Can sanctions persuade Iran to renounce its quest for nuclear weapons? The international community’s standoff with the Islamic Republic has now entered its eighth year, and there are no signs that Tehran will concede. Some skeptics of sanctions advocate regime change or military action, arguing that sanctions will never dissuade Iran’s leadership from attaining nuclear weapons -- a scenario too dangerous to contemplate. Others support dialogue and engagement, convinced that a military attack would prove catastrophic and that further sanctions would only hurt ordinary Iranians.
But these critics often forget that the goal of sanctions against Iran is not just to induce policy change but also to disrupt Iran’s access to the raw materials and technology on which its nuclear program depends. Although doubts about Tehran’s willingness to reassess its policies are well grounded, carefully crafted sanctions can in fact significantly slow Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The United States and European nations can bolster that effort by placing further pressure on Western companies -- whether through legal or public means -- to avoid conducting business with Iranian firms connected to the vast economic empire of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The IRGC is the regime’s strong arm, in charge of defending the ideological purity of the revolution at home and exporting it abroad. In addition to acting as Praetorian Guard, in recent years it has functioned like a corporation, amassing a conglomerate of thousands of companies that operate in every sector of Iran’s economy. The IRGC uses its growing clout not only to dominate the economy -- including major sectors such as telecommunications, large portions of the energy industry, and, crucially, the nuclear program -- but also to colonize Iran’s parliament and cabinet. This dual function helps the IRGC play a central role in coordinating Iran’s proliferation activities, using front companies to acquire needed assets and materials.
The United States has vigorously pursued the IRGC and its constituent businesses. In 2007, the