The Evil of Sanctions
by Brian Cloughley
www.fff.org/, February 9, 2010
When strong governments wish to impose
their will on weaker regimes, they often resort to sanctions.
The effects have included the death or debilitation of millions
of innocent people. Two good examples are Cuba, on which draconian
U.S. sanctions have been enforced since 1960, and Iraq, where
brutal sanctions were enforced from 1990 to 2003.
In 1959 the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista
was overthrown. He had ruled with the approval of Washington and
the Mafia (who gave him a percentage on their casino operations).
The dictator Castro took over and declared himself a communist,
prompting the U.S. government to attempt to overthrow him. The
illegal attempt to invade the country - the Bay of Pigs fiasco
- was a national embarrassment for Washington, and the obvious
revenge was to punish the country by the use of sanctions. Almost
no contact with Cuba was allowed, and the effects have been monstrous.
Earlier this year the Cato Institute recorded,
The embargo has been a failure by every
measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban
government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact,
the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished,
without making them one bit more free.
Dr. Michèle Barry points out in
Annals of Internal Medicine,
Because economic sanctions result in shortages
of food and medical supplies, their most severe consequences are
often felt by the persons who are least culpable and most vulnerable....
The U.S. embargo against Cuba, one of
the few that includes both food and medicine, has been described
as a war against public health with high human costs....
"Most severe consequences" were
experienced by the people of Iraq when Washington succeeded in
having UN sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait
in 1990. After the Iraqis were forced out of Kuwait, it was declared
that the sanctions were intended to make Iraq comply with UN Security
Council Resolution 687, which demanded that Iraq eliminate its
weapons of mass destruction and that it recognize the nation-state
of Kuwait, which, like America's major Arab ally, Saudi Arabia,
is ruled by an entirely nondemocratic regime.
The absurdity of UNSC 687 was that Rolf
Ekeus, the UN representative responsible for identifying and destroying
Iraq's weaponry, had already certified that 817 out of Iraq's
819 Iraqi long-range missiles had been destroyed. In 1999 a panel
of the Security Council announced that all biological and chemical
facilities "have been destroyed and rendered harmless."
But that did not deter the sanctions proponents, who imagined
that immense national suffering would somehow bring down the despot
In 1998 Christian Aid stated,
The policy of sanctions has also been
used to pursue political goals - for example, the removal of the
Iraqi regime - beyond the overt scope of Resolution 687, which
contained no prescriptions regarding Iraq's form of government
or the conduct of domestic policy. The Iraqi population's economic
and social rights have been seriously infringed by the impact
of a prolonged embargo. In an authoritarian state which continued
to hold most of the levers of control, much of the burden caused
by the embargo fell on the civilian population.
But innocent civilians did not matter
to the rest of the world, much of which was duped by the United
States and Britain into concluding that Iraq presented a threat
to global security, a ridiculous notion.
In one of the most outrageously illegal
acts of the many carried out by Washington and London, it was
decided that there should be "no-fly zones" in the north
and south of Iraq - covering about half the country - in which
no Iraqi aircraft or radar was permitted to operate. (France at
first joined in this travesty of legality but then withdrew after
realizing that it was absurd and that it had no UN endorsement.)
The purpose of the no-fly zones was ostensibly
to protect the Shia population of the south and the Kurds in the
north, but in fact they were intended, most successfully, to destroy
Iraq's civilian and defense infrastructure.
The zones had no basis in international
law and complemented sanctions in a particularly savage manner.
British and American fighter and bomber aircraft roamed the skies,
attacking what they considered to be "legitimate targets."
But scores of civilians died, as in January 1999, when six children
were killed by a plane-fired missile.
But we know that foreign children don't
always matter to war planners and their supporters. After all,
when U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was asked on
television whether she considered the deaths of half a million
children a reasonable result of U.S. sanctions, she replied, "This
is a very hard choice, but ... we think the price is worth it."
This callous, pitiless, utterly heartless
statement by a most senior official of the U.S. government could
have been made by any other U.S. government official. If anyone
in an official position in America or Britain disagreed with the
pronouncement that the avoidable deaths of half a million children
were justified, he kept very quiet about it. They all knew what
the policy was. It is notable that during Albright's confirmation
hearings preliminary to her becoming secretary of State, none
of the senators questioned her on this point. The fact is that
they didn't disagree with it, making them complicit in the horrible
deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.
U.S. attacks on Iraq in the no-fly zones
were carefully planned, especially in the months immediately before
the 2003 U.S.-led invasion by the deluded "coalition"
that Washington cobbled together by means of deceit and downright
lies about "weapons of mass destruction." On September
5, 2002, for example, some 100 coalition aircraft bombed and rocketed
a desert airstrip called H-3, deep in the far west of Iraq. There
was no threat from the airfield, but it was planned that it be
a base for U.S. Special Forces inserted from Jordan before the
war began. It had to be neutralized. And this is but one example
of cynical manipulation of an already illegal decree.
According to U.S. Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley,
the coalition flew 21,736 sorties over southern Iraq between June
2002 and the start of the war in April 2003 - more than 60 a day.
Three hundred forty-nine targets were attacked and Moseley claimed
that U.S. and other aircraft were fired at 651 times. He had the
grace to admit to the New York Times (which helped the Bush administration
to convince Americans that the war was justified),
We became a little more aggressive based
on them shooting more at us, which allowed us to respond more....
Then the question is whether they were shooting at us because
we were up there more. So there is a chicken and egg thing here.
In fact Britain's Ministry of Defense
let the cat out of the bag by admitting that from March to November
2002 there were 8 alleged violations by Iraqi forces of the No-Fly
Zone and 143 instances of "recorded threats." In response,
253,000 pounds of bombs were dropped on Iraq. The number of rockets
fired was not stated.
Bombs and rockets
While illegal sanctions caused the premature
but prolonged and usually agonizing death of countless innocent
Iraqis, the illegal bombings and rocketings played a major part
in destroying a country that will take decades to recover, if
it ever does. The social consequences of attacks and sanctions
have been truly terrible.
Electricity systems, wrecked beyond repair,
were unable to supply power to hospitals and the civil population
in general. But Saddam and his henchmen were not affected: they
had plenty of generators - which were one of the thousands of
items forbidden to be imported for ordinary people.
Christian Aid observed in 2000,
The immediate consequence of eight years
of sanctions has been a dramatic fall in living standards, the
collapse of the infrastructure, and a serious decline in the availability
of public services. The longer-term damage to the fabric of society
has yet to be assessed but economic disruption has already led
to heightened levels of crime, corruption and violence. Competition
for increasingly scarce resources has allowed the Iraqi state
to use clan and sectarian rivalries to maintain its control, further
fragmenting Iraqi society.
And that was before intensification of
bombing and the tightening of already harsh controls on imports.
These included six-month examinations of requests for importing
such things as medical prescription drugs and substances required
for water purification. By the time of approval (if given), most
drugs were useless and thus dangerous, which may have been the
intention. (Such things as aspirin and other pain-relievers were
said to be ingredients for making chemical weapons.)
There were some principled people who
went public about the appalling human crisis inflicted on Iraq
by the United States and its British ally. Dennis Halliday, who
was head of the UN's humanitarian program in Iraq, resigned in
protest, as did his successor, Hans von Sponeck. They wrote,
The death of some 5-6,000 children a month
is mostly due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition.
The US and UK governments' delayed clearance of equipment and
materials is responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad.
Their statement was blunt, to the point,
and accurate - and completely ignored by the barbarians who considered
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children was "a price
that was worth it." The only honorable officials in the entire
squalid sanctions horror were Halliday and von Sponeck, but of
course they were reviled by those who knew well what effect the
cruel sanctions would have and were having.
Oil for no food
Then there was the "Oil for Food"
program, which was begun in 1996 and became one of the biggest
scams of modern times. According to the BBC, the Oil for Food
program "was a $60bn (£32bn) scheme which was supposed
to allow Iraq to buy food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies
with the proceeds of regulated oil sales, without breaking the
sanctions imposed on it after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait."
Actually, it was a license for fraud and embezzlement and proved
most lucrative to all sorts of lowlifes who profited from a government
plan that purported to alleviate misery.
Instead of trying to alleviate starvation
and disease, the sanctions administrators deliberately stalled
on approving Oil for Food arrangements. The UN found that it took
an average of 66 days for agreement to be reached on contracts
and a further 59 days for food to be delivered. The intention
was clear: no matter the desperate plight of children in Iraq,
the sanctions would continue to be imposed with the utmost severity.
In spite of criminality and willful disruption
of food and medical supplies, the child mortality rate declined
as a result of the Oil for Food program. This was no thanks to
such agencies as Britain's Department of Trade and Industry, which
prevented diphtheria and yellow-fever vaccines from being sent
to Iraq, claiming that they could be used to make weapons of mass
In 1997, according to UNICEF, 25 percent
of children under five were severely malnourished. They were especially
vulnerable to water-borne diseases, such as typhoid and cholera,
that were unknown in Iraq before the Gulf War of 1991.
To end this sad tale of death and despair
on Iraq, the words of the honorable Dennis Halliday are appropriate.
Sanctions, he said,
do not impact on governance effectively
and instead [they damage] the innocent people of the country.
For me what is tragic, in addition to the tragedy of Iraq itself,
is the fact that the United Nations Security Council member states
... are maintaining a program of economic sanctions deliberately,
knowingly killing thousands of Iraqis each month. And that definition
Brian Cloughley is a commentator on political
and military affairs and is a strategy analyst for Jane's Sentinel.
He resides in France. Visit his website: www.beecluff.com. Send