I am an enthusiastic supporter of the nuclear deal with Iran. The morning the agreement was announced I wrote an op-ed endorsing the agreement that was published by Fox News, which you can access here.
The nuclear deal has many obvious benefits. It blocks Iran’s ability to manufacture weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. It establishes the most rigorous nuclear inspections regime ever negotiated. It calls for lifting sanctions against Iran as it accepts enhanced monitoring and begins to implement nuclear reductions.
The success of the Iran negotiations confirms the value of sanctions as a tool of diplomacy. In our book The Sanctions Decade, George Lopez and I offered a bargaining theory of sanctions. Sanctions are means of applying pressure, but their effectiveness depends on offering to lift sanctions as an incentive for reaching a negotiated settlement.
Sanctions are best understood as tools of persuasion not as instruments of punishment. They are useful for persuading an adversary to come to the bargaining table, but they must be accompanied by meaningful incentives for cooperation.
In the case of the Iran deal it is obvious that sanctions played a decisive role in driving Iran to the bargaining table. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran stated quite bluntly last week that he was elected two years ago to remove the sanctions. Without the nuclear deal, he said, Iran would face an economic “Stone Age.”
Especially important in the Iran sanctions regime has been the unanimous support for targeted measures by the UN Security Council, including Russia and China. Also significant has been the strong financial and commercial restrictions imposed by the European Union.
The combined pressure of UN, European and U.S. sanctions applied effective persuasive pressure. The U.S.-led negotiating team offered to lift that pressure in exchange for Iran’s commitments to restrict its nuclear program. It’s a classic formula for how sanctions are supposed to work.