With economies around the world teetering, we must solve our security threats with an eye not only on reducing danger but also on how our actions affect job creation and retention. This applies especially to Iran. A war with Tehran — or an Iran with nuclear weapons — would exacerbate Middle East turmoil and threaten oil routes. This would be far more costly than stronger sanctions today.
Here are five steps vis-à-vis Iran that can enhance America's (and the world's) security without jeopardizing our financial health:
•Isolate Iran diplomatically. The ransacking of the British Embassy in Tehran last week by supporters of Iran's rulers has enraged the international community. So has the rulers' fierce and hateful rhetoric toward the U.S., Israel and the West, as well as their defiant stand on their country's nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department considers Iran to be "the most active state sponsor of terrorism."
Just as Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff from Iran and ordered the Iranian Embassy in London closed, the international community must make it clear that Iranian leaders are not welcome in their countries or in international forums. World leaders should not visit Tehran. While the U.S. cannot enforce these steps on other nations, we can lead by example in ostracizing Iranian officials around the world. It is abundantly evident that the regime in Iran has no interest in unclenching its fist in response to President Barack Obama's offer of an open hand.
•Put serious sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, as the U.S. Senate voted 100-0 to do last week. The Central Bank of Iran conducts the bulk of Iran's international transactions and is the key financial facilitator of Iran's proliferation and terrorist activities. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929 notes the potential connection between Iran's energy revenues and the funding of Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities. To stop the flow of petroleum commerce, the international community should pursue sanctions on the central bank as well as on oil companies, shipping firms, insurance providers and banks involved in such activity. The Senate amendment, sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, would penalize foreign institutions that carry out a "significant financial transaction" with the central bank.
These sanctions would drastically increase pressure on Iran's leaders to end their illicit activities. Although such steps could tighten the world's oil supply, putting pressure on the world economy, other suppliers could increase production to fill at least part of the shortfall. And the impact would certainly be tiny compared to the price we would all pay if Iran got nuclear weapons or if military action were used to stop Iran from acquiring them.
•Adopt a more aggressive approach toward the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The IRGC is in charge of Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and has been involved in serious human rights abuses. It is playing an increasingly crucial role in Iran's economy. Washington has already listed the IRGC as a "specially designated global terrorist," and Europe has taken some important measures too. But these are not nearly enough.
A comprehensive campaign to map and sanction the hundreds of front companies and agents that operate on behalf of the IRGC is required. Multinationals that engage in commerce with the IRGC should be penalized, and travel bans and asset freezes should be applied to IRGC officials by the international community.
•Enact new sanctions legislation and eliminate loopholes. Nations around the world should follow Congress' lead by taking steps similar to those recently adopted unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Iran Threat Reduction Act closes loopholes in energy and financial sanctions, including sanctioning parent companies for the activities of a foreign subsidiary that violates current U.S. sanctions. The bill also targets the IRGC and senior Iranian regime officials.
•Demonstrate commitment to human rights. The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran recently filed his first report, revealing a pattern of systemic violations of fundamental human rights. All responsible members of the international community must demonstrate their support for universal human rights by imposing financial and travel sanctions on human rights abusers. Europe, while waving the banner of human rights, should not have anything to do with the Iranian regime, and governments must punish companies that provide goods, services and technologies that enable the regime to oppress its people.
Without enacting at least some of these steps, either Iran's rulers will acquire nuclear weapons or military action will become the solution of last resort. Either way, if actions aren't taken today, the whole world will pay a much higher economic and security price tomorrow.