Powered by WebAds

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Effective sanctions

Yagil Henkin reviews the history of economic sanctions and concludes that they are almost never effective. He then tries to propose a set of more effective sanctions to deal with Hamas.
So, what sanctions can be applied against Hamas? Apart from controlling the border and an arms embargo, the most effective way to apply pressure on Hamas is not to indirectly pressure them via their population, but rather pressure Hamas itself, as part of a wider strategy. The international community must act, if it is interested in the welfare of Gaza’s residents and curbing radical Islam. To begin with, the Hamas leadership should be prevented from traveling abroad and being officially received – including the leadership based outside of Gaza. Hamas leaders, like other politicians, enjoy traveling, and rightly so - they coordinate activities such as pleading for aid and waging propaganda campaigns. In 2008-2009 alone, Hamas leaders traveled to Syria, Iran, Switzerland and the United Kingdom . This list, of course, does not include meetings conducted in Gaza or Damascus – Jimmy Carter has met with Hamas in both locales.

This habit must be put to an end. Hamas, despite its uncompromising anti-Israel rhetoric, is determined to achieve political recognition. Preventing the leadership from traveling abroad and meeting with diplomats and dignitaries will affect the leadership and its ability to rule – more so than denying the civilian population food and goods. In addition, any organization affiliated with Hamas should be ignored, and economic sanctions applied against individuals and businesses connected to Hamas. A legal campaign can be waged - there is no reason that an invidious legal complaint can prevent Israeli military personal from visiting particular European countries but not the Hamas leadership, supporters and financiers. This strategy can be complemented with a publicity campaign that includes reaching out to Gaza residents through Sky-shout planes broadcasting from loudspeakers, or via leaflets and phone calls that make clear what is allowed or prohibited and why and who is to blame for preventing aid and food from reaching the population.

Will this dissolve Hamas’s obstinacy? Hopefully, but not certainly. Both Zimbabwe and Myanmar have survived government-targeted sanctions. But hopefully by focusing the sanctions and blame where they belong – on Hamas - while keeping civilians uninvolved, this will succeed. Sanctions may not catalyze change as effectively as we would like – but this neither renders them unnecessary nor suggests we should embargo lock, stock and barrel.
In a world in which other countries were willing to cooperate to apply effective sanctions to Hamas, Henkin's solution might work. Unfortunately, we don't live in such a world. Although Henkin regards Israel's sanctions against Hamas as having de facto European approval, that is questionable at best. The Europeans protest the sanctions from time to time and call on Israel to suspend them, although at least until now they have not sent supplies to Gaza. In fact, the only country that is really applying sanctions to Hamas is Israel, and the only way it can effectively do so by itself is to restrict the border crossings and try to control things like ammunition and dual-use materials.

But Henkin's recitation of the history of sanctions also holds important lessons for Iran and because of that I'd like to discuss that history.
Historically, embargoes have either failed to catalyze change, or were extremely slow in bringing it. In the best-case scenarios, sanctions have been helpful as part of a wider strategy. The pariah state of Rhodesia survived, despite full United Nation sanctions, for fifteen years. Britain had believed that even minor sanctions would bring the racist regime’s downfall in “a matter of weeks rather than months.” Yet ultimately, eight years of bloody guerilla warfare and a global economic crisis were probably more influential in forcing Rhodesia’s hand.

Yet even South Africa, often applauded as a successful case of sanctions, is, in fact, a more complicated case. Sanctions had a limited economic effect; the 1986 sanctions cast by the European Community were the last in a long series of international sanctions since the 1970s. A homegrown anti-Apartheid movement had been active for years and South Africa had been fighting lengthy and unpopular border wars since 1975. But, as Philip I. Levy noted in his 1999 essay, negotiations with the African National Congress and regime change took place only after the Soviet Union collapsed. In other words, change became possible only after the communist threat posed to South Africa had vanished. This was fifteen years after the first mandatory arms embargo had been put into effect and more than a decade since the disinvestment movement had gained momentum.

South Africa was a major exporter of expensive goods – metals, diamonds, etc. - and therefore much more vulnerable to economic sanctions than the aid-dependent Gaza Strip, which exports mainly agricultural products. Perhaps Gaza is better compared to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein managed to rule for a decade, despite sanctions, until the coalition forces literally removed him from power.
Let's note a few points. First, in each case, the only way the sanctions attained their goals was through regime change. But to date, no one has seriously discussed promoting regime change in Iran. In fact, the Obama administration has gone out of its way to show that it is not promoting regime change.

Second, Iran's exports are almost exclusively crude oil. That's a commodity - not an expensive good.

Third, many countries continue to be unwilling to cooperate in sanctioning Iran. Start with Russia, China and Germany, all of which have huge economic interests in Iran. None of them is likely to play along with sanctions.

Fourth, note that in each case in which sanctions were successful they took a long time to succeed and they were backed up by a strong military threat that usually had to be applied. But there is no time to sanction Iran - there are at most a few months from a nuclear weapons. And there is no credible military option being waved at them except for one: Israel's.

Forget sanctions in Iran. They're not going to happen and even if they happen they will not be effective. There is only one way to stop Iran.


At 11:16 AM, Blogger Steven said...

Wake Up Call: You can not keep trying to separate the Palestinians in general from their leadership. Fatah and Hamas ARE Palestinians and would not exist without their support.


Post a Comment

<< Home