Sanctions Are Becoming `Weapon of Choice' Leading World Powers Turn More to Use of Nonmilitary Means
Mark Sommer. Mark Sommer is a research associate of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program California ., The Christian Science Monitor
CAN the freezing of bank assets and the isolation of outlaw regimes replace the dropping of bombs as the world community's weapon of choice in response to gross violations of international law?
Advocates of nonviolence are no longer alone in asking this question. With increasing frequency, political leaders are looking to multilateral economic sanctions as a partial answer to the increasing reluctance to taking up arms.
Of 116 cases of sanctions used since World War II, 80 percent were initiated by the United States alone. During its first 40 years of existence, the United Nations applied sanctions only twice - in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. But over the past three years the UN has imposed sanctions against three nations - Iraq, Libya, and the former Yugoslavia - and arms embargoes against three others - Liberia, Somalia, and parts of Cambodia controlled by the Khmer Rouge.
The world community is increasingly experimenting with comprehensive sanctions as an alternative to piecemeal, unilateral embargoes.
Success thus far has been mixed. A recent survey by the Institute of International Economics estimates the "overall effectiveness rate" of economic sanctions at 34 percent. If the goal is to reverse an aggression or usurpation that has already taken place, or to disable the military potential of an outlaw state, the chances that the embargo will succeed are low. Success is more likely when the goals are modest, the nation targeted is small and dependent on supplies from nations participating in the embargo, and there is an active internal opposition that supports imposition of sanctions.
Embargoes are also more effective if they are universally and comprehensively applied. This degree of international coordination has yet to be realized. As sanctions begin to bite, prices rise, making illicit trade with the renegade nation more profitable. The temptation to deal can become irresistible, especially to companies and individuals driven by greed, or other pariah nations that have difficulty finding outlets for their wares on the open market. Even for nations operating from a more principled position, such as Jordan during the Gulf war, the cost of complying in the interests of the world community but against their own is sometimes too high to bear without compensation from those asking them to sacrifice.
As currently applied, economic sanctions are blunt tools that sometimes hurt those they are meant to help, while leaving those they are intended to punish unscathed. The UN has applied its most stringent sanctions to date against Serbia, but their effects have been most devastating to the 80 percent of the public that has been driven below the poverty line by their effects. Like the Hussein regime in Iraq, the Milosevic regime so completely controls information that sanctions have actually produced a rallying effect among the populace, reinforcing its paranoid view of the world and strengthening its will to resist. …