Evolution of (economic) sanctions
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.