International sanctions are often used as the stick component in a carrot and stick approach to resolve international diplomatic disputes, especially with non-compliant nation states that operate outside the normative behavioral standards. Iran has long flouted and disregarded international norms. In fact, it has come to relish its role as an uncooperative state, which views itself beyond reproach. Iran’s conduct, consequentially, has subjected it to increasing economic and military sanctions. Sanctions against Iran were initiated under President Carter and have been in place since the late 1970s. Additional sanctions on economic and military assets continued under President Reagan, and saw an increase under President Bush as well as President Obama. All the while, Iran has still refused to cave into demands by the international community to change its malicious behavior or become transparent about it nuclear weapons development effort.
A recent Gallup Poll taken in December 2012 regarding the impact of international sanctions on Iran is revealing. The data provided from the survey shows that although sanctions on Iran have significantly increased overall hardships and negative living conditions of the Iranian people, they have failed to significantly undermine popular support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. As Gallup points out, “2012 was a disastrous economic year for Tehran: Oil and gas exports provide roughly 50% of Iran’s government revenue, but by October of last year, the country’s oil exports had dropped by more than 40%.” Additionally, in October of 2012, the poll shows that “the country saw its currency devalue by 40% from the previous week’s value.”
The poll shows that sanctions are indeed having an impact, but largely on the side of those civilians that the international community and America seek to curry favor with. As the population endures the suffering and blame is successfully deflected to external parties, it would appear that international sanctions are doing little to encourage a behavioral change. While the citizenry is enduring the pain of sanctions, it is likely that their hardships are not being shared by the country’s elites. The bulk of the impact is likely hitting the most susceptible and vulnerable segments within society, but seen simply as an annoyance by Iranian leaders.
The impact of recent sanctions paints a stark picture primarily in terms of public perception. As the graph below indicates, the vast majority of Iranians feel that the sanctions have negatively impacted their livelihoods in one way or another. Even in the face of this reality, the Iranian people overwhelmingly support the continuation of Iran’s effort to pursue a supposedly peaceful nuclear power development program.
In an unsurprising twist, Iranian adults polled by Gallup have reached a clear conclusion as to whom to blame for their own hardships: the United States. In fact, only 10-percent of respondents felt that the Iranian regime was at fault. A resounding 47-percent placed the blame at America’s doorstep and view the US as the true culprit for their sufferings. The poll indicates that sanctions have not had the desired consequence in terms of turning the general public against the ruling body in Iran.
However, a serious and most consequential flaw is readily apparent in the poll, as it fails to provide a holistic view of the issue at hand and may be misleading to a certain extent, particularly in the case of support for nuclear power development versus the real issue at hand, nuclear weapons development. One specific question still begs to be asked; what sort of nuclear development does the public support – power or weapons of mass destruction? The differentiation between nuclear power versus Iran’s nuclear weapons development program is never satisfactorily addressed in the poll. Indeed, it would appear that the issue is never even broached.
By framing the question of citizen support for Iran’s desire to build peaceful nuclear power without addressing international concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions skews the outcome significantly. Had a supplemental question been included, which would have labeled appropriately Iran’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction been included, then the polling results could have been vastly different.
With time running out and tensions rising, Gallup suggests that sanctions are not only ineffective, but that they are counterproductive to addressing the underlying issues at hand. These polling numbers and Iran’s continuing hostility as well as recalcitrance towards the international community demands for greater transparency, leads one to wonder what options remain for a peaceful resolution and whether there really is a diplomatic solution to the problem at hand at all.