Alternative Insight

When in Trouble, Sanction

In the international arena of snarling nations, Venezuela loves to bark, Israel loves to bite and the United States loves to sanction. After World War II, the United States imposed sanctions against more than 35 countries that Washington accused of intolerable behavior. Very few of the sanctions changed the behavior and most harmed innocent citizens of the sanctioned nations.

In comparison to military warfare, economic warfare seems benign. Don't be fooled. The powerful cannot always use military might to suppress adversaries; unfavorable reactions from their own citizens and world opinion may prevent a military adventure. So, they turn to sanctions; 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.

Sanctions, similar to warfare, which fails to reconcile differences by diplomatic means, often provoke more damage than they intend to cure -- deprivation to the civilian population, elevation of the discord, harsher reactions by nations that sense their sovereignty has been violated, and lasting enmities that complicate friendly relations. Here is one description of the extent of U.S. sanctions:


Of the 104 sanction 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.

What does North Korea have in common with these nations -- Iran, Libya, Nicaragua, Burma, Sudan, Iraq, Cuba, Liberia, Soviet Union, Sierra Leone, Syria, Somalia, and Yugoslavia?
Answer: All of them had been accused by the United States of either violation of human rights and/or threats to world peace and suffered from U.S. sanctions.

What do these nations have in common -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, China, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Thailand, Algeria, Morocco, Chad, Vietnam, Algeria, Philippines, Uzbekistan, Jordan?
Answer: All of these nations have been accused by the world community of severe violations of human rights or threats to world peace (including drug dealing), and, as nations (persons within the state may have been sanctioned), not been subjected to U.S. sanctions.

What is the difference? Do sanctions seek random targets?
The obvious difference is that the first set of intolerable nations has not tolerated U.S. actions and refused to accede to Washington hegemony and domination, while the second set is more firmly in the U.S. orbit and sphere of influence. The difference definitely plays a role in who receives sanctions, and generates suspicion that sanctions are a method to punish the alienated nations and that the accusations of violations of human rights are a subterfuge to justify economic warfare with intentions to smooth the wrinkles in the world order and bring out of line nations into the line.

Due to nuclear developments, United Nations Security Council sanctioning of North Korea and Iran may seem justified; seem justified, until we realize that both nations had been repeatedly sanctioned despite their nuclear developments, that North Korea had been willing to halt the race to the bomb if the "hermit kingdom" received promised energy supplies, and Iran claims it is only pursuing peaceful developments of atomic energy. The clincher to the political motivations to these sanctions is that neither has stopped the miscreants from pursuing their nuclear activities while their peoples have suffered from the deprivation of essential imports. Conclusion is that the United States is failing to provide incentives for halting the nuclear developments so it can engage in economic warfare and neutralize nations it senses are hostile.

Another observation to this one-sided approach to the world of evil is that the U.S. has intervened militarily only in nations that have challenged its hegemony. When asked "Why did the US intervene in the Libyan rebellion and not in the rioting in Bahrain, the reply came "We cannot intervene in all human rights crises." The State Department spokesperson should have added, "and only in those whose leaders contest us."

Russia is the new target of economic warfare, and it is not strange that it is also a nation that challenges U.S. hegemony.
Is it a coincidence that the Bear fits the familiar pattern? The left over Republic from the former Soviet Union has by its association with several rebellious movements and incorporation of Crimea into its land mass made itself susceptible to confrontation and sanctions. Do President Putin's actions warrant sanctions?

South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria are three newly formed unrecognized Republics identified with Russia's disturbance of the peace. Possible Russian "annexation" of these lands has struck the dreaded chord - do it and be sanctioned. All three regions are composed of peoples who disapproved of their attachments to nations formed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, due to the unwarranted circumstances, congregated into independent and autonomous regions. Being as these "Republics" have not received international recognition, they decided to find comfort with one another by maintaining friendly relations and forming a Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations, in which they have also included the rebellious region of Nagorny Karabakh.

Unable to function properly - non-recognition means non-recognized passports, limited resources means less viable economies, and small size prevents protection - the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations may turn to being incorporated in another nation, which means Russia. Gerard Toal and John O'Loughlin, who launched The De Facto State Research Project with a grant by the US National Science Foundation, have gathered data on how people in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria feel about annexation. Their results have been reported in the Washington Post and are shown in bar graphs below.








No choice will please all peoples from the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations. Their selections of final attachments are compromises of the most appropriate and of the lesser evil. Conclusions from the analysis indicate:

(1) South Ossetia greatly favors integration with Russia, which makes sense.
Conflicts website at presents the following ethnic makeup for the rebellious Georgian region.

Ethnic origin Number
Ossetian 65000
Georgian 28000
Russian 2000
Others 3000
TOTAL 98000

The land contains a large majority of Ossetians and borders with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia. The Georgian minority will suffer some consequences, as all minorities do in these areas, but will be better protected if the province is part of a larger country rather than being independent.
(2) A Transnistria majority barely favors integration with Russia and that is understandable - Transnistria does not border with Russia and is sandwiched between Moldavia and Ukraine. An autonomous state within Russia may satisfy a large majority of the Transnistria people.
(3) Abkhazia, which borders on Russia and favors the regime, still prefers to do it by itself. Economically independent and with only 11% Russians in its population, Abkhazians, who have managed to establish a functioning state, feel satisfied with their emerging national status.
Russia has not pressed any of the separatist regions to join its nation. If any of them do seek attachment to Russia, the solicitation will neither be strange nor need be interpreted as an attempt by Russia to force annexation. Noting Russia's problems with Caucasus regions, it is doubtful that Russia seeks more attachments from Caucasus people.

Then there is Crimea.
Perceived as a Russian land grab, Crimea is actually a border dispute. From a Russian perspective, despite its umbilical attachment to the land of Ukraine and water separation from Russia, Crimea had always been and was always meant to be a border separation between Russia and Ukraine.
The latest reported census that describes the ethnic makeup of the population is from a 2001 census:

Russians: 1,450,000 (58.5%),
Ukrainians: 577,000 (24.0%),
Crimean Tatars: 245,000 (10.2%),
Belarusians: 35,000 (1.4%),
Volga Tatars: 13,500 (0.5%),
Armenians: 10,000 (0.4%),
Jews: 5,500 (0.2%).

According to the 2001 census, 77% of Crimean inhabitants named Russian as their native language; 11.4% - Crimean Tatar; and 10.1% - Ukrainian.
Crimea is overwhelmingly Russian in both origin and language, which means it is not unusual for the population to want to detach itself from Ukraine, or for the adjacent Mother country to assist in the separation, East Timor, Bosnia and Kosovo are examples where foreign nations played decisive roles in establishing new states from rebellion - that is foreign nations and not nations that had direct ties with the rebellious region. None of these insurrections went smoothly and caused excessive damages and casualties.

The Russian majority in the Crimea did not complain of oppression or of being excessively disfavored, as occurred for Russians in the other regions. That does not mean the Crimeans did not seek a break from Ukraine and an association with Russia. An opportunity presented itself and the Russians in Crimea and those in Russia took advantage of the moment.

All this seems illegal and contrived and probably is just that. However, when almost 60% of a region is of a different ethnicity than the nation's principal ethnicity, 77% of the region's population speak that ethnicity's language, and those of the same ethnicity are in an adjacent nation to which the ethnicity had previously been citizens for 200 years and been arbitrarily detached for a short period, then the different ethnicity can be perceived of having been arbitrarily misplaced. The Tartars, who are a minority, have neither choice nor preference. The remaining Ukrainians are now unfortunately displaced but, in these ethnically diverse regions, no solution to who rules can generate a perfect agreement.

The rebellion in Ukraine is a different matter.
Putin's Russia is undoubtedly aiding and abetting the rebels, but the European Community, led by the United States, is causing the split and preventing a compromised solution. Let's get real - if a nation feels threatened and has the power, it will respond to the perceived threat. Perception is not paranoia and no leader wants to be proven negligent -- the 9/11 attack showed that.

President Obama has placed on hold a missile defense system in nations close to Russia, supposedly intended to counter Iranian missile attacks on Europe; that is Iran and not Dubai - as if Iran has any more reasons to attack Europe than Dubai. Russia rightfully perceived the missile system as a threat to neutralize its offensive capabilities. The system may be on hold, but the damages to relations and credibility were done, and a comment by U.S. administration officials that "Our plans regarding missile defense in Europe and our commitment to EPAA as the U.S. contribution to NATO missile defense remain unchanged," has not made Putin less apprehensive.

A great majority of Ukrainians - not all -- are fighting for a democratic and stable government and against being controlled by neighboring Russia, similar to how the Sandinistas fought for their rights and against being controlled by the United States. The distant Soviet Union did not become engaged in that struggle, not at all. Why is the distant United States engaging itself in a situation that does not affect the American people?

As long as Russia perceives the western nations are using Ukraine to extend their interests, Russia will become more and more aggressive. The western nations, unless they want to start a Third World War, know that military threats will not ameliorate Russia's aggressiveness. Is it not preferable to stay neutral and permit the episode to play out?

The United States designed Boris Yeltsin's failed post- Soviet Union Russia, which Vladimir Putin, rescued, maybe by luck and favorable circumstances, but what is the difference, the Russian people consider Putin a savior and U.S. interference a route to disaster for themselves and their neighbors in Ukraine.

Sanctions will not resolve the issue and will be harmful to U.S. interests.
Russia, a land of commodities, resources and manufacturing potential has not been able to put it all together because it entered he word markets too late - it cannot compete with established western productivity, brand recognition, marketing and distribution. Because sanctions restrict its imports and access to international capital, Moscow will be forced to reorient the nation's capabilities, and, with some sacrifices to which Russians are accustomed, develop Russia into a production machine and an economic power.

One trend in this direction is the establishment of a monetary fund by the BRIC nations, of which Russia is one of the members. At a conference in Fortaleza Brazil, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, announced the formation of a bank and contingency fund, a competitor to the World Bank and its dominance in global economics.

In another portent of the future, Russia's Energy Minister says that Moscow has agreed to "help Iran bring its oil to market. In return, Iran wants to import power and pump equipment, steel products such as pipes, machinery for its leather and textile industries, wood, wheat, pulses, oil seeds and meat. Iran is also interested in the joint construction of power generation and development of coal deposits." The statement has not clarified if words have generated a written agreement.

Why, with a choice of several options, does Washington use sanctions, an unlikely route to a desired result and one that harms its own interests, to resolve the mystifying Ukrainian situation? In the war on terrorism, control of nuclear weapons, reacting to violence, and bringing peace and stability to regions throughout the globe, cooperation with Russia is essential. Parts of that essential are to understand Russia's motives and be willing to compromise in order to achieve results that ultimately benefit the American people. One maxim attached to the proposition is that the benefit not be obtained at the expense of others, admittedly a difficult option.

Not difficult if citizens elect intelligent, objective and clear thinking representatives and not bungling, confused and narrow vision administrators who can frame only one type of United States foreign policy - failed, counterproductive and sure to injure civilians and the American people.

aug 2014