Mandatory Global cooperation: Sanctions vs. Other Means

Mandatory Global cooperation: Sanctions vs. Other Means
Prepared By: Professor Michel NEHME
American university of beirut




Major Powers have always expressed the need to indulge in establishing strategies to promote global cooperation in order to solve the problems posed by states defecting from commitments to the established system of international law. Research has presented situations where the strictly economic forces of the marketplace cannot bring about solutions. Political and social action must be taken to achieve desired collective outcomes (cooperation, collaboration) or to prevent the destruction of collective agreements and treaties.

Six broad strategies for achieving collaborations are thought of in the hope that some way they increase the costs of defecting or increase the payoffs of cooperation.

1 - One option of getting an actor in the international community to cooperate is coercion. However, many analysts feel that coercion can occur only with central authority given enforcement powers and that this is the only way to solve violations of the international law. Calls for some form of world government have been made on this basis. Promoters of the interest of super powers (USA) argue that if defectors are small actors then they are easily identified. Then social pressures can be applied to encourage world reaction against the defection of small states. In this sense a government and its leaders may lose prestige if other governments feel that they are not pulling their weight or cooperating. As an indicator to this, NATO’s annual review to identify and spotlight slackers has been used in this way. Such pressure was put on states that bore low costs during the Gulf War II or that dragged their feet in paying their share.

2 - Leaders of developing societies think that positive strategies based on rewards of some kind seem to be more useful than negative ones in the international sphere. Members of a group will be more likely to act to protect agreement and respect commitments if they can receive rewards as side payments. States may join alliances and provide a share of the defense burden if they receive new and sophisticated weapons in return.

3 - Creating alternatives for states interesting in creating large armies to use them in defense or deterrence against their own violations of international laws and agreements. Major powers create incentives for small powers to join alliances, which in turn is provided with some forces that contribute to the collective good of strong deterrent, even though that was not the first state’s intention.

4 - A form of non-coercive strategy is education. That is to increase the individual state perception of the self-interest to be gained from group cooperation and respect to international law. The intent behind this strategy is to force policy-makers to confront their aggressive tendencies and to understand what the structure of the decision situation looks like. If states are educated to understand that their interests are best served in the long run if they cooperate globally, they will be able to deal with options of decision-making. This educational strategy is also related to the process of integration that consists of shifting loyalties to new and larger political units with broader interests. But this is a slow process, and a number of international violations require immediate attention and quick action.

5 - Respect to international law can be achieved if major economic states desire stability in the world community and they are willing to pay the whole cost (or most of it) for that. An example on that is the United States willingness to pay all parties at conflict to reconcile their problems in exchange for economic relief provided by the USA and its allies.

6 - One strategy to achieve respect to international law is to create regional and global organizations from a number of small groups of states and then to create some sort of federal structure to tie together and coordinate these groups.

These general strategies for coping with and resolving issues of international violations of international law involve both formal and informal mechanisms. These mechanisms help states coordinate their activities and collaborate in a positive way. However, these strategies only hint at a very powerful informal process that helps to overcome the problem of anarchism in the international community. As it stands, there are no formal centralized enforcement mechanisms in international law. But there are informal mechanisms of reciprocity-tit for tat or other forms of retaliation.

Whether an economic good or service is being used to punish or reward another state, the success of the influence attempt and the amount of influence achieved depend on how vulnerable the target is to the manipulation of that economic good or service. The key issue here is substitutability and how dependent one state can make another state on the first state’s economic goods and services. The state being punished must be unable to find a substitute for the sanctioned item, in terms either of goods or markets. The punishing state, too, must be able to substitute or be able to afford the cutbacks in supply or purchases. For example, if the oil producers had desperately needed every petrodollar garnered from oil sales, then the embargo would not have worked. But there were plenty of other states in the world willing to purchase their oil, and most oil-producing states could easily accept a reduction in oil revenues. In other words, the state doing the punishing must not be as vulnerable to the threatened disruption as the state being punished.

The success of sanctions needs to be measured in terms of the objectives sought through sanctions: compliance, subversion, deterrence, international symbolism, or domestic symbolism. Sanctions usually do not work in achieving compliance; they may be effective in subverting the government of another state only if the state is small and its government already shaky. A study of twentieth-century applications of sanctions determined that, overall, sanctions succeeded to a significant degree about a third of the time. When the objective was only modest policy changes, the success rate went up to about 40 percent.

Scholars of foreign policy assert in their literature that diplomatic measures, military intervention, and economic sanctions are the most commonly used instruments of international relations. The use is for achieving international influence. Economic sanctions, however, have been popular tools of foreign policy in the past and current history. In fact, in the last decade and most prominently after the demise of America’s major foreign policy contender -the USSR-, the utilization of economic sanctions especially by the United States has skyrocketed.

Advocates of sanctions regard them as successful weapons of foreign policy. They “recognize that economic sanctions are often employed when there is domestic pressure in the sanctioning state to take some action against the target nation, but diplomatic measures are perceived as too weak and military action is seen as too strong”1. Those who oppose sanctions question their effectiveness as a successful foreign policy tool. According to them “in an interdependent trading world where multiple buyers and suppliers exist for particular goods and services, it is difficult to devastate the target economy with sanctions”2. As mentioned earlier, the Institute for International Economics in Washington judged 115 cases of economic sanctions between World War I and 1990. Out of these cases, 34% were judged to be at least partially successful. These cases included instances of multilateral sanctions and sanctioners other than the United States3. If the record of economic sanctions shows more failures than successes, why do states still resort to sanctions in their foreign policy.


Sanctions: Old Trends

The use of economic sanctions is not new. Thucydides in his “History of the Pelponnesian War” describes a trade boycott imposed by Athens against Megara, an ally of Sparta, in 432 B.C.4 During the Napoleonic Wars; France managed to limit sales of grain to Britain. The United States used sanctions against the British and the French from 1808 to 1809 to try to make them to make concessions on the rights of neutral states5. In the first half of twentieth century the use of economic sanctions persisted. The League of Nations imposed a boycott and a limited embargo against Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Since World War II, and with the second half of the century, the utilization of economic sanctions remarkably augmented. The UN has sanctioned Rhodesia and South Africa, protesting their policies of Apartheid. However, the US has notably utilized economic sanctions more frequently than any other state or group of states in post World War II era and even more abundantly in the post cold war era. The United States imposed a grain sanction on USSR after its invasion of Afghanistan. It imposed selected embargoes on China in 1989 after its repression of political dissent in Tiananmen Square.

From this historical background, it can be easily noticed that sanctions can be unilateral or multilateral; they can be imposed by a state like the United States or by a group of nation states like the League of Nations or the United Nations. In understanding economic sanctions in international relations, it is thus necessary to distinguish between sanctions imposed by the United Nations today and the League of Nations yesterday and sanctions imposed by the United States since it has utilized sanctions more than any other state or group of sates especially in the post cold-war era.


Sanctions: Global Organizations and USA

Customary international law has in the past admitted the right of states to take certain measures of self-help in support of their legal claims if it was not possible to achieve satisfaction by negotiation or third party settlement. “These measures included withdrawal of diplomatic representatives, acts of reprisal such as embargo and pacific blockade, display of force, landing of armed forces for purposes of protection of persons and property, and resort to war6.  Thus, international law admits the right of a state to sanction another state.

“Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations is devoted to the question of sanctions”7. Economic sanctions of the Covenant were intended to be total and automatic. The experience of the League reveals reluctance by the members to adhere to the collective-security obligations of the Covenant8. Instead of total and automatic application of economic sanctions, the obligations were treated as selective and voluntary, for each member in each situation. In 1921 the Assembly adopted resolutions that declared that for each state the application of economic sanctions under article 16 was optional, not mandatory. “Loopholes were discovered in the Covenant formula for collective security and taken advantage to avoid inconvenient enforcement obligations”9.

In 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria, the league gave a belated response and failed to apply effective sanctions against the aggressor. In 1935-36, although the League imposed economic sanctions on Italy, The embargo that was then made by fifty league members on arms and on financial aid and a ban on imports from Italy failed. The reason of this failure is because it was not harsh enough to encompass an oil embargo or a blockade of Italian ports or sea routes. In addition, the US continued to trade with Italy except for arms. When Hitler invaded the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and committed other aggressive acts, no economic sanctions were imposed on Germany. These examples and others show that the League’s sanctioning policy was inconsistent and fear from major powers did not allow for sanctions to total and automatic. Indeed, they were selective and voluntary.

Today, the United Nations has a similar right of imposing economic sanctions on target countries if the latter commit an act of aggression. The United Nations imposed many economic sanctions on different countries like Iraq (1990), Libya (1992), Angola (1993), Rwanda (1994), Sierra Leone (1997), Yugoslavia (1992-1996). Etc. The selective and voluntary nature of economic sanctions is again reflected in the UN sanctioning policy. Israel repeatedly committed major acts of military, social and humanitarian aggressions against Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, but, Israel was never sanctioned by the United Nations or the international community. Whereas a country like Iraq suffers the consequences of economic and other forms of sanctions for ten years prone to continuity.

Aside from the League of Nations and the United Nations’ sanctions, the United States, “Economic sanctions are fast becoming the United States policy tool of choice”10. With the absence of Soviet opposition to US sanctions, the number of sanctions imposed by U.S. augmented tremendously. A 1997 study by the National Association of Manufacturers “listed 35 countries targeted by new American sanctions from 1993 to 1996 alone”11. Sanctions- predominantly economic-utilized by the United States for various goals. “The United States, far more than any other country, uses them to discourage the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles”12 (Iraq 1990), promote human rights (China 1989), end support for terrorism (Sudan 1996), thwart drug trafficking, discourage armed aggression (Rhwanda), protect the environment and oust governments (Cuba).

What are Economic Sanctions?

“Economic sanctions take a variety of forms, ranging from a mere refusal to renew trade agreements to a total export and import embargo”13. Economic sanctions are defined to mean the “deliberate, government inspired withdrawal, or threat of withdrawal, of customary trade or financial relations”14 to bring about a change in the policy of the target country. “Customary does not mean contractual; it simply means level of trade and financial activity that would probably have occurred in the absence of sanctions”15. Economic sanctions used for foreign policy purposes are economic penalties, such as prohibiting trade, stopping financial transactions, or barring economic and military assistance. “Sanctions can be imposed selectively, stopping only certain trade and financial transactions or aid programs, or comprehensively, halting all economic relations with the target nation”16. Parallel to the typology of being comprehensive and selective, scholars of Foreign Relations recognize three categories of sanctions in order of declining severity: instrumental, punitive, and symbolic.

Instrumental economic sanctions are designed to prevent the target country from obtaining specific goods or financial capital. Under Instrumental sanctions the target state’s commerce is totally choked off. Sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 are an example whereby “the unprecedented degree of cooperation among the sanctioning nations and the military blockade to enforce the measures were designed to severely cripple the Iraqi economy”17. “Punitive sanctions do not prevent the target nation from obtaining goods or capital, but can impose substantial economic costs”18. The League sanctions imposed on Italy incurred certain economic costs as a result of the arms and import embargo, but Italy’s economy was not paralyzed.

Symbolic sanctions have mild and minor damage, for they do not expect to cause great economic harm to the target nation. The mild sanctions imposed on China in 1989 as a result of suppressing the dissidents in Tianenman Square were symbolic, for the US wanted to send a signal of disapproval to Chinese government, while maintaining commercial relations.


The Diverse Goals of Economic Sanctions

It is worth asserting her that the goals of economic sanctions are political rather than economic in nature. They are imposed by one nation to change the foreign policy of another nation, thus, enhancing the power of the sanctioning state to deter potential policies or actions of other nations19. Governments are ready to accept economic losses when imposing sanctions in anticipation of achieving overriding political goals. An assessment of the success of economic sanctions should focus on their ability in achieving these overriding goals, rather than measuring the degree of economic pressure brought to bear on a target nation. The committee of foreign relations in the United States government identified three stages of goals: primary, secondary, and tertiary. “Primary goals are the publicly revealed objectives of the nation imposing sanctions, usually presented in terms of making the target comply with its wishes”. For example, The UN imposed sanctions against white minority-led government in Rhodesia in 1966 to compel it to institute a system of majority rule. The primary goal of sanctions is usually the most difficult to achieve.

Secondary objectives “entail symbolically enhancing the prestige or status of the sanctioning government. Sanctions can enhance prestige internationally by making a moral statement against the target’s behavior”20. For example, US import and export sanctions in 1978 against the Idi Amin government in Uganda for violations of human rights satisfied this goal.

Tertiary goals “are goals that affect the international system. Sanctions or the threat of them can punish a nation for the violation of international norms. They can also act as a symbol of resolve by the sanctioning nation to deter the target or other nations from displaying potential aggressive behavior”21. In the mid-80s, the US placed fairly comprehensive unilateral travel and financial sanctions on Libya to punish it for sponsoring state terrorism and to deter it from intervening against neighboring states.


Are Economic Sanctions Effective?

The primary debate about economic sanctions is related to their effectiveness. Can sanctions bring about desired changes in target countries’ policies? If so! Is their impact on the target worth the cost of sanctions to the sanctioning state?

The affectivity of sanctions as an instrument of influence in international relations is highly debatable, but one cannot deny the fact that sanctions are popular. “Economic sanctions are popular because they offer what appears to be a proportional response to challenges in which the interests at stake are less than vital”22. They are a form of expression or a signal elicited by the sanctioning state to the target state to express its discontent with a certain act or behavior like nuclear proliferation (Pakistan, Iraq) or lack of respect to human rights (China). Reluctance to use military force is another motivation. As the National Conference of Catholic Bishops points out “Sanctions can offer a nonmilitary alternative to the terrible options of war or indifference when confronted with aggression or injustice.” On the other hand, advocates of sanctions argue that the “relevant comparison is not between the costs of sanctions to different countries, but between the costs and benefits of sanctions and the costs and benefits of alternative foreign policy tools”23. States utilize sanctions from a list of various policy tools such as military intervention and diplomatic protests. “Sanctions often are imposed when domestic pressure for action exists, but diplomacy or propaganda would be too mild a response, yet the most severe responses, covert action or military action, would be too severe”24. Military measures, although perhaps more likely to succeed in transforming the target’s policies, can be more costly and more risky than sanctions. Thus, states find that despite the low probability of success in using sanctions, they are still practical means of carrying out policy. “In difficult foreign policy decisions, economic sanctions are the most attractive means in an array of unattractive policy options”25. “The frequency with which the United States uses sanctions is also a result of the increased influence, especially on Congress. Many of these influences are single-issue constituencies, notably those promoting human rights, environmentalism, or ethnic religious, or racially oriented causes”26.

The media plays a role as well in encouraging the use of economic sanctions by instigating Americans’ desire to respond. Sanctions somehow offer a popular and seemingly cost free way of acting. The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union again contributed to the increasing popularity of economic sanctions. “Sanctions can now be introduced by the United Nations without opposition from Moscow, which in the past meant a veto in the Security Council or a subsidy for a target US sanctions”27. In defending the use of economic sanctions in foreign policy, one is inclined to believe that under the right circumstances, sanctions if properly used can achieve or assist in achieving certain goals. Sanctions, for example were one reason for the Serbs to accept the Dayton agreement in August 1995 ending the fighting in Bosnia. Economic sanctions imposed by US on Pakistan have hurt Islamabad both militarily and economically influencing Pakistan’s nuclear future. Sanctions, rightly or wrongly, also affected the economies of Cuba, Haiti, Libya, Iraq, and Iran. “The threat of sanctions may have also deterred several European firms from investing in Iran’s oil and gas industry”28. Most notably sanctions highly influenced the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

Despite such exceptions, studies of individual cases of sanctions have typically come to the conclusion that these measures do not have the desired impact on the target country. “The limitations of sanctions are more pronounced than their accomplishments”29. For example, the League of Nations sanctions did not force Italy to pull out of Ethiopia and the US grain embargo against the Soviet Union did not compel the latter to end its occupations of Afghanistan. Comprehensive sanctions that enjoyed universal backing for a long period of time failed to compel Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait. Despite sanctions against Iran, Tehran remained defiant in its support for anti-American groups, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons30. Fidel Castro still commands a socialist political system and a state led economy. Pakistan, secretly is still resuming its nuclear program.

The list of ineffective sanctions is endless. In fact, the initiator in many of these cases suffered higher costs than the target “making sanctions counterproductive”31. A recent study by the Institute for International Economics concluded that in 1995 alone, sanctions cost US companies between $15 and $19 billion and affected some 200 000 workers. “Secondary sanctions, directed against third-party states that do not support the US certain sanctions procedures, add to this cost by jeopardizing the United States trade relations”32.

In dealing with the effectiveness of economic sanctions, it is often said that multilateral sanctions are more prone to success than unilateral ones, sanctions with modest goals are more effective than those with very ambitious goals, and the number of years economic sanctions were in force might determine the outcome of economic sanctions.


Effective sanctions

A study conducted by the Institute for International Economics in 1990 found out that the probability of success decreases as the goals of the sender become more ambitious. For example, sanctions rarely lead to major reversals in military policies or to a change of government in the target. “Sanctions by themselves are seldom able to achieve major objectives such as rolling back aggression or facing a change in the leadership of a regime. Sanctions need to be a flexible component of a wider diplomatic strategy”33. Ambitious goals aiming to destabilize the target government illustrated in the US campaigns against Fidel Castro, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, and the Soviet campaign against Marshal Tito all failed. In fact, such authoritarian regimes are often able to resist the outcomes of sanctions by triggering nationalist reactions against the sanctioning nations. However, economic sanctions may be effective if the goals are modest such as protesting against breach of human rights or violation of nuclear nonproliferation treaties.

International agreement and cooperation in applying a sanctions regime aid the success of economic sanctions. Multilateral sanctions tend to be more effective than unilateral sanctions. In some cases, when economic sanctions fail, it is because the target has found alternative markets or suppliers to offset the sender’s actions. This is why strenuous effort is exerted by the sanctioning state to gain the cooperation of other states. For example, when the US imposed a grain embargo against the Soviet Union in 1980, it attempted to organize cooperation from other grain exporters, including Canada, the European Community, Australia, and Argentina. While some states initially cooperated, Argentina took advantage of the situation to increase profitable exports to the Soviets leading to the failure of the whole sanctions effort. This example illustrates the absolute necessity of international cooperation if sanctions are to be effective, making sanctions a matter of multilateral as much as bilateral diplomacy. “Unilateral sanctions did however, prove more costly for Haiti and Cuba, which were heavily dependent on trade with the United States. Such cases are the exception, though: most unilateral sanctions will be little more than costly expressions of opposition except in those instances in which the ties between the United States and the target are so extensive that the latter cannot adjust to an American cutoff”34. Although multilateral sanctions tend to be more effective than unilateral ones, international cooperation does not necessarily guarantee success all the time. The Arab League ineffective boycott of Israel is a great example.  Furthermore, the size of the targeted country is quite decisive in determining the success of economic sanctions. Sanctions are more likely to succeed when the target is much smaller than the country imposing sanctions (Cuba compared to US) and it is economically weak and politically unstable35.

Economic sanctions seem most effective when aimed against friends and close trading partners. In contrast, sanctions directed against target countries that have long been adversaries of the sender country are generally less successful. Issues of vulnerability and substitutability are relevant here37. The countries of Western Europe had strong ties with the economies of Arab oil exporting states. Faced with the 1973 oil embargo and price rise by Arab states, they were strongly vulnerable because they had a hard time finding substitutes, after basing their “energy policies on the assumption of a continued flow of low-priced oil from OPEC states which provided the overwhelming proportion of their supply’.

The time factor is also crucial in judging the success of economic sanctions. Sanctions should be imposed quickly and decisively to maximize impact. It was concluded from the same study (conducted by the Institute for International Economics)  that successful sanctions averaged around 3 years in duration and failures averaged 8 years. The extensive and long duration of economic sanctions in countries like Cuba and Iraq did not breed success. Besides the time factor, economic sanctions are supposed to be smartly designed in targeting the ruling elites of the sanctioned state and not the population. However, smart sanctions designed to target the ruling elite are rather arduous to achieve since leaders and governments have many ways to insulate themselves39. In addition, economic sanctions are not likely to be effective when the sender incurs high costs on it. The US incurs billion of dollars of losses in its annual budget as a result of sanctions.

Sanctions and Iraq

Two sets of sanctions were applied on Iraq. “The first set of economic sanctions was incorporated into the series of fifteen Security Council resolutions condemning the attack and authorizing retaliatory collective measures. The second set were the measures imposed on Iraq in Security Council resolution 687 adopted in April 1991, which included the destruction of all Iraqi chemical, biological, nuclear sites, and long-range armaments, and which affirmed Iraqi’s liability for war damages to be repaid out of future oil export revenues”40. The instrumental goals of these sanctions were to pressure a withdrawal from Kuwait and to impede the ability of the Iraqi military to fight a war. Further goals aimed at ousting Saddam and destroying the Iraqi economy and military infrastructure since Iraq was rising as a potential economic and military power in the region.

The major debate, however, was whether or not economic sanctions would have forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait without a war. It is clear that sanctions weakened the country considerably and made living conditions far more difficult. It is not clear, however whether such effects would have moved Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN resolutions41. History showed that even though economic sanctions on Iraq were comprehensive and enjoyed almost universal international backing for nearly six months, sanctions failed to compel Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait in 1990. In the end it took nothing less than Operation Desert Storm. In this case war could do what multilateral sanctions failed to do.

The crucial question in analyzing the Iraqi case lies in judging whether the economic sanctions failed or succeeded. The continued use of sanctions after the Gulf War failed of course to oust Saddam Hussein from power for Saddam is still a dangerous and strong enemy to the US. The sanctions however were able to destroy the Iraqi economy and prevent Iraq from rebuilding its military forces. This shows that under the right circumstances, sanctions can achieve, or help achieve modest foreign policy goals to fairly significant ones, but not very ambitious or high policy ones like altering the Iraqi regime and getting rid of Saddam. Multilateral economic sanctions succeeded in increasing Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions calling for the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction. They have also diminished Baghdad’s ability to import weapons and related technology. Iraq today is dramatically weaker militarily and economically than it would have been without the sanctions. After ten years of sanctions, they continue without clear, precisely defined objectives and termination criteria. Instead of penalizing the ruling elite, women, children, and those dependent on the societal safety net pay the price painfully, by living in conditions much below subsistence level. High policy goals like destabilizing the Iraqi regime have strongly failed, for the regime is entrenched more than ever and domestic opposition is too weak to alter the dominant regime. Saddam and the ruling elites surrounding him succeeded in reversing the effects of the sanctions to their people insulating themselves and their assets. In such an authoritarian regime, economic sanctions often miss the target. The nature of the regime has succeeded in rallying people around the flag as a nationalist reaction against the western sanctioning states. Ironically, the people became the victim. “By creating scarcity, economic sanctions enabled the government to better control the distribution of goods and they create a general sense of siege that governments can exploit to maintain political control”43. Economic sanctions thus persisting are a total failure and contribute nothing except increasing the misfortunes of the Iraqi people and incurring budget losses on the US. Then why hasn’t the US thought of giving up sanctions? Is it because by doing so, they will be asserting victory for Saddam? Or is it because they have no other foreign policy alternative?

These sanctions like other sanctions have been expensive for American business. “There is a tendency to overlook or underestimate the direct costs of sanctions, perhaps because unlike the cost of military intervention, they do not show up in the US budget tables. Sanctions do affect the American economy by reducing revenues of US companies and individuals. Moreover, this cost is difficult to measure because it includes not only lost sales, but also forfeited opportunities: governments and overseas companies can elect not to do business with the US for fear that sanctions might one day be introduced spoiling normal economic relations”44.



The Iraqi case indicates that sanctions are to be resorted to with caution. Economic sanctions inflict considerable damage and suffering, so they must not be seen as an early response, but rather as later resort, after diplomatic means have been exhausted. They are supposed to be applied under laws, rules, guidelines or binding criteria. Sanctions should be applied under roughly similar circumstances trying to avoid double standards, which is often committed by the US. As such, economic sanctions are supposed to have clear, well-defined objectives and termination criteria. In the Iraqi case nothing seemed well defined or logical anymore. Sanctions are not expected to punish the deprived Iraqi population. On the contrary, they are expected to modify behavior or policy to comply with standards of international law and not to be confused with a criminal law. This is why sanctions are to exempt food, medicines, and other humanitarian supplies. General trade sanctions imposed on Iraq often block humanitarian supplies including food and medicine. Pre-assessment, monitoring and regular review is expected to accompany sanctions. Revision on a regular and pre-established basis by the Security Council must be monitored on an ongoing basis by the Secretariat. The monitoring process is expected to employ regular indicators to assess the humanitarian impact and other aspects of impact45.

It has been learned from the Iraqi case that sanctions that hurt the general population tend to be ineffective in carrying out the overriding political goals. It has been assumed that sanctions must hurt the population, who then bring pressure to bear on the political leadership to change policy. This can work in democratic regimes where public opinion matters. In the case of Iraq, the nature of the regime is not open to such pressure from the people and “can mobilize even stronger mass support when faced with a foreign challenge”46.

The more logical option would be to try to develop targeted economic sanctions that are more effective and less harmful on innocent people. By contrast with general trade sanctions, targeted sanctions have a narrower focus and seek to minimize negative humanitarian effects while maximizing pressure on leaders. Targeting can aim at many possible items, including weapons and hardware trade. Available evidence reveal that “financial sanctions are more effective than general trade sanctions because they create fewer humanitarian hardships”47.

The Iraqi crisis has, thus, led to a re-evaluation of sanctions policy at the United Nations and the search for more humane effective alternatives. UN officials have become increasingly skeptical of general trade sanctions. Many members of the Security Council have expressed misgivings about blanket sanctions and have called for more focused measures that target elites rather than vulnerable populations48.

Sanctions are still considered effective instruments of influence in international relations. They are optional and available means for achieving foreign policy goals in international relations, but rarely effective. They are middle ground between mere diplomatic protest and the resort to military violence. As such, they offer the UN means of addressing threats to peace without resorting to the use of armed force. It can be concluded that sanctions tend to be effective when they are used to reinforce international norms, signal disapproval of objectionable behavior, and deter further abuses. They are most effective when combined with incentives as part of a “carrot and sticks” diplomacy designed to resolve conflict and bring about a negotiated solution. This requires that the imposing authority establishes clear and consistent standards for lifting of sanctions (this was not the case with Iraq). “Steps towards compliance by the target must be rewarded with an easing of coercive pressure”49. In most other cases sanctions tend to fail. Many states, most notably the US, increasingly utilize them in pursuing their foreign policy.

The most obvious and important explanation of the sharp decline of the effectiveness of US sanctions is the relative decline and centrality of the US position in the world economy. Unlike the early post-war era, the United States is no longer the major supplier of many goods and services, and it is not the only source of economic assistance for developing countries. United Europe and Japan notably are important suppliers of goods as well.

While sometimes seen as an alternative to war, sanctions may cause economic and social hardships equivalent to those caused by war. In some cases, the negative humanitarian consequences arguably outweigh whatever political objectives may have been accomplished as portrayed in the Iraqi case. Sanctions must not cause severe social and economic hardships that drive the level of living standards below subsistence level even tremendously below subsistence level in the case of Iraq.