Last week Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill that applies sanctions to Russia, Iran, and North Korea. President Trump is expected to sign it. Yet, this dangerous bill will needlessly provoke all three countries and move us away from productive solutions to the issues the sanctions supposedly address. We are extremely disappointed to report that all eleven Massachusetts members of Congress, and every Democrat in all states, voted in favor of these counterproductive and destabilizing sanctions. Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul, and three House Republicans were the only no votes.
Rather than introducing sanctions, the U.S. should try to reconcile with Iran, compromise with Russia, and pursue peaceful diplomacy with North Korea.
On Iran, the bill undercuts the Iran nuclear deal and smooths the way for the Trump administration to provoke military conflict with Iran. It aims to punish Iran for testing ballistic missiles, but Iran has every right to build missiles for its defense. Surrounded by hostile US and US-aligned forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, Iran has justifiable security concerns. With its nuclear facilities under tight international inspection, Iran has no possibility of building a nuclear weapon, and hence no way to use missiles for nuclear purposes.
The new sanctions also punish North Korea by banning its goods from entering the U.S. and prohibiting ships from North Korea, or countries that trade with it, from U.S. ports and territorial waters. The U.S. policy of confrontation and threats against North Korea has failed to stop the North’s nuclear development, but rather has caused it to accelerate its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. This sanctions bill will further aggravate the already high military tension in the Korean peninsula and is likely to drive North Korea away from responding to the peaceful engagement attempts of South Korea’s President Moon.
While the bill seeks to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its alleged interference with the U.S. elections, any such response should await an unambiguous finding that such interference actually existed and was ordered by the Kremlin. The US would be better advised to seek a peaceful resolution of the civil war in Ukraine, relax tensions with Russia, and cease its threatening maneuvers in the Baltic nations and elsewhere. It is urgent to restore a positive relationship between the two largest nuclear powers in order for the world to move forward on nuclear disarmament.
European nations, especially Germany, are critical of the sanctions because they are likely to interfere with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline stretching from Russia to Germany. German leaders have considered the new legislation as a violation of international law, stating that “The Americans cannot punish German companies because they operate economically in another country.” The bill is expected to worsen U.S. relations with Europe and may provoke a trade war.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions have rarely been an effective way to prod nations towards improving their behavior. A particularly serious problem with this bill is that the President would not be allowed to waive these sanctions, as has previously been customary with U.S. sanctions legislation. The US should address international problems through the United Nations rather than continuing its posture of struggling for influence in every corner of the world and sanctioning countries with which it has differences.