Contrary to the political discussion surrounding the Iran Deal, sanctions aren't as straightforward or cut and dry as you think.

The Iran Nuclear Deal has become the piece of foreign policy that, despite affecting several other countries, every American seems to have a not-so-humble opinion on.

From inciting an all-out ideological war, headlining every major news outlet in the country and defining Obama’s presidency, everyone and their mom now has a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to the question, “Should we lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting the country’s nuclear capabilities?”

Our answer? Hold up: What is an economic sanction anyways? And how do they function in a global economy?

Contrary to the political discussion surrounding the Iran Deal, sanctions aren’t as straightforward or cut and dry as you think.

Back to the Basics

By definition, an economic sanction is “an action taken by one nation or group of nations to harm the economy of another nation or group, often to force political change.” Economic sanctions are often used as a foreign policy tool to alter the strategic decisions of one country that threaten the interests or livelihood of another.


In plain English, economic sanctions are a way to be politically aggressive without going to war and/or killing people. Critics of economic sanctions claim they are poorly planned and thus rarely successful in affecting intended change. Proponents meanwhile, believe they constitute an important foreign policy tactic that has grown more effective over the years.

As explained by the Council on Foreign Relations, economic sanctions can be all encompassing, as with the U.S. embargo of Cuba, or targeted, eliminating all business with a particular country, group, organization or individual.

Sanctions in a Global Economy

Contrary to popular belief, a country doesn’t simply drop an iron wall around another and call it a day. Hitting a region with sanctions is a long, drawn-out process involving months of negotiation, compromise and sweeping foreign policy changes that affect countries all over the world.

The Iran sanctions, for example, were successful largely because of countries the United States partnered with; we were simply the instigator in order to further our own political agenda.

Together with member states of the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Canada, Australia, Norway, Switzerland and more, we created a “strong, inter-locking matrix” of sanctions designed to halt and prevent Iran’s nuclear, missile, energy, shipping, transportation and financial sectors from continuing illicit nuclear activities, according to the US Department of State.

Without our allies — who agreed to boycott Iranian oil despite it being in their best economic interests to do the opposite — the sanctions on Iran would’ve been far less impactful and largely unsuccessful.

With that being said, politicians’ offhanded requests to simply “toughen up” or “lift” sanctions on any one country are frivolous, and ignore the powerful effect a shift of that magnitude would have on our allied powers. Simply suggesting we “toughen up” on sanctions is essentially speaking for other countries — ones we’ve made alliances with, no less — that are free to concede or object as they please. It’s not just our decision to make.

Our Take

It’s issues like these that, upon closer inspection, teach us about the importance of economic knowledge when forming political opinions. When you factor in what an “economic sanction” actually is and how they function in a global economy, your understanding of a contentious piece of legislation like the Iran Deal is changed entirely.

Does a broader understanding of sanctions change your opinion on the Iran Deal? Share your opinion in the comments or join the conversation on Facebook.


Posted 09.15.2015 - 06:00 pm EDT

Filed under

current events economic sanction Economics embargo foreign policy iran deal Iran Nuclear Deal sanction sanctions

Written by

Kelsey Clark