Fighting Iran with Trade Sanctions

106 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2015

See all articles by Raj Bhala

Raj Bhala

University of Kansas - School of Law; Dentons U.S. LLP; Bloomberg Quint (India)

Date Written: 2014


How do American trade sanctions against Iran work? Have they worked? Championed by six American Presidents and sixteen Sessions of Congress, these sanctions against Iran have spanned nearly forty years. In that time, the bilateral relationship between the United States and Iran has been dreadful, with each side fixated on monstrosities perpetrated by the other: the 1953 coup d’état of a democratically-elected Iranian leader orchestrated by the United States; the subsequent American support for human rights abuses by the Peacock Throne; and the November 1979 seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran by Iranian militants and subsequent state-sponsored terrorist atrocities.

To Iran, America became the “Great Satan” to be confronted wherever and whenever possible. To the United States, Iran perpetrated “evil” and was to be targeted for sanctions. American trade sanctions against Iran thus became, and continue to be, an important part of international trade law. Around the globe, practice in this field is touched by the dysfunctional relationship between the “Great Satan” and “Evil” Āyatollāhs.

The practical significance does not mean that the technical rules, or policy justifications for those rules, are easily or well understood. The rules have become more intricate as they have evolved over nearly forty years. The policies for them have been subject to polarizing debates. Accordingly, four issues are addressed herein:

(1) What transactions with Iran are prohibited? (2) What are the penalties for violating those prohibitions? (3) What is the logic for the regime of prohibitions and sanctions? (4) Have the sanctions worked?

Suggested Citation

Bhala, Raj, Fighting Iran with Trade Sanctions (2014). Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2014, Available at SSRN:

Raj Bhala (Contact Author)

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