Why economic sanctions don’t deliver results

They are weapons breeding misery, hatred and starvation in some poorest populations

The nuclear deal with Iran initiated by US President Barack Obama, sealed after seven years of negotiations, was certainly flawed. It was the worst deal ever negotiated pronounced President Donald Trump who had a point because it served to embolden, enrich and legitimise the Iranian regime for very little in return.

Its focus was solely on restricting Tehran’s nuclear activities rather than its aggressive behaviours throughout the region.

However, America’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in spite of objections from its co-signatories and the subsequent imposition of harsh economic sanctions impacting Iran’s oil exports have not incentivised the mullahs to negotiate a new comprehensive agreement.

On the contrary, Iran’s belligerence towards its neighbours, its threats to shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and its capacity for uranium enrichment have all been amplified upping the threat of a full-scale war. But Trump has shown his bark is worse than his bite.

Locked and loaded

In the aftermath of an attack on two Saudi oil facilities by Iran or its proxies, the US president tweeted that America was “locked and loaded” ready to respond before walking that back.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Iran was positioning itself for “a nuclear breakout” which may be an exaggeration although it is true that Iran’s cooperation with weapons inspectors of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has decreased exponentially.

At least one inspector was recently barred from entering a sensitive facility, uranium traces were found at an undeclared site and hexafluoride gas has been injected into centrifuges at the Fordo plant set deep underground.

Iranian powers are rattling the cage in an attempt to pressure the EU among other partners to find ways of circumventing US sanctions which they have so far been unable to do primarily because major international companies and the banking sector are fearful of incurring White House wrath. European states which had hoped to preserve the deal in some form are unimpressed and are believed to be mulling the re-imposition of EU sanctions on Iran.

In the meantime, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un whose country is sanctioned to the hilt is not bending either. His answer consists of heightened provocations in the form of missile tests. Forgotten are the hugs and the handshakes with his South Korean counterpart and the “beautiful” missives addressed to Trump have dried-up along with the flowery praises.

Instead, he has warned the US of “devastating consequences” if diplomatic talks fail to result in the lifting of sanctions and an end to US-South Korean military drills which Kim suspects are a prelude to a US-led invasion. Surprisingly his bully boy tactics may be paying off.

Washington and Seoul have agreed to postpone joint military exercises that had been scheduled for 18 November as a sop to the North Korean leader in the hope he will quit sabre-rattling and return to the table.

Missing the point

The trouble is the Trump administration is missing the point. US and North Korean negotiators could engage from now to kingdom come but Kim is not about to modify his threatening behaviour without goodwill gestures such as a staged reduction of sanctions.

Sanctions used to bring nations to heel have rarely worked. Saddam Hussain’s grip on power never faltered during ten years of crippling sanctions; it took an illegal US-led invasion based on lies to topple him.

Cuba has remained resilient for decades under heavy US sanctions and embargoes including the longest trade embargo in history which multiple UN General Assembly resolutions have termed violations of international law.

More recently, US sanctions on Venezuela imposed while the country was drowning in economic woes did not succeed in forcing President Nicolas Maduro to quit to make way for America’s puppet Juan Guaido who proclaimed himself president with Trump’s backing.

It seems to me that sanctions are the first resort of the incapable flexing their muscles on some of the planet’s poorest populations in an attempt to bend governments to their will. That is usually a futile endeavour. No matter the level of suffering, very few regimes choose to cave.

Sanctions are not diplomatic tools but weapons breeding misery, hatred, starvation and slow death within some of the poorest populations that are punished even as they cry out for help.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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