has several good reasons to support sanctions. With Obama scaling back
Bush's promised missile shield in eastern Europe, Russia now has a vested interest in deterring
Middle East-based arsenals. The state's ailing economy has led it to draw closer to Western
Europe in search of lucrative contracts from state-run businesses,
thus making Russia more reliant on Western European governments and more
open to their demands of tough Iran sanctions. Russia
could finally turn against Iran over the natural gas market, where Iran
threatens Russia's stronghold on the Eurasian market. The two countries
have the world's largest natural gas reserves. In 2001, Iran
secured a 25-year deal to sell 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to
Turkey, which it has since increased by piping in gas from Central
Asia. Were Turkey to extend its Iranian pipeline into Europe, it could
edge into one of Russia's most important revenue sources. Tough
sanctions would slow or altogether block any attempt by Iran to sell
natural gas to a wider market. It would also ensure that Iran, by not
developing nuclear power, will consume more of its natural gas, thus
Chinese support of Iran sanctions has been much
more elusive. Obama has looked the other way on
currency manipulation, delaying a report expected to denounce
Chinese currency policy. President Hu Jintao's agreement to attend the
nuclear security summit at all was portrayed by Western media as a victory, and Hu emerged from a lengthy
Monday meeting with Obama pledging support on Iran sanctions. But
China has made, and broken, similar promises before. Far from distancing
itself from Tehran, China has only strengthened its economic ties to
Iran in the two days since Hu's announcement, increasing
China's already substantial gas exports to an Iranian market
otherwise starved by international sanctions.
recalcitrance may not be the setback for Obama's agenda that it seems.
It's easy to forget, Obama's ultimate goal isn't sanctioning Iran.
Rather, sanctions are merely the means to Obama's end of deterring Iran
from developing nuclear weapons. And, in that case, the perceived threat
of sanctions may be enough. Indeed, they may be more effective. As many
observers have pointed out, imposing
sanctions does not always change a state's behavior, and in some cases
it even exacerbates bad behavior. After all, North Korea's pariah status
has only emboldened its pursuit of rogue nuclear programs. If the U.N.
Security Council passes a sanctions plan, Iran could calculate that
defying those sanctions would be worthwhile. But, by facing U.N.
sanctions that remain hypothetical and undefined, Tehran is forced to
assume the worst-case scenario.
U.S. observers might be
endlessly frustrated by watching Russia and China endlessly consider,
but never quite embrace, supporting sanctions. But their not-quite-there
attitude is a tremendous deterrent to Iran's leadership, who are wary
of flouting its nuclear program or otherwise acting out in a way that
might tilt China and Russia against them. The U.S. doesn't need to drive
Iran into a sanctions-led economic depression. It just needs the
credible threat that it could. As long as Obama appears just on the
verge of securing Russian and Chinese support, Iran will not risk helping him.
Image: Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. Eric Fefferberg/AFP/Getty