About sanctions…

12:08 14.04.2023 •

Demonstrators in Zimbabwe chant slogans and wave flags during a rally to denounce EU and US sanctions against the country
Photo: AFP

In our own time, a form of siege warfare is applied to whole countries, usually poorer ones, through the misuse of sanctions, ‘Counter Punch’ notes.

There are innumerable forms of sanctions: opprobrium, boycotts, embargoes, denial of service, travel bans, export bans, divestment, asset seizures, blockades, censure, and much more.

Sanctions can be just. They were used against South Africa in the 1980s, and, as part of a mass movement dedicated to ending apartheid that included boycotts and divestment campaigns, ultimately helped bring down that evil system.

In contrast, much harsher and broader sanctions imposed on Iraq the following decade were in the main supported by a cabal of hawkish U.S. and British policymakers and the militarist think tanks affiliated with them. The human costs of them were rarely discussed with the public at large in either country.

We have often been told that sanctions like those used against Iraq will eventually lead to the overthrow of governments Western powers don’t like. History doesn’t bear this out.

If anything, in countries as diverse as North Korea, Iran and Cuba, sanctions appear to have had the opposite effect, becoming a useful tool for rallying these populations behind their leaders.

In the case of Iraq, it was reported that well over half a million children died as the result of the brutal sanctions imposed on the country after the first Gulf War, shamefully described by the US Secretary of State Albright as “worth it.” Saddam Hussein, his family, his colonels, and his inner circle did not miss any meals as a result of them. These became known as “killer sanctions.”

Tragically, countries facing such sanctions regimes are also often denied life extending and saving medical treatments that are deemed “dual use.” Those with diseases like cancer are unable to receive these treatments, often extending their own and their loved ones’ suffering. When economic sanctions have been most effective, they have been selectively imposed.

‘Smart sanctions’ not only target elites, but never target average citizens unless, like poor black South Africans in the 1980s, those average citizens ask for the more generalized sanctions – indeed, they were the first to start them, with sustained boycotts of white businesses.

The way sanctions have all too often been used for the past 30 years against weaker nations has been cruel and ineffective, mainly hurting ordinary people who have little control over those that rule them, ‘Counter Punch’ concludes.


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