Attention – Due To Allegations of Plagiarism, This Article Is Highly Suspect


North Korea has become the latest entry in the list of countries on which UN imposed and US inspired economic sanctions have been imposed.(

The list includes or has included at some time, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Cuba and closer home, Myanmar. Recently, after the military coup even Thailand was included. Sanctions are imposed or threatened against 75 countries, ranging from Angola to Zaire, for behaviours ranging from support for terrorism to failure to adequately protect sea turtles. Some of the sanctions are quite extensive.

The purpose of the sanctions is to put pressure on the governments to recant from the support of terrorism or withdraw oppressive or repressive policies that violate human rights and restore a democratic form of government. But there are hardly any examples where sanctions have actually worked and totalitarian governments either continue to thrive or if they have changed, it is due to other factors that operate independently of economic sanctions.

For all the pain they impose, sanctions usually do not succeed. There is a long history of failure to prove it. League of Nations sanctions, imposed in 1935, failed to force Italy to pull out of Ethiopia. More recently, UN sanctions have failed to induce Libya to turn over two citizens for trial in the Lockerbie airliner bombing, or to induce Iraq to substantially modify its policies. Unilateral sanctions, imposed by a single state, are even more likely to fizzle. The United States grain embargo against the Soviet Union in 1980 did not produce a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, nor have the long and punishing sanctions by the United States against Cuba resulted in political change on that island. Sanctions are often ignored by some governments or circumvented by traders chasing a high profit margin. Unilateral sanctions can even backfire, harming exporters in the sanction-imposing country most of all. In the 1980 grain embargo, US farmers suffered more than Soviet consumers. (

Do economic sanctions work? One interesting thing about this question is that it is almost never asked about military force, propaganda or diplomacy — the main alternatives to economic sanctions. Yet the answer is the same for each tool of diplomacy. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t but then, none of the tools of diplomacy works well by itself; each is best used in conjunction with the others. Military force alone is insufficient to win wars — as the situation in Iraq amply demonstrates. That economic sanctions alone are unlikely to work does not mean that they cannot make a useful contribution toward the changes that are sought to be attained.

Then of course costs matter as much as benefits. Not just the financial cost, important as it is but also the social and ethical cost of a unjust war. Military force may well be more effective in achieving some goals, but it is likely to be more costly than economic sanctions and consequences of a morally indefensible military invasion are more far reaching as defining a just cause of invasion is a tangled web. So even though sanctions often seem to work far too slowly, they still serve as a significant moral force highlighting the world’s attention on what demands action and change , sooner or later.

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