SANCTIONS, PAST AND PRESENT

 


By K P Paswan.

 We hear a lot about political, economic and even social sanctions, being used as lethal weapons against certain nations ruled by belligerents’ autocrats or even democratically elected government. This is the age of globalization; no country is completely self-sufficient. A few countries produce oil and natural gas which is essential for the entire world. US still imports fertilizers from Russia despite of sanctions. A small Qatar is being ruled by an autocrat who thinks himself above the mightiest political figure of this plant and the reason is that Qatar has lot of oil and natural gas. A few countries are known for manufacturing drugs necessary for survival for the human race. These drugs are being sold to all the countries. Previously international trade was being regularized by UNCTADE which has been replaced by the famous or infamous WTO. It is difficult to regularize international trade as the money launderers and smugglers have devised way and means to avoid these regulations.

There is no centralized to monitor genuine sanctions. Both N Korea and Myanmar are under house arrest owing to sanctions, while Myanmar is crying loudly, N korea is being supported covertly by China, Russia and Iran. India was sanctioned when the late PM Indira Gandhi conducted nuclear test but sanctions imposed upon India was symbolic. India is not an aggressive state but determined to protect its sovereignty from a greedy rogue neighbor and an overambitious China. With an open democracy Indian economy is witnessing sustained growth despite of sanctions and many ups and down.

  It is difficult say when and who initiated Sanctions but from certain historical facts it appears Sanctions were imposed by certain countries upon their opponents.

 Let us consider the fate of  Athens, the capital of modern Greek 2400 years ago. It decreed trade embargo on neighboring Megara, but the ensuing 27 years struggle left Athenians humiliated and Megara’s ally Corinth, triumphant, this is found in the history of Greek, that may be the first instance of sanctions failing, but there are plenty of more recent cases In the 20th Century, they were used ever more often, especially by American Presidents.  Japan was sanctioned by Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, Eisenhower smacked them on Great Britain to end the Suez venture. Jimmy Carter punished the Soviet Union in 1980 with a wheat embargo and an Olympic boycott. Ronald Regan imposed them in protest at Martial law in Poland

 Congress in US too came to see sanctions as an easy cheap way of expression. In 1996 for example Belize, Colombia, Italy Mexico, Panama and Venezuela were all under American embargo beastliness to Whales or Dolphins’. In the next five years US imposed 85 new sanctions on foreign states

Sanctions may feel better than nothing, they are less feeble than scolding an Ambassador than sending in the marines. They provide a fission of moral satisfaction. And some times they work --- ending Britain’s Suez foray, for example.

Spotting the failure is easier, The League of Nation’s sanctions did not protect Abyssinia against Italy. The UN did not do better with Saddam Hussein Harsh regimes are still working in Iraq under American embargo. Never mind Myanmar and Sudan and never mind Cuba sanctioned in 1962. Regime change may not necessarily end of sanctions but behavior change may suffice the morality of punishing poor people who live in a boycotted autocracy is dubious. It makes the regime more popular or powerful. Saddam Hussain ensured that sanctions hurt chiefly the innocents. Security provides an excuse for rationing, permits and licenses creating corruptions, favoritism   and a black market which the regime can control. Floridian’s complaints were added to the more familiar ones of American farmers and business man. Whose markets shrink with every wheat embargo or investment boycott. Sanctions in US alone cost near nearly 15 billion dollars and they affected 200000 workers. No wonder that sanctions especially unilaterally imposed ones like America’s ban on trade with Cuba, cause frictions among the allies.

 Sanctions may have other results too. Armed embargo turned South Africa into a huge maker, then exporter of guns and encouraged Pakistan to go nuclear. In Haiti the misery the caused in 1990 washed thousands of refugees up on America’s coast. Sanctions are not necessarily futile They may have some value simply in expressing condemnation. But they work best when clearly defined and with an achievable end. If that is not achieved, as in 1990 when the UNO ordered Iraq, in vain to withdraw from Kuwait than it can at least be argued that using force is justified. It helps too, if a mechanism for ending sanctions is made clear at the outset.; they are easier to impose than to lift, and the sanctioned regime is   unlikely to make even small concessions if these are not greeted with some easing of the boycott. Moreover, after years of ritual blacklisting fatigues set among the boycotters. If they are to work, sanctions must be imposed by as many countries as possible.

The fashion is now for SMART sanctions which try to isolate and hurt the regime and its cronies, not the innocents But the people sanctioned must mind. One other problem arises from the new urge  to isolate odious leaders. Such people already tend to be remote from reality. They are surrounded by yes men  and often ignorant of   other countries Increasing their isolation may be dangerous, It is not farfetched  to argue that  the nastiest  wars of the 29th century could have been averted  had the aggressor known what would be followed If the part of the blame for two WW, Korean, Falkland and the Gulf wars, lay with the failures of others  to convey the  appropriate message , part also lay with  the isolation and ignorance  on which the aggressors  based their misjudgments.  Arguably offending nations should be brought to closer reality, not driven deeper into   the realm of ghastly fantasy. History holds lesion for the sanctioners as well as the sanctioned.

 FINAL THOUGHT. At present Iran is fearing worst kind of sanctions. Iran’s economy is based upon oil and natural with less manufacturing activities in other fields Iran may face sanctions as this oil rich country is bent upon acquiring Nukes at all cost. It does not fear existential threat but the overambitions of a few religious leaders may put entire Iran under house arrest. Worst fear is that US and its allies may consider a variety of alternative options from cyber-attacks disabling Iranian infrastructures to massive sanctions on third parties doing business with Iran.

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