SU National Security Expert: "Economic Warfare" With Iran, Others Might Achieve Results

Jul 16, 2019

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With the Iran Nuclear deal hanging by a thread, a Syracuse University national security expert says Iran is using it as a tool to push back against the US, Britain, and other allies to gain a stronger foothold in the region.  Corri Zoli is a law professor and Director of Research for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at SU.

"They can create enough of a division such that the EU will continue to back their nuclear deal and keep giving them support.  They can continue to try and beef up their economic standing, and still do their proxy war meddling in the region.  Then they can ultimately achieve their 'Persian Crescent,' the idea that they will try to  dominate the Middle East."

Zoli says the nuclear pact is full of structural and policy limitations that allow Iran to push the limits.  She says playing nice just doesn’t work with a pro-conflict actor like Iran that has repeatedly tried to destabilize the region.  Zoli says the sanctions are a form of diplomacy, even if it seems to be ramping up tensions.

"It's highly coercive.  It's highly hard power.  But as an alternative to actual military intervention, it's a very strong and powerful tool and the US is uniquely positioned to use it because we have one of the strongest economies in the world."

Zoli says the Trump administration’s economic sanctions are strategic, if not unpredictable, and could reap results that evaded the Obama administration’s softer touch.

"The accommodationist strategy can be extremely risky.  The more economic warfare strategy...not the soft power, but the hard power approach, can be more effective.  Political respect is a wonderful thing, a very idealist conception.  But many of these nations said 'prove it.'  Then you're in the realm of pragmatics.  Unless you play in that realm, it's very hard to get the policy outcomes that you want."

ECONOMIC WARFARE AS A LARGER STRATEGY 

Professor Zoli says the Trump Administration’s use of what she calls “economic warfare” with Iran and others seems to be part of a larger and perhaps effective approach to pressure countries into action.  

"You've got all the hard power of economics, which is even more pernicious than war.  You can really destroy whole economies.  In a war, you can hurt certain areas of a country, but you usually don't grenade the entire economy.  Whereas with economic warfare, you truly can."

Corri Zoli is an Associate Teaching Professor in SU's College of Law and Director of Research for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism.
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Zoli acknowledges this runs the risk of ramping up tensions with Iran, which is being targeted for violating the nuclear deal.  She says, however, that political polarization and personalities seem to distract from what might result in positive policy outcomes.

"You have the Middle East/North Africa region going through this enormous transformation right now.   Iran is trying to get leverage, trying to be an agent of change in that transformation. The gulf monarchies, with the US as an ally and others, are trying to block that power move."

Zoli says we’re seeing much the same strategy playing out with North Korea and its nuclear program.

"Where is the economic pressure on North Korea?  China.  There you've got the economic warfare web.  The Trump Administratiion and his advisors know that North Korea is essentially a client state of China.  Anything it decides to do or not do is going to be based on some kind of prior relationship with China."

Zoli knows allies might be a bit disgruntled, but NATO’s European states are contributing more to their own defense for the first time in history.