Alternative Insight

The Politics of Starvation
An Updated Survey

Note: This recent survey updates a previous article.
The revised article has short studies of continuous United States sanctions against three nations; Iran, Cuba,and North Korea and results of previous damaging sanctions against Iraq.

The powerful can't always use military might to suppress adversaries. Their own citizens and world opinion may react unfavorably and undermine a military adventure. Logistics may not favor it. Beside, they have other means, one of which is economic warfare; a method that can silently crush an adversary without firing a shot. Gone to its extreme, economic warfare has the force of a neutron bomb: It disables the nation's infrastructure and debilitates its population.

Economic warfare requires preparation before implementation.
First, the "grieved" country accuses its adversary of intended crimes of aggression. The adversary is powerless to defend itself and becomes marked with the adjective "rogue state." Since the "rogue state" cannot ameliorate the crimes of which it is accused, being that they may not exist, and because these states are usually proud and will not compromise with their national integrity (one reason for their fate) further action must be taken against them. The next step is isolation. This step has several stages.

Although contrary to law in democratic countries and contradictory to the criticism made by the democratic countries against a policy of the former Soviet Union, which imposed travel restrictions on its citizens, the "grieved" country cautions and sometimes forbids all its citizens, except its intelligence services, to travel to the "rogue state." Subtle enforcement procedures, such as heavy fines, harassment, embarrassing airport searches, letting the neighbors know, and calls from the internal revenue department are used to protect travelers from being contaminated with "rogue" germs, shield them from vicious propaganda and prevent them from being kidnapped for ransom and from being arrested due to accusations of spying. These are valid reasons. The unmentioned reasons are to assure the adversary doesn't acquire tourist dollars that might enable it to survive, make certain that travelers don't learn that all they have read and heard from their government is propaganda, and prevent rogueidization, in which a citizen suddenly sympathizes with the rogue and acquires rogue traits.

In the final stage, the enemy is isolated from international agencies, relief efforts, finances and communications. After being forced into an isolation it does not desire, the enemy might achieve the adjective "hermit kingdom." That denomination signifies it is ready for the great strike, economic warfare. The economic warfare punch has many shapes. If the preferred sanctions are insufficiently effective, then warships produce an illegal embargo by arriving close to the beaches and dwarf the rowboats of the sanctioned nation, or by airplanes, which guard against infiltration of military weapons, such as water pumps, medicines and construction materials. Sometimes explosive mines and cluster bombs are dropped on the "rogue's" territory to complete the embargo. If the embargo does not complete the cleansing task, then the "grieved" country might arm surrogate warriors inside or close to the "rogue country" and have them add human catastrophes to the imposed catastrophes that already punish the undesired country. Although the laws of the "grieved"country might prohibit this rash action, the laws are conveniently circumvented.

"Rogues," which have special qualifications, earn the title of terrorists. This title sticks to their names like velcro. It appears in all articles, headlines, dispatches, reports and news, as if the word terrorist followed by the country name is one word. The "terrorist nation" earns this title by committing an evil deed that is usually in response to the tens of evil deeds committed against it. The extreme of economic warfare leads to the final step in whipping a "terrorist nation" back into shape - borderline starvation. If the food supply dwindles then certainly the poor unfortunate citizens of the "terrorist nation" will act as those who proclaimed "Liberte," "Egalitie" and "Fraternitie" in the French revolution. They will storm the gates of their oppressors, take away their cake and demand bread. The United States has implemented political policies that have harmed nutrition in several countries. Despite the punitive measures, the leaders of the "terrorist" nations still eat cake, while the populations suffer greatly from economic deprivation and, in some cases, function at a subsistence level.

Since World War 2, the United States imposed sanctions against more than 35 countries.

Of 104 sanctions episodes from World War II until 1990, when the United States was the undisputed Western superpower, Washington was a key player two-thirds of the time. In 80 percent of U.S.-imposed sanctions,the policy was pursued with no more than minor cooperation from its allies or international organizations, i.e., unilaterally. The enormous growth in U.S. power after the collapse of the Soviet Union becomes evident when we consider that during the four years of President Bill Clinton’s first term alone, U.S. laws and executive actions imposed new unilateral economic sanctions sixty-one times on a total of thirty-five countries. These countries were home to 2.3 billion people, or 42 percent of the world population, and they purchased exports of $790 billion, or 19 percent of the global export market." - ASIAN PERSPECTIVE, Vol. 30, No. 3, 2006, Page 9.

First think Iran; then wander around the map to Libya, Nicaragua, Burma, Sudan, Iraq, Cuba, Liberia, North Korea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Yugoslavia and expect others. Intentional interferences and disruptions to a nation's economy and business operations occur often from many sources, and are part of the "white collar" crime that affects the world. Economic warfare, of which sanctions are one part, can be more serious than "white collar" crime. Intentional reduction of living standards close to starvation is the most serious aspect of economic warfare. It is a major crime and a form of terrorism.

The most punishing sanctions by the United States, until the 2012 sanctions against Iran, have been against Cuba, North Korea and Iraq. Iran has now replaced Iraq as the most sanctioned in the globe, while the latter nation recovers from years of economic deprivation.

Disturbed with replacement of the favored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi by an unfavored Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and infuriated by the hostage taking of 52 of its embassy personnel by a mob of extreme Islamic students and militants, United States President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 12170 in November 1979, which froze several billions of dollars in Iranian bank deposits, gold and other properties, much of which remains frozen in 2012. Carter followed with a 1980 embargo on trade with and travel to Iran. These punitive actions accomplished nothing for the United States except to strengthen the Ayatollah's Authority and harden the student demands for releasing the captured embassy officials. Although sympathetic to the hostage taker demands - extradition of the Shah to face trial in Iran - no collusion between the new Iranian government and the students was known, and Iranian government action to free the embassy officials was not that simple - if hostages were killed during a government action, the Iranians might have incurred more than sanctions. Because of the actions of a relatively few youthful Iranians, an entire nation was punished.

President Reagan, who partially owed his climb into the executive office to the hostage crisis, showed contempt for Iran's resolution of the problem immediately after he became president. Disturbed by the unproven assertion that Iran was involved in the 1983 bombing of a marine barracks in Beirut, and favoring Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, the U.S. president imposed additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic - a ban on exports to Iran of dual-use items that could be adapted for military. In 1987, an executive order banned all imports from Iran. Saddam Hussein could not be happier.

President Bill Clinton viewed Iran's President Rafsanjani tenure as one of supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction. Odd that Clinton never furnished any conclusive proof of his accusations, and that in the year 2012, Iran still has no weapons of mass destruction. During the months from March to May 1995, President Clinton issued Executive Orders 12957, prohibiting U.S. trade in Iran's oil industry, and 12959, prohibiting any U.S. trade with Iran. These actions were followed by the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) - all foreign companies that provide investments over $20 million for the development of petroleum resources in Iran will receive two out of seven possible penalties.

What occurred from these drastic measures? Mohammad Khatami succeeded Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad eventually came to power. Iranian population suffered. Iranian government strengthened. Despite the sanctions, Iran's exports grew from $8.5b in 1987 to $70b in 2006.

During the middle of the first decade of the twenty first century, Iran's romance with the atomic age provoked a series of new sanctions. Led by the United States and imposed by the United Nations Security Council, sanctions (December 2006) grew from trade in nuclear-related materials and technology to US unilateral sanctions. The latter (October 2007) prohibited more than 20 organizations associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps from operating in the US financial system. Asset freezes (March 2008) and an expanded arms embargo (June 2010), prohibiting Iran from buying heavy weapons such as attack helicopters and missiles, followed the earlier declarations. All of this proved futile and counterproductive. The 2007 US sanctions against Iranian banks actually provided Iran an immunity from the global financial crisis and enabled it to be one of the few major economies in the world not to be severely affected by the economic downturn.

Economic warfare soon reached full scale by strikes against Iran's earnings from its most precious resource and export - oil.

The U.S. Congress passed unilateral sanctions that targeted Iran’s energy and banking sectors - penalties were imposed on firms that supplied Iran with substantial amounts of refined petroleum products.

August 2010 - The European Union (EU ) prohibited joint ventures with enterprises in Iran that engaged in oil and natural gas industries.
November 2011 - The U.S. expanded the sanctions to companies that assisted Iran’s oil and petrochemical industries.
January 2012 - U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran's central bank, the main clearing-house for its oil export profits.
The European Union announced an oil embargo on Iran unless it curtails its nuclear program.
June 2012 - U.S. banned the world’s banks from completing oil transactions with Iran, and exempted seven major customers - India, South Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Turkey - from economic sanctions in return for their cutting imports of Iranian oil.
July 2012 - EU ban of Iranian oil exports came into effect.

Sanctions have not stopped Iran's nuclear activities, not prevented it from signing contracts with foreign firms to develop its energy resources, and not stopped the islamic nation from implementing other contracts by funding in currencies other than the dollar.
Exports have slowly grown to an estimated $82 billion in 2012, with liberated Iraq and independent China filling the gap as trading partners. Sanctions have caused European nations to lose economic opportunities. As one example, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed a $5 billion contract to start drilling in the South Pars gas field, replacing the previous interest of France's Total oil company. One observer relates, "If the Iranian-Chinese South Pars gas field development can be incorporated into other transnational pipelines it would confirm Iran as the beating heart of a world economy in which gas is the primary energy source."

Nevertheless, economic warfare is affecting Iran's industries and welfare. In October 2012, Iran's currency, the rial, fell to a record low against the US dollar, losing about 80 per cent of its value in one year. Lack of spare parts and inability to replace planes have affected aviation safety. Real growth rate in GDP, at a steady six per cent a year during the first decade of the twenty first century, has fallen to two per cent in 2011-2012. One report, citing officials from the U.S. Departments of State and Energy, concluded that gasoline imports in the Shah's former kingdom declined from 130,000 barrels a day in 2009 to 50,000 barrels a day in 2011. Although Iran's oil minister, Masoud Mir-Kazemi, claims internal petrochemical plants can gear up to reduce the shortfall to a manageable level, the cost is estimated to be fifteen times that of equivalent imports. Iran is a nation of educated professionals who depend upon access to foreign technology and scientific cooperation, all of which has been severely curtailed. Machinery wears, and the costs and time for repairs are rapidly increasing.

In a report to the UN General Assembly, released on October 5, 2012, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summarized effects of sanctions on Iran's population.

The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine,.

The embargoes have also hampered humanitarian operations, as the imposed restrictions on Iran’s banking system have halted the imports of medicines needed for treating diseases like cancer and heart and respiratory conditions.

Note: The Obama administration eventually eased restrictions on the sale of medicines to Iran.

The United States imposed an embargo against Cuba almost immediately after the 1960 Cuban revolution. Fifty plus years of sanctions have not succeeded in accomplishing the purposes for which the United States proposed the sanctions - compensation to U.S. firms nationalized by Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro regime. The only result of the embargo has been deprivation of the Cuban people.

Cuban expropriation of American property and its land reform policies motivated the United States into decreasing Cuba's sugar subsidy and implementing an embargo that intended to deny to Cuba the spare parts for the U.S. machinery that powered the Cuban economy. The Soviet Union aided Cuba in these unfortunate years by purchasing sugar at inflated market prices and sending strategic materials to the island. Cuba's alliance with the Soviet Union strengthened Uncle Sam's determination to cripple Cuba by the use of embargo. Although the reasons for the embargo faded with the years and became totally unnecessary after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States' determination to overthrow the Castro government increased its economic warfare. In 1992, congress passed The Cuba Democracy Act, which forbade United States subsidiaries to trade with Cuba and deprived the island of $700 million in trade, 70% of which had been in food and medicine. The Act also prohibited U.S. citizens to spend money in Cuba, but allowed private groups to deliver food and medicine. New Jersey Congressman Torricelli predicted that his 1992 Cuban Democracy Act would bring Castro's downfall within one year. He erred by 15 years. Not until 2011, did an 81 year old Fidel Castro relinquish his positioned as leader of the Cuban Revolution.

Although the United Nations General Assembly on November 2, 1995, voted 117 to 3 to recommend an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, President Clinton, on March 12, 1996, signed into law the misnamed Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, otherwise known as The Helms-Burton Act. This Act imposed penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba, permitted U.S. citizens to sue foreign investors who make use of American-owned property seized by the Cuban government, and denied foreign investors in Cuba's industry to enter the U.S.

A tightened embargo reinforced Cuba's suffering after Russia withdrew subsidies. The pre-90's Cuba has been credited with eliminating hunger and malnutrition and wiping out infectious diseases and the World Health Organization (WHO) complimented Cuba for its public health system. Cuba of the mid-90's portrayed another image. The American Association for World Health and the American Public Health Association determined that the embargo caused significant deterioration in Cuba's food production and health care:

In 2000, the Clinton administration finally allowed Cuba to have some relief from an aggressive economic warfare. The administration passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which allowed the sale of agriculture and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian purposes. According to the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba reached $380 million in 2004. However, after hitting a peak of $710 million in 2008, U.S. food sales to Cuba declined over 50 percent by the year 2011. Reasons for the decline were largely economic - lack of foreign currency and better financial terms being offered by other countries.

In 2005, China and Venezuela made mutual trade deals beneficial to Cuba. During September 2006, Russia agreed to grant Cuba credit worth $355 million, as well as to restructure some of its recent debt. The intergovernmental agreement identified seven areas in which the credit will be used: investment cooperation projects, modernization of Cuba’s energy sector, reconstruction of water conservation facilities and railroads, the design and delivery of air navigation systems, and the modernization of the transportation system.

In contrast, U.S. President Bush, in 2003, reinforced the embargo by prosecuting individuals known to have traveled to Cuba without a Treasury Department license and denying licenses to certain kinds of travelers, notably students, who had previously been permitted to go. Technically, the regulations and its severe penalties are administered by the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control. Criminal penalties for violating the embargo are up to ten years in prison, $1 million in corporate fines, $250,000 in individual fines, and civil penalties up to $55,000 per violation.

President Barack Obama loosened the travel ban, allowing Cuban-Americans to travel freely to their native country and, on January 14, 2011, allowed students and religious missionaries to travel to Cuba if they met certain conditions. A minor step for an administration that has not recognized the counterproductive aspect and futility of the sanctions.

Dollars and Sense, 2009
The Costs of the Embargo
By Margot Pepper

Representatives of a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, signed a letter in December urging Barack Obama to scrap the embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year. The CPF’s estimates are much higher: up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports. The Cuban government estimates the loss to Cuba at about $685 million annually. Thus the blockade costs the United States up to $4.155 billion more a year than it costs Cuba.

After the Castro family ceases to control Cuba, that nation will probably invite more private investment. U.S. financial institutions will be eager to invest, but it might be too late to the party.

North Korea
The proud and impoverished nation of North Korea has been continually subjected to sanctions, threats of economic sanctions and hastily withdrawn sanctions. The media is peppered with the words: "U.S. Lifts sanctions," "U.S. recommends sanctions," "South Korea wary of sanctions." It's difficult to know if North Korea is being sanctioned or being forced into being sanctioned. After its 2006 claim of conducting a nuclear test, the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic Korea) leaders responded to intended sanctions by labeling them as "a declaration of war."

The DPRK has, from time to time, suffered from economic warfare, which includes restrictions on trade and financial transactions. Export of sensitive dual-use items (items that have both military and non-military uses) have, at times, been prohibited. Some of the sanctions:

The politics of starvation entered the situation. During March 2012, angered by an intended North Korea missile test, the U.S. suspended food aid to the "hermit kingdom."

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has suspended planned food aid to North Korea as Pyongyang vows to push ahead with a plan to launch a long-range missile in defiance of international warnings, U.S. military officials said on Wednesday.

Under President Obama the imposition of sanctions has increased as the policy of “strategic patience,” whereby the US waits for North Korea to change its bad behaviour before engaging with the state, has been implemented. Yet, trade between North Korea and China has increased and sanctions do not seem to affect the state in enough of an effective manner to encourage the new leader to bring de-nuclearisation to the table. Priorities dictate that the US is focusing elsewhere, but with the incumbent American President expected to win the next election and thus soon to begin his second term, greater attention to sanctions needs to be taken.

Sanctions intended to collapse the North Korea regime have only collapsed the North Korean people. Starvation during droughts have occurred. Although some international assistance has been provided to North Korea, the intensive economic warfare waged against the "hermit kingdom" has exacerbated its problems, without any apparent benefit to its principal antagonist, the United States.

If Iraq were Pompeii, then the US would be Mt. Vesuvius.
After destroying much of Iraq in a declared war, the U.S. continued to destroy it further - first an undeclared war and later in another declared total war. The undeclared war contained every imaginable form of warfare: direct military, economic, incitement to revolt, aid to insurgency, blockade, spying, and propaganda.

This suffering has been outlined in a UN Report on the Current Humanitarian Situation in Iraq, submitted to the Security Council, March 1999.
Due to the length of the report, only significant features are mentioned.

Before the Gulf War

After the Gulf War

Observations and recommendations
Data during the 1990's pointed to a continuing degradation of the Iraqi economy with an acute deterioration in the living conditions of the Iraqi population and severe strains on its social fabric. As summarized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) field office, "the country has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty." In marked contrast to the prevailing situation prior to the events of 1990-91, the infant mortality rates in Iraq rose to among the highest in the world, low infant birth weight affected at least 23% of all births, chronic malnutrition affected every fourth child under five years of age, only 41% of the population having regular access to clean water, 83% of all schools needed substantial repairs."

The International Study Team noted, "Most of the babies who lost their lives during the war period must have died from diseases related to poor nutrition, lack of clean water, and related deprivations."

The 2003 invasion of Iraq continued the destruction of Iraq.
Iraq became a war torn nation, with sectarian strife bordering on civil war. By October, 2006, post-invasion deaths of Iraqi civilians were estimated at almost 50,000. Ref:

A London Guardian report provided additional information on the effects of the war on Iraqi civilians:
Rory Carroll in Baghdad: March 31, 2005, The Guardian

Acute malnutrition among Iraqi children aged under five nearly doubled last year because of chaos caused by the US-led occupation, a United Nations expert said yesterday. Jean Ziegler, the UN Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food, said more than a quarter of Iraqi children do not have enough to eat and 7.7% are acutely malnourished - a jump from 4% recorded in the immediate aftermath of the US-led invasion. Reporting to the commission's headquarters in Geneva, the Swiss professor claimed the situation was "a result of the war led by coalition forces."

Excerpts from Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, Joy Gordon. Harvard University Press, 2010, describe the extent of irrational economic warfare conducted by the United states against a defenseless Iraq.

While the United States consistently justified its policies in terms of preventing Iraq from developing weapons or threatening its neighbors, the U.S. policy went well beyond any rational concern with security. There was an elaborate architecture of policies that found a dozen other ways to simply do gratuitous harm that had not the least relation to the threat Iraq might have posed to its neighbors or to anyone else.

For thirteen years the United States unilaterally prevented Iraq from importing nearly everything related to electricity, telecommunications, and transportation, blocked much of what was needed for agriculture and housing construction, and even prohibited some equipment and materials necessary for health care and food preparation.

Throughout the sanctions regime, U.S. practices were extreme and harsh, and often unilateral, going well beyond the mandate of the Security Council’s resolutions, and well beyond the will of the rest of the Council members. To eliminate a nation’s capacity to produce biological and chemical weapons means eliminating all science education above the secondary school level, eliminating the capacity to produce yogurt and cheese, or, as one U.S. official would have it, eliminating eggs, because egg yolks could possibly be used as a medium in which to grow viruses, which in turn could possibly be used for biological weapons.

As the criticism grew, there is no sign that anyone in the U.S. administration, and only a tiny handful within Congress, actually took it to heart— actually questioned the sanity and legality of reducing an entire civilization to a preindustrial state, of bankrupting an entire nation for the purpose of containing one tyrannical man.

On May 12, 1996, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on the CBS program 60 Minutes. Commentator Lesley Stahl asked the ambassador, "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?" Madeleine Albright replied, "we think the price is worth it."

Iraq Body Count updated its documents; reporting an increase in civilian deaths to about 112,000 in 2011, ten years of accumulated deaths due to the violence resulting from the U.S. incursion into Iraq.

Warfare is visualized in terms of dead soldiers, battlefield blood, eerie noises and bombed-out structures. We can't easily comprehend that warfare can be silent and still be deadly. Economic warfare has equivalents to military war. The country that takes the offense becomes the aggressor, as in any war, and the destruction to the defending state is equally brutal. In most cases, the economic war has worse results: In a one sided manner, the civilian population of the defending nation suffers greatly and the aggressor country suffers few losses. The war rarely achieves the results that the offended party desired, and no peace treaty is signed. The struggle remains an open issue.

A limited form of economic warfare may, at times, have a legitimate purpose. A complete economic war, that invades all aspects of a country's life and continues until it debilitates the population, cannot be accepted. In a military campaign, atrocities and human rights violations are often committed. Although no shots are fired and battlefields are not identifiable, economic warfare cannot camouflage its atrocities and disguise its severe human rights violations.

november 2012