The key hope in sanctions
TOOL TO SHIFT THOUGHT With Obama going to Cuba, a tighter economic
embargo on North Korea, and a partial lifting of sanctions on an
improved Iran, now is the time to examine why sanctions often succeed.
They rely on a hopeful view of people.
By the Monitor’s Editorial Board MARCH 3, 2016
The act of imposing a trade boycott or similar sanctions on a country
for its misbehavior has long been used as a substitute for war.
Sanctions, while hostile, can be a tool for peace. Yet they come with an
article of faith: that the people in a targeted country also want better
behavior from their leaders and will accept the hardship of sanctions as
both necessary and an opportunity.
This faith in the power of sanctions to tap the inherent goodness of
people – even their activism – is now being tested as never before.
On March 2, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to
tighten sanctions against North Korea for its latest tests of a nuclear
weapon and a long-range missile. One sanction requires all countries to
inspect North Korean cargo ships passing through their territorial
waters. The country’s mineral trade and financial transactions will also
The hope is that enough well-meaning people inside the regime of North
Korean leader Kim Jong-un will demand change, if not the people
themselves. Previous sanctions have failed to accomplish that. But
perhaps this time, with China’s unusual cooperation and a tightening of
the economic screws, the world’s most isolated state might shift its
policies out of popular pressure from below.
In contrast, President Obama is trying to lift many of the cold-war-era
sanctions on Communist-run Cuba. He will even travel to the island
nation in late March to cement a reopening of official relations – but
without a full lifting of sanctions by a reluctant Congress.
Mr. Obama claims economic engagement with Cuba is now a better tool for
stimulating change than continuing sanctions of more than half a century
against the harsh rule of the Castro regime.
Will he be proved right?
Engagement with Communist-run China and Vietnam has done little to
change their human rights records. Yet sanctions against Vietnam in the
1980s did help end its occupation of Cambodia. And sanctions against
Myanmar (Burma) also helped push its ruling generals to allow an opening
for full democracy.
Perhaps the strongest case for the use of sanctions to deter or compel
behavior was the international isolation of South Africa and Rhodesia
(now Zimbabwe) during the 1980s to end white minority rule. Each
country’s majority blacks clearly wanted change and outside help.
Yet the weakest case for sanctions today are the ones imposed on Russia
for its taking of Crimea and military meddling in eastern Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has only risen as a result of the
West’s actions. Yet, along with a fall in oil revenue, the Russian
economy is stagnant. The regime, worried about rising protests, has
tightened its political grip.
One strong case that shows the value of sanctions in current affairs may
be those placed on Iran. As the international community ganged up on
Tehran over its nuclear program in recent years, the West waited for
domestic pressure to mount. In 2012, then-CIA Director David Petraeus
said: “What we have to see now is … what is the level of popular
discontent inside Iran – does that influence the strategic decision
making of the supreme leader and the regime?”
The answer was mostly yes. The regime was not only forced to negotiate a
deal to suppress its nuclear ambitions, but sanctions were credited for
the election of many reformists in 2013 and again last month. The
Iranian people clearly want change in their regime’s behavior, at home
Sanctions on one country can serve a secondary purpose. They send a
strong signal to other misbehaving countries to follow international
agreements and norms. And new types of sanctions, ones that target the
personal finances of select leaders, are more common. They are often
necessary when sanctions against an entire population may work against
the goal of sanctions.
Sanctions would be more effective if they were seen as less of a stick
and more as a carrot. The prospect of lifting sanctions plays to the
desire of a country’s people to join the international community and
practice its civilized ways.
Source: The key hope in sanctions – CSMonitor.com –