Evo­lu­tion of (eco­nomic) sanc­tions

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THE Sun­day Ex­press of Novem­ber 1 2015, un­der the head­ing “Op­po­si­tion MP’S re­turn to Par­lia­ment”, re­ports All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC) spokesper­son Tefo Mape­sela, as say­ing: “We want the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to slap the coun­try with sanc­tions in or­der to pres­sure govern­ment into re­spect­ing the rule of law.”

This state­ment brought to the fore a lot of sce­nar­ios about the evo­lu­tion of eco­nomic sanc­tions, not in par­tic­u­lar to Le­sotho but to this form of an em­bargo against states that vi­o­late ac­cept­able in­ter­na­tional norms of be­hav­iour.

Let me has­ten to add that I am not for one mo­ment ad­vo­cat­ing the im­po­si­tion of eco­nomic sanc­tions be­cause that is for politi­cians, academics and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to de­cide as in re­gard to this con­tro­ver­sial mea­sure I still have to state my stance re­gard­ing whether Le­sotho has vi­o­lated in­ter­na­tional norms of be­hav­iour.

In this col­umn I am just dis­cussing the evo­lu­tion of eco­nomic sanc­tions over the years in their ap­pli­ca­tion to dif­fer­ent coun­tries gen­er­ally. Let me not there­fore be mis­in­ter­preted.

The Char­ter of the United Na­tions pro­vides for both im­po­si­tion of eco­nomic sanc­tions and for di­rect mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion on the res­o­lu­tion of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil if a state vi­o­lates in­ter­na­tional norms of be­hav­iour, among oth­ers.

Eco­nomic sanc­tions are there­fore used as a form of get­ting a given state to change its be­hav­iour bar­ring mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion.

Eco­nomic sanc­tions are de­fined as the with­drawals of cus­tom­ary trade and fi­nan­cial re­la­tions for for­eign and se­cu­rity pol­icy pur­poses.

They may be com­pre­hen­sive, pro­hibit­ing com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity with re­gard to an en­tire coun­try, like the long­stand­ing United States em­bargo of Cuba, or they may be tar­geted, block­ing trans­ac­tions of and with par­tic­u­lar busi­nesses, groups or in­di­vid­u­als.

The Wikipedia, free en­cy­clo­pe­dia de­fines eco­nomic sanc­tions as do­mes­tic penal­ties ap­plied uni­lat­er­ally by one coun­try (or mul­ti­lat­er­ally, by a group of coun­tries) on an­other coun­try (or a group of coun­tries).

Eco­nomic sanc­tions may in­clude var­i­ous forms of trade bar­ri­ers and re­stric­tions on fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions. Eco­nomic sanc­tions are not nec­es­sar­ily im­posed be­cause of eco­nomic cir­cum­stances — they may also be im­posed for a va­ri­ety of political and so­cial is­sues and can be used for achiev­ing do­mes­tic political gain.

Eco­nomic sanc­tions are used as a tool of for­eign pol­icy by many gov­ern­ments. They are usu­ally im­posed by a larger coun­try upon a smaller coun­try with a smaller econ­omy for one of two rea­sons, ei­ther the lat­ter is a threat to the se­cu­rity of the for­mer or, crit­i­cally, that coun­try treats its cit­i­zens un­fairly. Eco­nomic sanc­tions can there­fore be used as a co­er­cive mea­sure for achiev­ing par­tic­u­lar pol­icy goals re­lated to trade or hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

Since 9/11 when two civil­ian air­craft were de­lib­er­ately crashed into the World Trade Cen­tre Tow­ers in New York, the third crashed into an open field while headed for the White House in Wash­ing­ton DC and the fourth was de­lib­er­ately crashed into the Pen­tagon, Wash­ing­ton DC, there has been a pro­nounced shift to­wards tar­geted or so-called “Smart” sanc­tions, which aim to min­i­mize the suf­fer­ing of in­no­cent civil­ians.

Sanc­tions take a va­ri­ety of forms, in­clud­ing travel bans, as­set freezes, arms em­bar­goes, cap­i­tal re­straints, for­eign aid re­duc­tions and trade re­stric­tions.

Eco­nomic sanc­tions were ap­plied with some suc­cess against among oth­ers, apartheid South Africa, com­mu­nist Cuba, North Korea, Rus­sia, Zim­babwe and many other coun­tries.

At the height of apartheid, eco­nomic sanc­tions on South Africa had, cou­pled with other do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, a lot of im­pact in co­erc­ing the white mi­nor­ity govern­ment to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble with its ma­jor­ity black fel­low cit­i­zens. In 1986, South Africa block­aded the com­mon bor­ders with Le­sotho cul­mi­nat­ing in the col­lapse of the then Le­sotho govern­ment.

Na­tional gov­ern­ments and in­ter­na­tional bod­ies like the United Na­tions and the Euro­pean Union have im­posed eco­nomic sanc­tions to co­erce, de­ter, pun­ish or shame en­ti­ties that en­dan­ger their in­ter­ests or vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional norms of be­hav­iour.

They have been used to ad­vance a range of for­eign pol­icy goals in­clud­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism, counter-nar­cotics, non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, democ­racy and hu­man rights pro­mo­tion, con­flict res­o­lu­tion and most re­cently, cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

Gen­er­ally, sanc­tions, while a form of in­ter­ven­tion, are viewed as an al­ter­na­tive to mil­i­tary force — a lower cost, lower risk, middle course of ac­tion be­tween diplo­macy and war, eu­phemisti­cally called by the Amer­i­cans, as “boots on the soil” strat­egy. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers may con­sider sanc­tions a re­sponse to for­eign crises in which the na­tional in­ter­est is less than vi­tal or where mil­i­tary ac­tion is not fea­si­ble.

Lead­ers can, on oc­ca­sion, im­pose sanc­tions rapidly to buy ad­di­tional time to eval­u­ate and pre­pare more puni­tive ac­tion. For in­stance, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s stance against Iraq, just four days af­ter Sad­dam Hus­sein’s in­va­sion of Kuwait in Au­gust, 1990.

At the United Na­tions, as ear­lier al­luded to, the UN’S prin­ci­ple cri­sis-man­age­ment body, the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, may re­spond to global threats by cut­ting eco­nomic ties with state and non-state groups.

Sanc­tions res­o­lu­tion must pass the 15-mem­ber Coun­cil by a ma­jor­ity vote and with­out a veto from any of the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Coun­cil, namely the United States, China, France, Rus­sia and the United King­dom.

The most com­mon types of UN sanc­tions, which are bind­ing on all mem­ber states, are an as­set freeze, travel bans, and arms em­bar­goes.

This nec­es­sar­ily brings me to an­other form of eco­nomic sanc­tions pop­u­larly called em­bar­goes. Th­ese are le­gal pro­hi­bi­tions by a govern­ment or group of gov­ern­ments re­strict­ing the move­ment of goods from some or all lo­ca­tions to one or more coun­tries.

In 1986 though not a le­gal pro­hi­bi­tion by the South African govern­ment, the then regime de­layed move­ment of goods into Le­sotho across all the ma­jor road and rail trans­port en­try points thereby caus­ing eco­nomic as­phyx­i­a­tion of Le­sotho that fi­nally ne­ces­si­tated a mil­i­tary takeover.

Em­bar­goes may be broad or nar­row in scope. A trade em­bargo, for ex­am­ple, is a pro­hi­bi­tion on ex­ports to one or more coun­tries though the term is of­ten used to re­fer to a ban on all com­merce.

In con­trast, a strate­gic em­bargo re­stricts only the sale of goods that make a di­rect and spe­cific con­tri­bu­tion to a coun­try’s mil­i­tary power: sim­i­larly, an oil em­bargo pro­hibits only the ex­port of oil.

Broad em­bar­goes on the other hand, of­ten al­low the ex­port of cer­tain goods (e.g. medicines or food­stuffs) to con­tinue for hu­man­i­tar­ian pur­poses.

An em­bargo is a tool of eco­nomic warfare that may be em­ployed for a va­ri­ety of political pur­poses, in­clud­ing demon­strat­ing re­solve, send­ing a political sig­nal, com­pelling a coun­try to change its be­hav­iour, de­ter­ring it from en­gag­ing in un­de­sired ac­tiv­i­ties and to strengthen a coun­try’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity.

In cer­tain con­texts, if not prop­erly or se­lec­tively ap­plied, em­bar­goes have the eth­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage in that they im­pose greater costs on the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion in the tar­geted coun­try than on its political or mil­i­tary lead­er­ship which are of­ten be­hav­ing in an un­ac­cept­able man­ner.

Most schol­ars and pol­i­cy­mak­ers ar­gue that eco­nomic sanc­tions and em­bar­goes (I will use the terms in­ter­change­ably for now), par­tic­u­larly tar­geted sanc­tions, can at least be partly suc­cess­ful and should re­main the other op­tion, bar­ring mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, to co­erce lead­ers to be­have in an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cept­able man­ner.

How­ever, the dy­nam­ics of each his­tor­i­cal case very im­mensely. Sanc­tions that are ef­fec­tive in one set­ting may fail in an­other de­pend­ing on in­nu­mer­able fac­tors. Sanc­tions pro­grams with lim­ited ob­jec­tives are gen­er­ally more likely to suc­ceed than those with ma­jor political am­bi­tion.

Ex­perts point-out to sev­eral best prac­tices in de­vel­op­ing a sanc­tions pol­icy which are: De­vel­op­ing a well-rounded ap­proach that has ef­fec­tive strat­egy that is of­ten linked to puni­tive mea­sures, and the threat of mil­i­tary ac­tion, with pos­i­tive in­duce­ments like fi­nan­cial aid.

An­other best prac­tice is to build mul­ti­lat­eral sup­port that in­volves more gov­ern­ments that sign on to and en­force sanc­tions es­pe­cially in cases where the tar­get is eco­nom­i­cally di­ver­si­fied. For in­stance, sanc­tions against apartheid South Africa in the 1980’s would not be as nearly as ef­fec­tive with­out mul­ti­lat­eral sup­port.

How­ever, as ear­lier pointed out, the im­pact of sanc­tions de­pend on a va­ri­ety of dy­nam­ics. For in­stance, in the case of an ex­am­ple I know full well, be­cause Le­sotho has a very small econ­omy that is en­tirely de­pen­dent on the gi­ant South Africa and is en­tirely sur­rounded by South Africa, as was demon­strated in 1986, it will be just a mat­ter of days be­fore sanc­tions or the em­bargo have the de­sired ef­fect.

Fur­ther, in the case of Le­sotho, just dis­qual­i­fy­ing the coun­try from African Growth Op­por­tu­ni­ties Act, ( AGOA) el­i­gi­bil­ity for the coun­try’s tex­tile prod­ucts not to en­ter the lu­cra­tive US mar­ket, lim­it­ing or deny­ing the coun­try ac­cess to the US Mil­le­nium Chal­lenge Cor­po­ra­tion (MCC) fa­cil­i­ties and with­hold­ing the rev­enue from South­ern African Cus­toms Union (SACU).

Ba­si­cally, Le­sotho is too vul­ner­a­ble be­cause of its frag­ile and weak econ­omy as well as its unique po­si­tion of be­ing en­tirely sur­rounded by South Africa and iron­i­cally de­pend­ing wholly on South Africa eco­nom­i­cally even for its work­force that con­trib­ute sub­stan­tial re­mit­tances to the Le­sotho econ­omy.

Ba­si­cally, the en­deav­our in this col­umn is to trace the evo­lu­tion and ef­fec­tive­ness of eco­nomic sanc­tions as op­posed to “hav­ing boots on the soil” or com­monly called mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion. The col­umn demon­strated that though not con­clu­sively proven, eco­nomic sanc­tions can be used to co­erce a lead­er­ship into be­hav­ing in an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cept­able norms re­gard­ing hu­man rights, rule of law, ag­gres­sion, geno­cide and so forth.

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