back from them, they take hands and form fists and they say who the hell is the United States to tell us what to do? They don’t understand our problems.”

U.S. Special National Intelligence Estimate from October 1974 attributed the South African leadership’s decision to pursue nuclear weapons to “its growing feeling of isolation and helplessness, perceptions of major military threat, and desires for regional prestige.” Intensifying South Africa’s security concerns, was the mounting tension around its boarders with Soviet backed Cuban forces in Angola, coupled with the newly imposed U.N. arms embargo which aimed to weaken its military might, with an emphasis on its nuclear program.

Apartheid South Africa’s growing distrust of its neighbors, doubt over the intentions of the West, particularly in regard to its military and its further isolation from the international community, are believed to be the driving forces behind the South African leadership’s decision to develop the bomb.

Sanctions, said Klerk, “helped us build 6.5 atomic bombs. All that money–billions and billions of dollars which went into our nuclear armament program, into our uranium enrichment programs… All that could have been used for [other] further development.”

De Clerk also had a telling message to consider with respect to a country like Iran that has been under international sanctions for decades that have not produced intended results. “Unless sanctions can throttle a country, countries will find ways and means to circumvent those sanctions,” he explained, “And I believe if sanctions don’t succeed for the purpose its established with in two or three years, there should be a re-think and it should be admitted that sanctions have failed in bring about the change for which it was intended.”

Posted By B.Farshneshani

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7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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