Article by Patrick Terry

Abstract: Following the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the agreement between the five permanent UN Security Council members, the European Union, Germany, and Iran, that intends to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States has re-imposed and tightened its sanctions against Iran. The United States’ renunciation of the agreement, despite the agreement’s UN Security Council approval and verified Iranian compliance, arguably violated international law. Nevertheless, the United States is attempting to compel the other state parties (and others) to follow its policy on Iran by threatening those states’ companies and business executives with economic or even criminal sanctions to force them to cut commercial ties with Iran.

Based on an in-depth discussion of the lawfulness of such secondary sanctions under public international law, this article concludes that secondary sanctions, as imposed by the United States more recently, are unlawful. The United States’ assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction is not justified under any principle of jurisdiction recognized in customary international law. In fact, the international community explicitly rejects the United States’ claims to extraterritorial jurisdiction. Furthermore, the United States seeks to undermine third states’ foreign and trade policies by targeting their citizens and businesses. United States’ sanctions policy is thus an attempt to assert control over other states’ foreign policies. This coercion amounts to an unlawful intervention into those states’ internal affairs. Lastly, the use of the United States’ superior economic power to strong-arm other states into abandoning their own foreign policy is a violation of the sovereign equality principle.