Threats to our national security take many forms, whether from North Korea, Russia, Iran or non-state enemies like ISIS. While diplomacy and military capabilities are vital tools to counter such threats, they’re often complemented by an overlooked weapon in our foreign policy arsenal: sanctions.
Since the United States is the world’s largest economy, and the dollar is the global reserve currency, restricting access to either is a powerful way to punish rogue regimes and force them to change their behavior.
As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, I chair the subcommittee that oversees the Treasury Department’s implementation and enforcement of sanctions. Sanctions aren’t a panacea, but when they’re targeted and enforced effectively, they can magnify the impact of our diplomatic and military efforts.
In July, Congress passed, and the president signed into law, a sanctions bill to increase our leverage against Russia, Iran and North Korea. But we can’t take our foot off the pedal. We must look at expanding sanctions to include the banks, individual, and organizations that do business with or facilitate the bad behavior of these rogue regimes.
Take Russia. In August, I traveled to five NATO countries to learn from U.S. military, intelligence and foreign service officials, as well as foreign leaders, about Russia’s continued meddling in our allies’ internal affairs. My meetings confirmed that the Russian threat goes well beyond its attempts to influence our presidential election. From Russia’s illegal intervention and ongoing war in Ukraine, to cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, to the militarization of Kaliningrad and air incursions over the Baltics, it’s clear our allies in Eastern Europe face growing dangers from Moscow.
My subcommittee will be evaluating the effectiveness of our Russia sanctions and considering additional measures to send a clear, and financially painful, signal to Moscow. One possibility is constraining the Russian energy sector. Russian oil and gas companies’ reliance on debt makes them especially sensitive to financial sanctions.
North Korea poses an even greater threat. With its sixth nuclear test and the continued test launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, the time for a meaningful response is long overdue. While we should never take the credible threat of force off the table, sanctions provide a way to punish the regime while avoiding a potentially catastrophic conflict.
My subcommittee has now held two hearings on restricting North Korea’s access to the resources it needs to advance its weapons development. This work has resulted in a proposal that would, if enacted, represent the toughest financial sanctions ever directed at the Kim regime. Simply put, this legislation would force banks around the world to make a choice: either they do business benefiting North Korea, or they do business with the U.S. Faced with this decision, I’m confident more and more banks, particularly in China, will abandon North Korea.
This may compel the North Koreans to return to the negotiating table. At the very least, they will raise the cost of Pyongyang’s hostility and show other countries that weapons proliferation has a devastating price attached to it.
Finally, we’ve not forgotten about Iran’s nuclear program, its hand in the atrocities suffered by the Syrian people, and its existential threat to Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East. My subcommittee has pressed the administration to consider measures such as cutting off financing for Iranian firms that have supported terrorism and ensuring Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism can’t access assistance from multilateral organizations like the World Bank.
The Iran nuclear deal has emboldened the regime in Tehran to continue its illicit ballistic missile program and accelerate its destabilizing support of terrorist proxies. That’s why I’ve focused my discussions with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on the urgent need to reverse the Obama administration’s decision to authorize Iranian access to U.S. banks and license aircraft sales to Iran Air, which has been used to transport Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel and materiel in support of the Assad regime and Hezbollah.
Sanctions alone will not solve these foreign-policy challenges. But used properly, they can give the United States a kind of leverage few other countries have.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr represents Kentucky’s 6th congressional district.