The latest Iran sanctions came into full effect this week, adding to a byzantine array of unilateral and multilateral measures that prohibit Iranian oil imports, other trade and financial transactions, and freeze Iranian assets by countries concerned that Tehran's nuclear program is intended for military purposes, not civilian ones.
The international community is now on watch for cracks in Iran's defiant stance: Will increased sanctions compel Tehran to make real concessions and allow for a diplomatic solution to the standoff? This characterization is too simplistic, however, and the record suggests there may be some reasons to be optimistic that current sanctions on Iran will deliver.
Sanctions generally get a bad rap, with many declaring that they don't work. First, sanctions against Iran are today just one tool in a larger strategy. In other cases — in South Africa, Serbia and Libya, for example — where sanctions have worked, they were not stand-alone instruments. In past decades, sanctions against Iran have constituted the entirety of the U.S.-led strategy against Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Today, in contrast, the U.S. approach involves not only sanctions but also diplomatic talks, and at least some threat of military force.