The Regional and Domestic Political Consequences of Sanctions Imposed on Iraq, Libya and Sudan

By Niblock, Tim | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Fall 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Regional and Domestic Political Consequences of Sanctions Imposed on Iraq, Libya and Sudan

Niblock, Tim, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

THIS ARTICLE WILL ASSUME that readers know the background which brought the United Nations Security Council to impose mandatory sanctions on the three countries which are covered in the article. It will focus exclusively on the conclusions which can be drawn from the experience of sanctions, specifically with regard to the effects of sanctions on domestic and regional stability. These conclusions are drawn from a larger work on sanctions written by the author of this paper, which has recently been published. (1) It must be borne in mind that the character of the sanctions imposed in the three cases varies very substantially. The comprehensive economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in the wake of the Gulf war, and which remain in force, are the most intensive and wide-ranging sanctions which have ever been imposed on a country in modern times. Those imposed on Libya in 1992 and 1993, and lifted in 1999, covered air travel, some downstream oil activities, and the freezing of non-oil-related Libyan assets held abroa d. Those on Sudan were purely diplomatic, requiring states to reduce Sudanese diplomatic representation in their capitals, and restrict entry into their countries of members of the Sudanese government or armed forces.

In what follows, the article will focus first on observations specific to the individual states, and will then move on to the more general conclusions which can be drawn from the sanctions experience.


An overall assessment of the positive and negative aspects of the U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq needs to cover two different dimensions. The first concerns the extent to which they have helped attain the specific objectives laid down in the Security Council resolutions which imposed them. The second relates to the impact which they have had on the Iraqi polity: have they created social, economic and political dynamics which have enabled (or will enable) Iraq to play a positive role in a stable regional and international order? The latter dimension relates to whether the Iraqi state adopts and upholds values and policies which cohere with international order and stability. This would include aspects of domestic as well as foreign policy, in so far as large-scale human rights violations have region-wide reverberations.

The specific objectives, covering the period since 1991, are those found in Security Council resolution 687: the destruction or removal of all Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and facilities; the disabling of any nuclear potential; acceptance by Iraq of Kuwaiti sovereignty and of the demarcation of the border determined by the Demarcation Commission; the payment of war reparations; and the return to Kuwait of all Kuwaitis detained in Iraq and of all Kuwaiti property taken during the occupation of Kuwait. It is clear that during the 1990s, while sanctions were in place, the government of Iraq did slowly but steadily fulfil most of the requirements of resolution 687. No doubt, sanctions constituted one of the factors encouraging the Iraqi government to comply with the requirements of the resolution, but the significance of this factor should not be exaggerated. In practice Iraq has not been given a sufficiently strong incentive to comply. The primary objective pursued by the Iraqi government since 1991, b esides ensuring the survival of the regime, has been the re-establishment of Iraqi sovereignty, both territorial and economic. (2)

Yet the lightening or removal of sanctions which has been on offer since Security Council resolution 706 of August 1991 (and even up to resolution 1284) has consistently stopped short of guaranteeing the return of that sovereignty. No channel has been opened through which Iraq could regain the ability to use its oil revenues as it sees fit. The failure of the Security Council to offer this incentive stems from the reparation payments which Iraq is obliged to make under resolution 687, and from the Council's perception that these payments can only be assured if Iraqi oil revenues pass through a U.

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The Regional and Domestic Political Consequences of Sanctions Imposed on Iraq, Libya and Sudan


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