Economic Sanctions Reset

The World Must Change Course

Hossein Askari

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Today, the practice of economic sanctions is akin to the maintenance of law and order in the Wild West. Sanctions fly in the name of peace as did bullets in the days of old, undermining peace and prosperity and with the weak bearing the brunt of the fallout and pain. Modern day sanctions have their roots in the conflicts surrounding WWI as chronicled by Nicholas Mulder in an excellent recent book (The Economic Weapon: The Rise Of Sanctions As A Tool Of Modern War). While there were serious questions surrounding the legality of sanctions and blockades in the absence of a formal declaration of war, they were conceived as a multilateral tool to be imposed by the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations) to prevent conflicts and wars, but are today most frequently imposed unilaterally as a weapon to punish adversaries.

Sanctions, some multilateral but most unilateral, number in the hundreds, if not in the thousands. They are difficult to track as new sanctions are sent on a daily basis, imposed with little thought, with some sanctions even boomeranging. These economic weapons fly around the world disrupting trade, from preferred suppliers to second or third-best trading partners if the sanctions are bilateral and to autarchy if the sanctions are tightly multilateral and weighing heavily on global prosperity. Some have been around for decades, such as U.S. unilateral sanctions on Cuba and Iran. The loss in global economic output from sanctions is in the trillions of dollars. The suffering — deprivation of food and medicines — of innocent civilians is in the hundreds of millions. If in place for years, or for decades, they clearly have not yielded the desired result but continue to cause pain, economic hardship and loss in global economic output. Some sanctions may become even permanent as suppliers benefiting from sanctions become a potent lobby for maintaining them.

Instead of preventing conflicts, economic sanctions have become a stealth weapon of endless wars. It is time for a global pause and reset to restore some sanity before the web of sanctions knots the world into more conflict and a severe economic downturn.

What’s to be done? First, a brief look at the failure of recent sanctions on Russia may be instructive. They were imposed after the…

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Hossein Askari

MIT engineer-economist. Prof: Tufts, UT-Austin, GW. IMF Board. Government-Mediator Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait. Econ-Finance, Oil, Sanctions, Mid-East, Islam.