Saving Sanctions

Saving Sanctions

Sanctions often hurt the innocent inside sanctioned nations as well as nearby trading partners, and are only effective if they are multinational and well policed.

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The source:“Making Sanctions Humane and Effective” by Uli Cremer, in Internationale Politik, Summer 2006.

Today’s liberals express far less confidence in the efficacy of international sanctions than did Woodrow Wilson, who said in 1919 that “a nation boycotted is a nation in sight of surrender.” Sanctions are only as effective as the political will to implement them, writes Uli Cremer, the former foreign policy spokesman for Germany’s Green Party, and many existing and aspiring trading partners of sanctioned countries are weak reeds ­indeed.

The United States indulged in “sanctions excess” in the 1990s, Cremer says, and the rest of the world was happy to capitalize on America’s ac­tions. When Congress prohibited U.S. firms from doing business with Iran in 1993, French, Russian, Malaysian, and Chinese companies seized the ­opportunity.

Unilateral sanctions are almost always ineffective, but even multi­national actions work no more than half the time, according to research cited by Cremer. Every relevant nation must be on board. Even then, sanc­tions often hurt the wrong people—the weak within the sanctioned nation, as well as nearby trading partners. When the United Nations imposed sanctions on Yugoslavia in the 1990s, neigh­boring Romania claimed that it suffered $10 billion in ­damages.

Cremer advocates a “United Nations Sanctions Compensation Fund” of about $20 billion, underwritten by annual contributions from all UN members, to compensate legitimate trading partners and others and remove the economic imperative to cheat. He also calls for scrutinizing claims and ensuring that the money is not siphoned off to the politically ­well-­connected. In Iraq, where the nation’s own oil sales were used to finance a UN compen­sation fund between 1992 and 2000, a committee plowed through 2.6 million applications and reduced valid claims to only one percent of the requests, but “political approvals” increased final payouts above the original figures. Such massive corruption would have to be eliminated and the process made transparent for the initiative to ­succeed.

Since 1945, the UN has imposed sanctions on a rogue’s gallery of regimes, including ones in Angola, Cambodia, Liberia, Libya, Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. Now Iran, with its vast oil wealth, is on the agenda unless it suspends moves toward developing nuclear weapons capability. Cremer argues that sanctions will work only if the UN first takes steps to head off the likely economic fallout.

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