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Examining the need for international sanctions

by The Concordian December 6, 2011
Examining the need for international sanctions

Following the European Union’s fresh wave of sanctions on Iran last week, the debate about the effectiveness of sanctions and embargoes has once again resurfaced.

Considering all of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s faults (such as his reckless disregard for human rights and his support for Iran’s nuclear program), I can understand how some governments would want to punish his behaviour. Severing diplomatic ties are justified, sure. I don’t understand, however, the rationale behind imposing economic sanctions that, in this case, affect 78 million people, especially when they’re going through the same financial hardships many of us are.

These sanctions do way more harm than good. States apply sanctions to pressure certain countries for a variety of purposes, but more often than not, it’s the people of those countries who suffer badly.

There have been four United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran in the past five years (resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929). Furthermore, the European Union has imposed its own restrictions on Iran, and let’s not forget national sanctions by the United States, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Israel, and India.

Canada’s also on that list. “In response to the IAES Nov. 9, 2011 assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, Canada is imposing further sanctions under the SEMA (Special Economic Measures Regulations); the new sanctions prohibit financial transactions with Iran, expand the list of prohibited goods to include all goods used in petrochemical, oil and gas industry in Iran,” according to the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website.

Robert A. Pape, a well-known American political scientist, wrote an essay entitled Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work in 1997. In it, he analyzed research that was carried out by Gary Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott and Kimberly Ann Elliot (HSE) on sanctions the United States imposed on other countries between 1914 and 1990. HSE concluded that 40 cases out of 115 where sanctions were involved had been successful (34 per cent success rate), but Pape adjusted that number to five per cent after his research was done.

Nothing has really changed since 1997. Sanctions against Iraq, Syria, North Korea and Sudan have made things worse for the people of those countries. In many cases, food and medicine aren’t allowed into a country, leading to more deaths (UNICEF estimates that more than 500,000 children died during and after the first Gulf War because of economic sanctions).

The alternative is to do the exact opposite; open up more and more channels with those countries. By doing so, imports and exports to and from those countries are increased, inevitably improving both countries’ economic situations. Otherwise, the loss of a customer will weaken your economy over time.

Research conducted by the Institute for International Economics found that “U.S. exports to the 26 countries subject to U.S. sanctions in 1995 were $15 and $19 billion lower than they would have been in the absence of the sanctions.” The research is a bit dated, but the principles remain.

The best ways to punish unruly dictators are to help international prosecutors build cases against them and eventually bring them to The Hague to face the International Criminal Court. That’s exactly what Cindor Reeves did. An article published in the Feb. 7, 2011 edition of The Globe and Mail describes how Reeves, a Liberian, helped build a case against the country’s notorious former president and his brother-in-law, Charles Taylor. It worked – Reeves fled to Germany before going to Canada, and the dictator is currently on trial “for 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” according to the article.

Cuba is another good example—an embargo that has lasted more than 50 years has failed to dislodge Castro from his position of power, and its only real impact has been to push Cubans further and further into poverty.

Let’s hope the European Union, the United States, Canada and other powerful nations can deal with embassy raids better in the future. Right now, EU member states are debating whether to extend sanctions to Iran’s oil sector. “The EU has added dozens of Iranian officials and companies to its blacklist and EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels [last week] considered other sanctions against Iran,” according to an article in The Voice of America on Dec. 1.

Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost because of these sanctions, and it’s definitely time for foreign policy reform to take place, including in Canada.

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