The Evil of Sanctions

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When strong
governments wish to impose their will on weaker regimes, they often
resort to sanctions. The effects have included the death or debilitation
of millions of innocent people. Two good examples are Cuba, on which
draconian U.S. sanctions have been enforced since 1960, and Iraq,
where brutal sanctions were enforced from 1990 to 2003.

In 1959 the
Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown. He had ruled with
the approval of Washington and the Mafia (who gave him a percentage
on their casino operations). The dictator Castro took over and declared
himself a communist, prompting the U.S. government to attempt to
overthrow him. The illegal attempt to invade the country –
the Bay of Pigs fiasco – was a national embarrassment for Washington,
and the obvious revenge was to punish the country by the use of
sanctions. Almost no contact with Cuba was allowed, and the effects
have been monstrous.

Earlier this
year the Cato Institute recorded,

embargo has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed
the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated
a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban
people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit more

Dr. Michèle
Barry points out in Annals of Internal Medicine,

economic sanctions result in shortages of food and medical supplies,
their most severe consequences are often felt by the persons who
are least culpable and most vulnerable….

The U.S.
embargo against Cuba, one of the few that includes both food and
medicine, has been described as a war against public health with
high human costs….

severe consequences” were experienced by the people of Iraq
when Washington succeeded in having UN sanctions imposed after Saddam
Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. After the Iraqis were forced out
of Kuwait, it was declared that the sanctions were intended to make
Iraq comply with UN Security Council Resolution 687, which demanded
that Iraq eliminate its weapons of mass destruction and that it
recognize the nation-state of Kuwait, which, like America’s
major Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, is ruled by an entirely nondemocratic

The absurdity
of UNSC 687 was that Rolf Ekeus, the UN representative responsible
for identifying and destroying Iraq’s weaponry, had already
certified that 817 out of Iraq’s 819 Iraqi long-range missiles
had been destroyed. In 1999 a panel of the Security Council announced
that all biological and chemical facilities “have been destroyed
and rendered harmless.” But that did not deter the sanctions
proponents, who imagined that immense national suffering would somehow
bring down the despot Saddam.

In 1998 Christian
Aid stated,

policy of sanctions has also been used to pursue political goals
– for example, the removal of the Iraqi regime – beyond
the overt scope of Resolution 687, which contained no prescriptions
regarding Iraq’s form of government or the conduct of domestic
policy. The Iraqi population’s economic and social rights have
been seriously infringed by the impact of a prolonged embargo. In
an authoritarian state which continued to hold most of the levers
of control, much of the burden caused by the embargo fell on the
civilian population.

But innocent
civilians did not matter to the rest of the world, much of which
was duped by the United States and Britain into concluding that
Iraq presented a threat to global security, a ridiculous notion.


In one of
the most outrageously illegal acts of the many carried out by Washington
and London, it was decided that there should be “no-fly zones”
in the north and south of Iraq – covering about half the country
– in which no Iraqi aircraft or radar was permitted to operate.
(France at first joined in this travesty of legality but then withdrew
after realizing that it was absurd and that it had no UN endorsement.)

The purpose
of the no-fly zones was ostensibly to protect the Shia population
of the south and the Kurds in the north, but in fact they were intended,
most successfully, to destroy Iraq’s civilian and defense infrastructure.

The zones
had no basis in international law and complemented sanctions in
a particularly savage manner. British and American fighter and bomber
aircraft roamed the skies, attacking what they considered to be
“legitimate targets.” But scores of civilians died, as
in January 1999, when six children were killed by a plane-fired

But we know
that foreign children don’t always matter to war planners and
their supporters. After all, when U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine
Albright was asked on television whether she considered the deaths
of half a million children a reasonable result of U.S. sanctions,
she replied, “This is a very hard choice, but … we think
the price is worth it.”

This callous,
pitiless, utterly heartless statement by a most senior official
of the U.S. government could have been made by any other U.S. government
official. If anyone in an official position in America or Britain
disagreed with the pronouncement that the avoidable deaths of half
a million children were justified, he kept very quiet about it.
They all knew what the policy was. It is notable that during Albright’s
confirmation hearings preliminary to her becoming secretary of State,
none of the senators questioned her on this point. The fact is that
they didn’t disagree with it, making them complicit in the
horrible deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

U.S. attacks
on Iraq in the no-fly zones were carefully planned, especially in
the months immediately before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion by the
deluded “coalition” that Washington cobbled together by
means of deceit and downright lies about “weapons of mass destruction.”
On September 5, 2002, for example, some 100 coalition aircraft bombed
and rocketed a desert airstrip called H-3, deep in the far west
of Iraq. There was no threat from the airfield, but it was planned
that it be a base for U.S. Special Forces inserted from Jordan before
the war began. It had to be neutralized. And this is but one example
of cynical manipulation of an already illegal decree.

to U.S. Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley, the coalition flew 21,736 sorties
over southern Iraq between June 2002 and the start of the war in
April 2003 – more than 60 a day. Three hundred forty-nine targets
were attacked and Moseley claimed that U.S. and other aircraft were
fired at 651 times. He had the grace to admit to the New York
Times (which helped the Bush administration to convince Americans
that the war was justified),

We became
a little more aggressive based on them shooting more at us, which
allowed us to respond more…. Then the question is whether they
were shooting at us because we were up there more. So there is
a chicken and egg thing here.

In fact Britain’s
Ministry of Defense let the cat out of the bag by admitting that
from March to November 2002 there were 8 alleged violations by Iraqi
forces of the No-Fly Zone and 143 instances of “recorded threats.”
In response, 253,000 pounds of bombs were dropped on Iraq. The number
of rockets fired was not stated.

Bombs and

While illegal
sanctions caused the premature but prolonged and usually agonizing
death of countless innocent Iraqis, the illegal bombings and rocketings
played a major part in destroying a country that will take decades
to recover, if it ever does. The social consequences of attacks
and sanctions have been truly terrible.

systems, wrecked beyond repair, were unable to supply power to hospitals
and the civil population in general. But Saddam and his henchmen
were not affected: they had plenty of generators – which were
one of the thousands of items forbidden to be imported for ordinary

Christian Aid
observed in 2000,

The immediate
consequence of eight years of sanctions has been a dramatic fall
in living standards, the collapse of the infrastructure, and a
serious decline in the availability of public services. The longer-term
damage to the fabric of society has yet to be assessed but economic
disruption has already led to heightened levels of crime, corruption
and violence. Competition for increasingly scarce resources has
allowed the Iraqi state to use clan and sectarian rivalries to
maintain its control, further fragmenting Iraqi society.

And that was
before intensification of bombing and the tightening of already
harsh controls on imports. These included six-month examinations
of requests for importing such things as medical prescription drugs
and substances required for water purification. By the time of approval
(if given), most drugs were useless and thus dangerous, which may
have been the intention. (Such things as aspirin and other pain-relievers
were said to be ingredients for making chemical weapons.)

There were
some principled people who went public about the appalling human
crisis inflicted on Iraq by the United States and its British ally.
Dennis Halliday, who was head of the UN’s humanitarian program
in Iraq, resigned in protest, as did his successor, Hans von Sponeck.
They wrote,

The death
of some 5–6,000 children a month is mostly due to contaminated
water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The US and UK governments’
delayed clearance of equipment and materials is responsible for
this tragedy, not Baghdad.

Their statement
was blunt, to the point, and accurate – and completely ignored
by the barbarians who considered the deaths of hundreds of thousands
of children was “a price that was worth it.” The only
honorable officials in the entire squalid sanctions horror were
Halliday and von Sponeck, but of course they were reviled by those
who knew well what effect the cruel sanctions would have and were

Oil for
no food

Then there
was the “Oil for Food” program, which was begun in 1996
and became one of the biggest scams of modern times. According to
the BBC, the Oil for Food program “was a $60bn (32bn) scheme
which was supposed to allow Iraq to buy food, medicine, and other
humanitarian supplies with the proceeds of regulated oil sales,
without breaking the sanctions imposed on it after its 1990 invasion
of Kuwait.” Actually, it was a license for fraud and embezzlement
and proved most lucrative to all sorts of lowlifes who profited
from a government plan that purported to alleviate misery.

Instead of
trying to alleviate starvation and disease, the sanctions administrators
deliberately stalled on approving Oil for Food arrangements. The
UN found that it took an average of 66 days for agreement to be
reached on contracts and a further 59 days for food to be delivered.
The intention was clear: no matter the desperate plight of children
in Iraq, the sanctions would continue to be imposed with the utmost

In spite of
criminality and willful disruption of food and medical supplies,
the child mortality rate declined as a result of the Oil for Food
program. This was no thanks to such agencies as Britain’s Department
of Trade and Industry, which prevented diphtheria and yellow-fever
vaccines from being sent to Iraq, claiming that they could be used
to make weapons of mass destruction.

In 1997, according
to UNICEF, 25 percent of children under five were severely malnourished.
They were especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases, such as
typhoid and cholera, that were unknown in Iraq before the Gulf War
of 1991.

To end this
sad tale of death and despair on Iraq, the words of the honorable
Dennis Halliday are appropriate. Sanctions, he said,

do not impact
on governance effectively and instead [they damage] the innocent
people of the country…. For me what is tragic, in addition to
the tragedy of Iraq itself, is the fact that the United Nations
Security Council member states … are maintaining a program of
economic sanctions deliberately, knowingly killing thousands of
Iraqis each month. And that definition fits genocide.

11, 2010

Cloughley [send him mail]
is a commentator on political and military affairs and is a strategy
analyst for Jane's Sentinel. He resides in France. Visit his

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