How Sanctions Work:

Iran and the Impact of Economic Warfare

courtesy of

Djavad Salehi‐Isfahani

Professor of Economics, Virginia Tech, Research affiliate of the Middle East Initiative of the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran

In conversation with:

Nazila Fathi

Author and Former NYT correspondent

Sanctions have enormous consequences. Especially when imposed by a country with the economic influence of the United States, sanctions induce clear shockwaves in both the economy and political culture of the targeted state, and in the everyday lives of citizens. But do economic sanctions induce the behavioral changes intended? Do sanctions work in the way they should?


To answer these questions, Prof. Djavad Salehi‐Isfahani and Prof. Ali Vaez, authors of How Sanctions Work highlight Iran, the most sanctioned country in the world. Comprehensive sanctions are meant to induce uprisings or pressures to change the behavior of the ruling establishment, or to weaken its hold on power. But, after four decades, the case of Iran shows the opposite to be true: sanctions strengthened the Iranian state, impoverished its population, increased state repression, and escalated Iran's military posture toward the U.S. and its allies in the region. Instead of offering an 'alternative to war,' sanctions have become a cause of war. Consequently, How Sanctions Work reveals how necessary it is to understand how sanctions really work.

Time will be allocated for Q&A.

Cosponsored by Harvard Club of Washington DC

"There is no shortage of publications on the Iran sanctions, but it is rare to see such detailed, serious work on this topic by highly knowledgeable scholars. How Sanctions Work introduces a wealth of information and perspectives not generally found in the existing Western academic literature" Joy Gordon, author of Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions


Djavad Salehi‐Isfahani received his PhD in Economics from Harvard University in 1977. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech, where he is currently Professor of Economics. He is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Global Economy and Development, the Brookings Institution, Research Affiliate at the Middle East Initiative at the Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School, and Research Fellow at the Economic Research Forum (ERF) in Cairo.

He has served on the Board of Trustees of the Economic Research Forum in Cairo, the Middle East Economic Association, the International Iranian Economic Association, and as Associate Editor of the Middle East Development Journal.

His current research is on economic inequality and economics of the family in the Middle East. His opinion pieces have appeared in Al Monitor, Brookings, Foreign Affairs, the Hill, LA Times,, New York Times, and Project Syndicate.

Ali Vaez is Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director and Senior Adviser to the President. He led Crisis Group’s efforts in helping to bridge the gaps between Iran and the P5+1 that led to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Previously, he served as a Senior Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and was the Iran Project Director at the Federation of American Scientists. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Trained as a scientist, Vaez has more than a decade of experience in journalism. He has written widely on Iranian affairs and is a regular contributor to mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs. He is a frequent guest on CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and NPR.

Vaez was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University from 2008 to 2010 and holds a PhD from the University of Geneva and a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Nazila Fathi is a journalist and commentator on Iran and the author of The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran (The Guardian, Vogue and Foreign Policy Association named The Lonely War the best non-fiction of 2014). She reported out of Iran for the New York Times for nearly two decades until 2009 when government threats forced her to leave the country. She wrote over 2,000 articles for the New York Times and translated History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran, a book by Noble Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, into English. Before joining MEI in 2020, Fathi consulted the World Bank Group.

Fathi has written for the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, IMF Finance and Development, as well as Vogue and Marie Claire. She has been a guest speaker on CNN, BBC, CBC and NPR. She was awarded a Raoul Wallenberg Fellowship at Lund University in 2003, Nieman Fellowship for journalism at Harvard in 2010-11, Shorenstein Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2012 and an association at Harvard Belfer Center in 2012-13.

Fathi’s academic background is in international development and women’s studies. As a hobby, she writes children’s books. My Name is Cyrus and Avicenna, the Father of Modern Medicine are among them.


March 21, 2024 at 6:30pm - 8pm


Washington, DC
United States

Miyako Yerick


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