Will increased economic sanctions on Iran discourage the regime’s pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile programs? What is the best course of action for the United States?

Eric M. Javits (Ambassador and Permanent U.S. Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague, 2003-2009; Ambassador and Permanent U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, 2001-2003)


As Iran’s leaders hurtle toward their goal of producing a nuclear weapon, the United States has been moving far too slowly to stop them. The Obama administration and our European allies have only haltingly imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, and at this late stage—one hour to midnight—only total effort will suffice.

The U.S. has dozens of allies who share its objective of denying Iran a bomb, and the ballistic missiles with which to deliver it at ever-increasing ranges — all the more so in the days after the Iranian regime appears to have had a hand in a terrorist attack in Bulgaria, on European soil.

Yet, after five years of sanction efforts, if we continue on our collective course of gradualism, we will almost certainly witness Iran’s clerical leaders go nuclear, a development I believe would make war inevitable – and indescribably more destructive.

We must lead our allies, and if necessary compel them to follow us, in imposing crippling sanctions in a manner so devastating it could trigger an uprising that overthrows Iran’s leaders, or compels them to confront the hard choice between abandoning their unlawful nuclear ambitions and suffering total economic ruin (although I fear even that may not deter them).

Since the Arab Spring began in early 2011, the Iranian people have watched jealously as many of their neighbors have set out on the long course to liberty and economic advancement. They are eager for the same opportunity.

More than two-thirds of Iran’s population is under the age of 30. These are the children of the Revolutionary generation, who came of age in a period of domestic repression and endless economic calamity. They don’t share their leaders’ vision, and if given the choice, they would rather have jobs than warheads.

We must persuade our allies to continue seeking alternatives to Iranian oil, and give them incentives to buy it from Saudi Arabia and other countries.

We must encourage the significant European countries that have not yet done so to designate Hezbollah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, and the other entities through which Iran projects its malign influence abroad, as the terrorist organizations they are.

We must pressure our allies to stop doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, forcing the country’s all-important business constituencies to face the grim reality of the course its leaders are choosing. When the bazaaaris turn against the regime, collapse is historically not far behind.

Only when Iran’s leaders recognize that the world will simply not accept a nuclear weapon in their hands — and that chasing one may cost them their heads and bring down their regime — will they contemplate changing their minds.