Financial wars damage and disfigure economies as much as military ones. Countries ravaged by sanctions need reconstruction, too.
The sanctions just keep on coming. The reactions were swift when the Trump administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, in a move heralded by the White House as “the first time that the United States has ever named a part of another government as a FTO.”
In Tehran, leaders from across Iran’s political spectrum condemned the designation, with nearly all members of parliament showing solidarity by attending the next day’s session in combat fatigues. In Washington, experts saw the designation as a risky political provocation that would do little to add meaningful pressure to Iran—a country already targeted by dozens of executive orders and pieces of legislation such as the 2010 Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act and the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
But these objections have largely overlooked the underlying logic of adding designations despite limited gains in economic pressure. A vast institutional, legal, and surveillance infrastructure now exists that is devoted to the maintenance of economic sanctions. Today, sanctions proponents are actively seeking to apply new restrictions in ways that make the eventual lifting of sanctions more difficult, in part to preserve the emergent sanctions-industrial complex – a network of government agencies, law firms, technology providers, and think tanks with a vested interest in the unceasing expansion of sanctions programs.