By Williams, Ian
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. XI, No. 1
United Nations Report: With a Divided Security Council, Mideast Sanctions Aren't Working
By Ian Williams
Sanctions are a very blunt instrument, aimed at tyrants but generally hitting their victims. When the sanctions are administered by a multilateral body like the U.N., they can have all the subtlety of brain surgery carried out by a committee. That is exacerbated even more when the Security Council's five vetoes are taken into consideration. Libya, Iraq, and Serbia have been at the blunt end of this weapon--but in each case individual Council members have diverging views on what should happen.
Some ambassadors think that one thing that should be done is to put a sunset clause in future sanctions resolutions so that they cannot be maintained in the face of the majority. That is the case with sanctions against Libya and Iraq, where the British and American vetoes have kept embargos going long after many other members believe the sanctions outlived their usefulness. Conversely, if sanctions on Serbia were to be voted on now, a newly combative Russia would certainly veto them.
Four years after Desert Storm, ordinary people in Iraq are suffering from sanctions imposed with the objective of undermining Iraqi President Saddam Hussain. Now campaigners for lifting the sanctions because of their effects on the Iraqi people have been joined by some of Iraq's many creditors, like Russia and France, motivated by the obvious self-interest of pocketing some of the billions of dollars Iraq has owed them since before the Gulf war.
Britain and the U.S. are increasingly on the defensive, not least since they can't publicly state their real bottom line, that sanctions stay as long as Saddam Hussain does. So they went along reluctantly with the determined Russian, French and non-aligned efforts to produce a compromise that would allow Iraq to sell a limited amount of its oil as long as the proceeds went to guaranteed humanitarian needs. However, Moscow has rediscovered the joys of being friendly with the Iraqi president, whose resounding "no" to the carefully crafted deal was a rebuff to months of diplomatic effort.
Baghdad, it seems, can be just as cynically opaque in its rhetoric as Washington and London. When the Iraqi government talks about sovereignty as being the issue, it is in fact talking about the survival of Saddam's regime.
On Libya, Washington's efforts to intensify sanctions got nowhere in the face of a majority on the Security Council who would happily lift them all if U.N. Security Council rules permitted a free, veto-less vote. Some of the Europeans would face serious economic problems if they could not buy from a major nearby source of petroleum. Many members have their doubts about the quality of the evidence implicating Libya in the Lockerbie explosion, and many of them also consider Libyan compromise proposals on the venue of the trials to be eminently sensible. In fact, Libya last year proved itself to be a model global citizen, for once at least, when it accepted the World Court's jurisdiction and judgment in favor of Chad over the contested band of territory between them. More recently, Tripoli's taunting of its neighbors by demanding access by air for its Muslim pilgrims to the holy places in Saudi Arabia also touched upon delicate sensibilities which allowed Security Council approval of flights for Libyan participants in the pilgrimage.
Britain and the U.S. increasingly are on the defensive.
In the case of Serbia, the easing of sanctions allowing flights and sports contacts remained, despite increasing evidence that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has been breaking his own pledge to embargo the flow of fuel, war materials and soldiers to the Serbian forces in Croatia and Bosnia. Many members now accept that Serbian helicopters were involved in such sanctions-breaking, despite denials and alibis offered by Lord David Owen's and Thorvald Stoltenberg's team on the border, which seems to have been chosen for its ostrichlike tendency to bury its collective head in the sand on the banks of the Drina River whenever the sound of Serb rotor blades becomes too obtrusive to deny (see April/May issue of WRMEA). …