Part 3 of 4

Since the early 1980’s the U.S. has used sanctions as a moral legitimacy for their causes,  which today have become a feature of the economic, political and social landscape. Sanctions are used as a tool of coercion to pursue foreign policy objectives and at the same time to change the behaviour to follow internationally acceptable ethical norms, an instrument preferable to and more economical than war and more acceptable to the public.

Like his predecessor President George W Bush, who used key regulatory tools to cut off access to the U.S., financial system in order to disrupt malicious financial activities, President Barack Obama used sanctions to achieve a more broader objective: to deter aggressive actions towards the U.S. and its interests.

The explosion of sanction since President Bill Clinton confirmed sanctions are part of the U.S. foreign policy instruments to protect American primacy in the world, evidenced by U.S. against China and proposed sanctions against Europe.

This type of U.S. overreach, particularly secondary sanctions that target entities from third-party countries have caused China and Europe to be actively looking to limit their exposure to the dollar and the U.S. financial system.

Sanctions are relatively low-cost measures, mainly an attempt to crush the economy, but they are never a very productive instrument for to realize change and once implemented take years to influence policies. The UN sanctions against Rhodesia 1962 and South Africa in 1965 confirmed this, just like the sanctions against Cuba (unilateral) and Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela did.

The longer period sanctions are enforced the less successful they before and the more reluctant the sanctioning party is to suspend sanctions and admit failure. Sanctions have mostly a symbolic function and the efficacy of sanctions is debatable and sanctions can have unintended consequences. But during the period after the fall of communism sanctions increased substantially, but have almost never succeeded in stopping the unethical behaviour of target states.

The history of sanctions during the last 60 years have shown to be a resounding failure to realize change, due to growing interdependency between markets & countries. According to Robert A. Pape of the University of California only up to <5 % of the 40 analysed sanctions have proven themselves to be successful.

UN sanctions against authoritarian regimes have proven themselves even less successful and are not free of ethical costs as the Iraq and Iran sanctions have shown. Sanctions have proven themselves more successful when they are used between friendly states.

Next to influencing behaviour and policies of people, companies and countries the conclusion is warranted they are used as a foreign policy instrument to facilitate the U.S. strategy of regime change. Since the overthrown of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in 1953 the strategy of regime change has been used frequently, driven by a combination of idealism, naiveté and arrogance American governments have assumed the right to topple governments often with disastrous results.

But according to David S. Cohen and Zoe A.Y. Zoe in “Sanctions can’t spark regime change” the logic of  coercive sanction does not hold when the objective of the sanctions is regime change because the cost of relinquishing power will always exceed the benefit of sanction relief.


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