The Theory of Economic Sanctions Is Wrong

Email Print

The U.S. is preparing economic sanctions against Russia. These are directed in the main at Russian citizens and at western citizens doing business with Russian citizens. Sanctions harm the general populations of the target countries. The harms done to Iraq’s and Iran’s people by sanctions are widely recognized. Madeleine Albright accepted the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children as a consequence of U.S. sanctions against Iraq.

The theory behind sanctions is to hurt, immiserate and kill as many innocent people as possible in a country until its leadership caves in to U.S. demands. The theory behind it is mass murder or a situation of mass misery that’s intolerable. This theory is wrong and does wrong in targeting innocent people and in expecting that their misery will translate into a policy change of their government.

Russians are led by a gang just as the U.S. is led by a gang. The right way to proceed is for the gang leaders to resolve their differences among themselves. The citizens of each country are remote from the squabbles of their government’s leaders. It is very, very difficult, indeed impossible, to assign responsibility for what Obama and Putin do to American and Russian voters. How does a single vote of anyone translate into making Obama and Putin an agent who is carrying out the will and designs of that person? It doesn’t because one’s control over the policies of that government are nil. We are stuck with these gangs and states at the moment. We are cogs in a system that’s extremely difficult to change.

Sanctions are wrong for the same reason that dropping a hydrogen bomb on Moscow would be wrong. They target innocent people. They are wrong for the same reason that attacking the Taliban government in Afghanistan was wrong, when bin Laden was the accused. They are wrong for the same reason that attacking Iraq was wrong when Saddam Hussein was the accused target. They are wrong for the same reason that bombing Libya was wrong when Gaddafi was the accused target.

Furthermore, in all these cases involving sanctions, the U.S. gang has acted unjudicially as accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. Evidence has been insufficient in all cases. Haste and impetuous action were the order of the day, ill-considered action at that in which consequences were not thought through. It was wrongly assumed that force could resolve the differences. Evidence and intelligence was doctored, manufactured, and lied about. Scenarios were invented, propagandized and presented as fact. Histories were buried. The U.S. roles in causing problems were buried. Demonizing of the accused “enemies” took over. All of this was very, very wrong.

The theory of sanctions is wrong in targeting innocent populations.

The judgments, procedures, and methods that bring about and rationalize the sanctions instituted by the U.S. have been very wrong too.

The consequences of the sanctions have been wrong as well. They have led to protracted struggles and, in some cases, to wars, because the punishments dished out to the populations didn’t result in changes in the policies of the leaders. In the U.S., this should be perfectly understandable. The people elected Obama to make certain changes that he promised. In all the important cases, he didn’t do it. He did the opposite. He is currently sitting with the highest disapproval ratings of his terms and the lowest approval, but he is not altering his policies at all. This is occurring in a country whose government brags about its having a responsive democracy. Why should it be expected that some other nation with a less responsive system should be able to influence their leaders when the people’s misery multiplies?

5:19 am on March 13, 2014
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts