How Sanctions Work

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

[picture of the UN logo]I HAVE heard far too many times that sanctions do not work, and so here I wish to make a case for them; I like sanctions.

It’s not a big, lengthy, complex case, just a simple one.

Take for example, a couple of countries.  One country starts doing bad things, so the other decides to impose “sanctions”.

[Picture called do  sanctions work]

Most people understand this, but they think that it is about persuasion — that sanctions are a way to force the country to stop doing bad things.

* Economic sanctions, typically a ban on trade, possibly limited to certain sectors such as armaments, or with certain exceptions (such as food and medicine);;
* International sanctions, coercive measures adopted by a country or group of countries against another state or individual(s) in order to elicit a change in their behaviour;
* Pragmatic sanction, historically, a sovereign’s solemn decree on a matter of primary importance and has the force of fundamental law;
* Trade sanctions, economic sanctions applied for non-political reasons, typically as part of a trade dispute, or for purely economic reasons, and typically involving tariffs or similar measures, rather than bans.

Then, when this bad country continues to do bad things regardless of our “sanctions”, many people declare “sanctions” to be of no use, that they have failed in their coercive purpose.

Indeed, it goes further — these people all-too-often claim that if you impose trade sanctions which are shown not to work, then it is we who lose out — so they claim that sanctions actually damage us and not them!

But I am saying that it doesn’t work like that.

I disagree with descriptions above.

Think of it this way — a country is doing bad things, so we do not want to do business with them.  We do not want to associate with them. We do not anything to do with them.

That’s all there is to it. Simple.

It is not about how we relate with them while they are bad (we actually don’t want to relate to them at all!), nor is it about making them miss us — miss dealing with us. Rather, it is about us not dealing with such people because they are bad.

It is a moral and ethical stance.

In my opinion, it is about doing what is right.  It is not about finding a way to deal with baddies, it is not about exerting influence, power or coercion. It is simply about cutting bad people off.

On that basis, it is the correct thing to do, even if it “harms” us in some economic way.

If we continued to deal with bad regimes, we would be tacitly condoning badness, so sanctions give us the moral high ground.

If other countries did the same, then the bad countries really would be isolated, and may then change — but that is not the point, change is not in our remit, we cannot and ought not to seek regime change, even when it is clearly evil.  The most we can do is impose sanctions.

That is h0w sanctions work.

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