ALTHOUGH President Bush finally opted for war as the sole means
of evicting Iraq from Kuwait, the success of sanctions in squeezing
Iraq may have helped rehabilitate economic coercion as an effective
tool of diplomacy.
Because of its strategic location and extensive trade ties with
the West, Iraq was especially vulnerable to international sanctions.
But experts say the lessons of Iraq could be applied in response
to future aggression, especially in the third world, that is likely
to be a chief source of instability in the postwar era.
"The Gulf crisis may make inroads on the sanctions-never-work
mentality that prevailed before the war," says one Washington-based
Meanwhile, the messy outcome of a war that has left Saddam in
power, with enough military might to crush Shiite and Kurdish
insurgencies, has prompted some diplomatic observers to question
whether the United States-led coalition could have achieved better
results at lower cost by relying on sanctions alone.
"Over time we're going to have to evaluate, are we better off
with the outcome of the war than we might have been if we had (dealt
with Saddam) in a slower, less dramatic way," says the Brookings
Institution's Judith Kipper.
"If we had been able to show in Iraq that sanctions can work, we
would have had a tool we could use in any kind of international
situation where one country is an aggressor against another," says
US Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois. "As it is, it's not as proven a
tool as we would have had if we'd stuck to sanctions."
Questions of loyalty raised
The issue of sanctions has also been thrown into sharp relief
because of questions raised by Republican Party and congressional
leaders about the loyalty of senators who voted in January to extend
the sanctions period before going to war. The debate over whether,
given time, sanctions would have worked, is likely to spill over
into the 1992 elections.
Economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq by the United Nations
Aug. 6, just four days after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The embargo
eventually led to food shortages and higher prices. By
mid-September, food riots were reported in parts of rural Iraq.
Dependent on oil exports for virtually all of its foreign
earnings and on imports for most of its food, Iraq was highly
vulnerable to economic coercion. By the outbreak of the air
campaign, Iraq's gross national product (GNP) had been cut in half,
an economic impact 20 times higher than the average toll exacted by
international sanctions applied since 1914, according to a recent
Despite the crippling effects of the embargo, President Bush
opted for war on Jan. 16, fearful that the anti-Iraq coalition might
unravel during the nine- to 15-month period experts predicted would
be needed for sanctions to have maximum effect.
The decision to move militarily was reinforced by other
One was the reported "leakage" of food and supplies, especially
across the Iranian border, that many experts predicted would sustain
Iraq's ability to endure economic hardship.
Another concern was that, even if sanctions forced Saddam out of
Kuwait, Iraq would emerge from the crisis with its weapons
stockpiles intact, retaining the capacity to threaten regional
"One element that was driving the discrediting of sanctions and
the need to go to military options was the (weapons) production
sites," says Janne Nolan, author of a recently published book on the
proliferation of ballistic missiles in the third world. "It became
the conventional wisdom that, even if there were a peaceful
settlement, these production sites would remain."
The Bush administration was also persuaded that as sanctions
continued to bite, Saddam would turn the suffering of the Iraqi
people into a public-relations spectacle, placing strains on the
coalition and escalating demands to relax the embargo. …