Around 52 BC, the Romans set off on the military quest to bring Gaul (part of France) under Roman rule. They faced resistance from the native Gallic tribes who united under a man named Vercingetorix. He led the Gallic tribes to take refuge in the town of Alesia from where they successfully attacked Roman bases. The result was the Battle of Alesia. Roman proconsul Julius Caesar had two choices: attack Alesia at the risk of exposing his own troops to counter attack or siege the town and starve the natives to submission. Caesar chose the latter option. Fast forward to the 21st Century. Laying siege and occupying territory present logistical challenges. Launching war also requires building a narrative — not an easy task in a world constrained by laws prohibiting war. Military objectives are instead achieved through newer but more lethal methods. When the Romans laid siege of Gaul, their military objective was to subjugate the Gallic people. The siege of Gaul, an act of barbarism, has no place in today’s global order. Still, today’s world powers haven’t balked at going to war through other means. The US lawfare against Iran, too, aims to use new methods to implement an old military strategy: siege. So what is this US lawfare all about? It is a leveraging of the US legal and financial system against Iran in a bid to drain the financial ecosystem on which Iran thrives. Unlike economic sanctions that are aimed at cutting trade ties with the target country and introducing embargoes, US lawfare aims at using law as tool of war to choke Iran’s financial lifeline. For military strategists and lawfare practitioners, this lawfare has trappings of the military siege — something unprecedented in both its nature and degree. It all started in2006 under the George W Bush administration when the US introduced financial measures against Iran’s uranium enrichment activities which the US alleged was Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program. In 2015, through years of hard work under President Obama’s administration, the US and P5+1 (China, France, Russia, UK Germany and the US) agreed to the JCPOA (short for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action also known as the Iran nuclear deal) whereby it was agreed to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. However, in May this year, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA leaving its fate hanging in the balance. The earlier sanctions against Iran that were withdrawn in 2015, too, were re-imposed in November this year. This has brought to the fore a key US agency with an international outreach: the US Treasury Department which functions as the guardian of the US’ financial interests both domestic and international. The jury is still out on whether US lawfare against Iran will end up succeeding in severing Iran’s financial umbilical cord. What the US lawfare is revealing, however, are some deep fissures in our world. Whether Iran manages to blunt US lawfare or the US succeeds in leveraging its lawfare against Iran would ultimately have driven a deep wedge between the US and the rest of the world The Treasury Department’s 5th November press release is instructive of how this lawfare is playing out:50 Iranian banks and 70 Iran-linked financial institutions and their foreign and domestic subsidiaries have been placed on the Specially Designated and Blocked Persons list. Also sanctioned are Iran’s more than “700 individuals, entities, aircrafts and vessels”. Cautioning the world against dealing with Iran, the Treasury’s 5 November press release concludes: “… persons that engage in certain transactions with the entities designated and identified today may themselves be exposed to enforcement action, designation or blocking sanctions”. Notably, the US siege around Iran involves casting a wider net of secondary sanctions around Iranian state and quasi-state entities. For example, Parisian Bank, a leading Iran private sector bank and a channel for humanitarian trade with Europe, which was spared in the previous round of sanctions, now finds itself in the crosshairs of US secondary sanctions whereby entities transacting business with the bank risk inviting US sanctions against them. No wonder, it is the threat of US ire that has seen the shelving of billions of dollars’ worth of foreign projects and the mass exodus of leading multinationals from Iran. As was the case in the 52 BC siege of Alesia, Iran too is leveraging its most potent weapon (oil) as it scrambles to seek reinforcements from the outside to break free of the US siege. In a bid to bypass US sanctions, Iran and European powers — Belgium, France and Germany — are working to incorporate a special purpose vehicle or SPV to facilitate payment for Iranian oil as well as goods imported to and exported from Iran. It’s too early in the day to know whether the SPV will succeed in a US dollar dominated financial order. However, the fact that till date none of the European powers is willing to host the SPV in their territory does not bode too well for the future of this initiative. Whether Europe sides with Iran and provides a crucial lifeline to Iran, or instead backs off due to fears of secondary US sanctions remains to be seen. The success of this and other counter measures depends on the political will of major powers to work against US muscle. In the final days of the Roman siege of Alesia, the Gallic people sought outside help from a relieving army. The Roman response was through contravallation (fortifications built around the place besieged) to ward off threats from the relieving army allied to the Gallic people. Despite running low on supplies themselves, the Romans were able to pull off a victory against the Gallic people who, unable to bear the siege any further, eventually surrendered. Historians attribute Roman victory to Julius Caesar’s astute military planning despite that Romans themselves were running short on supplies and facing a real prospect of losing the battle. It is tempting to draw parallels between today’s world and the past. However, neither is President Trump yesteryear’s Caesar nor Iran helplessly castled in the territorial confines of a city-state. But to consider Iran’s encirclement through US lawfare other than a modern day siege would be to overlook the extent of US’s grand destructive urges against Iran. The jury is still out on whether US lawfare against Iran will end up succeeding in severing Iran’s financial umbilical cord. What the US lawfare is revealing, however, are some deep fissures in our world. Whether Iran manages to blunt US lawfare or the US succeeds in leveraging its lawfare against Iran would ultimately have driven a deep wedge between the US and the rest of the world. The author is a practicing international lawyer and a graduate of Harvard Law School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, December 21st 2018.