It’s also a fight against punitive measures

The requirement of massive resources following the pandemic may be an occasion to lift global economic sanctions

Updated - March 28, 2020 12:32 am IST

Published - March 28, 2020 12:02 am IST

A global pandemic demands game-changing actions by all nations in order to halt its global spread, provide relief in terms of medical supplies and to rebuild shattered lives. The global community has the responsibility to rise to the occasion. Any global cataclysm affects poor countries more than the rich ones as the former do not have the resources to meet the unexpected economic challenge. While the developed countries and their groups provide economic packages to themselves and their partners, developing countries stare into the distance with hope of handouts from the international financial institutions or some generous rich allies.

One way of dealing with the emergency in an emergency mode is to consider lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations and individual countries on developing countries. Many international sanctions imposed on the basis of political and economic decisions and taken as a part of diplomatic efforts by countries, multilateral or regional organisations against states or organisations exist around the world. These were meant either to ‘protect national security interests, or to protect international law, and defend against threats to international peace and security. These measures include the temporary imposition on a target of economic, trade, diplomatic, cultural or other restrictions’ and can be lifted only through a long process of ascertaining whether their objectives were met.

The UN Security Council has a ‘mandate by the international community to apply sanctions that are binding on all UN member states. They serve as the international community’s most powerful peaceful means to prevent threats to international peace and security or to settle them’. Peace enforcement is possible if the sanctions fail, but that is only in the rarest of rare cases. The sanctions often lie dormant for technical reasons even if their original intent and purpose have lost their relevance. The victims of these sanctions suffer in silence or engage in negotiations to get relief.

When America struck

Apart from UN sanctions, there are ‘unilateral sanctions that are imposed by individual countries in furtherance of their strategic objectives. Typically intended as strong economic coercion, measures applied under unilateral sanctions can range between coercive diplomatic efforts, economic warfare, or a threat of war’. These take the form of economic, diplomatic, military and sport sanctions.

The unilateral sanctions are naturally not mandatory to any other state, but the United States has often stipulated, like in the case of Iran, that those countries which do not apply sanctions to Iran would be debarred from doing business with the U.S., a Hobson’s choice in many cases.

After the initial invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, the UN ‘placed an embargo on the nation in an attempt to prevent an armed conflict. A naval and air blockade was added. The purpose of the initial sanctions was to coerce Iraq into following international law, which included the recognised sovereignty of Kuwait’. But even after the liberation of Kuwait, a series of sanctions were created to weaken the country. A UN plan to purchase food and medicines by selling Iraqi oil to the world became one of the most serious scandals to hit the UN and its Secretary General. U.S. sanctions against Iran over the years broke the back of the country and forced it to reach an agreement to limit its nuclear activities. The U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran deal has now resulted in Iran facing crippling sanctions. Perhaps, the impact of COVID-19 was severe in Iran on account of the sanctions and the resultant economic crisis in the country. There are many more cases of sanctions against many countries still in existence. Temporary sanctions in protest against the policies of countries often result in expulsion or withdrawal of diplomatic personnel.

The politics of sanctions entered a new era when U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) that grouped together sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. Currently, the U.S. alone, or together with other countries has sanctions against Belarus, Myanmar, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe and several other countries.

The wide network of sanctions is comprehensively monitored by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Department of the Treasury which enforces economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes and related entities and individuals.

No calculation

There is no estimate of the losses sustained by these countries on account of these sanctions. But these countries will be much relieved if these restrictions are removed. The present global pandemic and the requirement of massive resources may be an occasion to lift these sanctions. The countries which have imposed these sanctions will not have to make any financial outlay to assist these countries at this time of a humanitarian emergency.

The G20 Chairman, the King of Saudi Arabia, on a suggestion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had convened a video conference of G20 leaders. As a follow up of that meeting, the G20 could consider proposing the lifting of multilateral and bilateral sanctions. As Winston Churchill said, “ Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

T.P. Sreenivasan, a former diplomat, is Chairman, Academic Council and Director, NSS Academy of Civil Services, and also Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram

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