Any nation, people, or organisation has a range of 'weapons' at its disposal, ranging from those of obvious and deadly purpose, to the more subtle ones that most people do not recognise as 'weapons'. Few think of attempts to reduce, restrict or damage another countries economy as a 'weapon', or as an act of war. Yet, arguably, it is both.
Those who call for 'economic sanctions' or 'boycotts' or 'disinvestment' do so in the belief that these are alternatives to sending in the military to change a country. They fondly believe that their 'sanctions' offer an alternative to war, but is it? Is it not a weapon deployed in exactly the same manner as deploying a Trident missile would be? OK, the visible damage is not going to be as great, and perhaps you won't kill several hundred thousand people in achieving your objective - to change a regime or a national culture - with 'sanctions/boycotts/disinvestments'. Or will you?
The unpleasant truth is that an economic blockade of a country can be just as damaging - over a longer term admittedly - as a short sharp 'little' shooting match. While bullets kill people, sanctions destroy livelihoods, they destroy opportunities, and they create hardships for the very ordinary people those who call for them claim to want to help. So those who want to impose them are, in the long term, likely to cause as much hardship as a 'hot' war will do. Why do I say this?
I have several reasons, one being that I have lived in a country under 'international sanctions'. The most observable effect was the steady increase in unemployment. Disinvestment was something of a two edged sword, many companies who did, walked away having 'sold' their holdings in local companies which simply found other sources of capital (a lot of it ironically, from the Far East and 'Communist' countries), while others simply pulled out, abandoning massively expensive infrastructures and leaving thousands unemployed in an already saturated employment market. Crime rates climbed steeply, with violent crimes such as murder and violent assaults becoming everyday.
And all the while, those imposing the sanctions talked of bringing the country to its knees economically in order to impose their vision of what the country should look like. When I had the opportunity to challenge someone who was a determined and very vocal advocate of sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment, they admitted it was a 'weapon' to be used 'for the good of the oppressed'. But when I pointed out that the 'oppressed' were suffering more than anyone else, the answer astonished me; "Well, some must suffer hardship for the good of the majority and the future."
Quite, as long as it is not the 'advocate' who suffers.
A flip through history reveals a number of interesting things about past 'sanctions' campaigns. Perhaps the most telling is the example of the sanctions against Japan in the 1930s. Intended to 'damage' Japan's ability to sustain its war in Manchuria, it actually convinced the Japanese that their only option was to go to war in order to secure the resources they needed to sustain their economy and population. Some historians still argue that the US policy may well have been deliberately designed to provoke exactly that response. At the very least, something those who advocate sanctions, boycotts or disinvestment should consider is that the response almost invariably invoked in the people on the receiving end, is a hardening of attitudes.
That can be seen today in Iran, in Russia, in Zimbabwe and in Israel.
Then there is the question of what happens once you have succeeded in destroying someones economy. Does it produce the happy smiling face you wanted to see? Or does it produce a failing state, struggling to stay afloat and unable to pay its way in the world economy? If some recent examples are anything to go by, the latter seems to be more likely. Iraq, having had sanctions imposed which ruined its currency and internal economy, then had 'regime change' imposed by a war, is a basket case. Even without the IS lunatics and all the other factions vying for power, it is a country in ruins because its economy is ruined - and it is likely to stay that way for a very long time.
Zimbabwe's economy all but collapsed toward the end of the long UDI government, so when Mugabe came to power, those who love this form of warfare, thought there would be a 'magic' recovery. There wasn't. The AID they poured in was stolen, then the banks were grabbed by Mugabe's thugs, and then the farms. Now? It is a subsistence economy at best. The same thing almost happened in South Africa, though it was better placed to survive, and the economy is at least now stable - but the corruption and white collar crime, coupled with a few other problems, is crippling any rebuilding of the economy. Yet another 'triumph' for the sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment advocates to rejoice over.
Sanctions/Economic Blockades do work. Again, if we consider history, we can see many examples. Britain's blockade of France during the Napoleonic wars crippled France's economy. Napoleon's 'Continental Blockade' of closed ports and trade bans in Northern Europe almost destroyed the British economy by smashing the Baltic Trade - worth over 42 million Pounds Sterling in 1809 and only 5 million Pounds Sterling five years later. The dramatic loss of market share almost destroyed the British economy in the middle of the war. The British blockade of German trade in 1914 - 18 smashed the German economy, and millions of Germans starved (so did millions of other Europeans caught between the 'Great Powers', what one might call 'collateral damage' today), and gave rise (as some always hope will happen when they demand sanctions) to mass civil unrest in German towns and cities. Communists seized town halls and other government buildings, but more crucially, the sanctions/blockade coupled with the demands of the Allies in the Versailles treaty, resulted in the rise of the National Socialists as a counter to the Communists.
Again and again we see the result of destroying an economy to compel regime change, and each time we see a situation resulting that is, if anything, worse than the first state. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few and very far between.
Those who call for sanctions, boycotts or disinvestment against a country need to think very carefully about what they are doing. In essence they are declaring war on another country, another people, and they are deploying a very dangerous Weapon of Mass Disruption with the deliberate intent of destroying a people's ability to feed and house themselves.
It often strikes me as ironic that those who always advocate the deployment of this weapon are usually also anti-war, anti-military, but none I have ever spoken to seem to see the contradiction.
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