Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Don't just "do something"
February 19, 2012 10:39 AM   Subscribe

The existing data... suggest that states and indigenous pro-democracy groups should be cautious about using economic sanctions as a tool in their struggles against authoritarian regimes. The data not only show that dictatorships faced with sanctions tend to enhance their grip on power, but also that successful cases of democratization have overwhelmingly occurred in the absence of broad economic sanctions. Sanctions Don’t Promote Democratic Change.
posted by latkes (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sanctions are preludes to military actions, intended specifically to ramp up the conflict and prompt the sanctioned to do something to justify an invasion. What? You didn't know that?
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:50 AM on February 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Via 3 Quarks Daily.
posted by latkes at 10:51 AM on February 19, 2012


But unlike some bitter cynics, I happen to have great faith in the abiding intelligence of our betters. I believe they know perfectly well that sanctions will not drive the Iranian regime from power. Instead, I think the current strategy here is two-fold.

First, while long-running sanctions do not in themselves overturn a regime, they do make the entire country much weaker. Infrastructure falls apart, society crumbles, communities wither, families fray, the people themselves become physically weaker -- indeed, they can die in droves, in multitudes, as in Iraq. All of this makes for a much softer target when you finally decide to pull the trigger on military action.

Second -- and I think much more relevant to this case -- there is the hope that ever-tightening sanctions will provoke a violent response from the victim, thereby "justifying" a war of "self-defense" against the "unprovoked" attack. The series of escalating provocations being carried out by Washington and its allies, chiefly Israel -- including an increasingly open program of assassinations -- is clearly designed to goad the Iranians into a casus belli retaliation.
posted by Trurl at 10:56 AM on February 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Evidence, schmevidence. We can't just let them get away with this!
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 10:57 AM on February 19, 2012


you catch more flies with bribery than theft
posted by LogicalDash at 11:01 AM on February 19, 2012


Each day that he struggles to buy food for his family, vegetable seller Hasan Sharafi shoulders part of the burden of Iran's defiance of the West over its nuclear programme. He can hardly bear it. ...

With just a month to go before a parliamentary election, Iran has been hit hard in recent months by new U.S. and European economic sanctions over its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is peaceful but the West says is aimed at making a bomb. ...

"America uses the nuclear issue as an excuse to replace our regime with a puppet regime to control our energy resources. But we will not let them. Nuclear technology is our right and I fully support our leaders' view. Death to America," said student Mohammad Reza Khorrami in the northern town of Chalous.
posted by Trurl at 11:11 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except for that whole South Africa thing.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:30 AM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thank you Ironmouth, came here to post just that in response to:

Sanctions are preludes to military actions, intended specifically to ramp up the conflict and prompt the sanctioned to do something to justify an invasion.

I get we're living in a pretty tense time and the US has been a little too broad-shouldered, but no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater just to be the first person snarking in a thread.
posted by yerfatma at 11:33 AM on February 19, 2012


"Nuclear technology is our right and I fully support our leaders' view. Death to America," said student Mohammad Reza Khorrami in the northern town of Chalous.

Of course, if this man-on-the-street interview had been conducted with an Amurican, we'd all be happy to dismiss the opinion as the ranting of an average idiot.
posted by yerfatma at 11:34 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The article goes into detail about South Africa as the sole exception among 35 states that went from authoritarian to democratic government since 1955.

"Even in the South African case, it is not clear whether sanctions helped the transition to democracy or if they actually prolonged apartheid. Economist Mats Lundahl suggests that sanctions against the industrial sector contributed to the longevity of the agrarian-based apartheid regime..."

You don't have to believe that, but let's not simply dismiss the article with a wave of the hand.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I would find the comparison more relevant if South Africa had owned the world's third largest oil reserves.

Or if the CIA had previously overthrown its democratically elected government, in its little too broad-shouldered fashion.
posted by Trurl at 11:44 AM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sanctions Don’t Promote Democratic Change.

Bullshit: Look how well it's working for us in Cuba.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:51 AM on February 19, 2012


Is the Iran threat just an illusion? Some say Iran's recent moves show a weak regime, not a war machine.
posted by homunculus at 12:09 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sanctions turn authoritarian regimes into totalitarian kleptocracies.

Was that glib enough?
posted by Burhanistan at 12:09 PM on February 19, 2012


Syria 'disintegrating under crippling sanctions': One of Syria's leading businessmen says its economy is being crippled by foreign sanctions and that the government is slowly disintegrating.
posted by homunculus at 12:11 PM on February 19, 2012


Thank you, Captain Obvious.

/Seriously, thank you. It's a good post.
posted by hamandcheese at 12:14 PM on February 19, 2012


Syria was already in the middle of an insurrection before the sanctions really started.
posted by empath at 12:36 PM on February 19, 2012


As for the sanctions on Syria, maybe the game changes once a nation is already embroiled in full-scale civil war? Once you've spent half the central bank's funds shooting your own people, sanctions on the entire income pipeline keep you from fueling the war effort.

This doesn't mean that an authoritarian state at peace can be pushed toward democracy through broad sanctions. After all, it doesn't have to shovel piles of money into the war machine and it can spend effort on ensuring that any remaining funds and income shore up the regime's power. The article's point on narrow, precisely-targeted sanctions (which I wish it had discussed further) is applicable here.

(or, on preview, what empath said)

One small doubt I have is that, since economic desperation is a big driver for popular uprising (see, e.g. the use of bread as an icon in early Egyptian protests) and broad sanctions can devastate economies, shouldn't broad sanctions lead to regime change generally, if not to democracy specifically? Is it a matter of not being harsh enough? Is it just a marketing problem, whereby authoritarian states can just say "look at how our enemies have done this to us" and deflect blame?
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 12:39 PM on February 19, 2012


Curious how the people who supported the war on Libya to forestall potential civilian casualties from Qaddafi aren't calling for immediate NATO action against Syria to protect the people being killed there daily.
posted by Trurl at 1:04 PM on February 19, 2012


Oh, they are.
posted by empath at 1:17 PM on February 19, 2012


Also Syria actually has a significant military presence, unlike Libya. Plus an invasion of NATO forces would lend more credence to Assad's claims that this is a foreign insurgency.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2012


Of the totalitarian countries I've visited, Cuba and Iran stand out by having a population that is both openly critical of the suppressive government, and worried about the alternative. In both countries, the people I met were outspoken about the shortcomings of their government and at the same time extremely worried about the US plans for their future. My personal take on this is: the populations in these countries are highly educated. They may have a ton of weird impressions of the world because they are really isolated. But they are not stupid.
That all said, the links above were an interesting read. I haven't really been sure whether sanctions were a good idea or not, and South Africa has been an important part of my education and political opinion. If scholars are saying that didn't really work, I need to revise my views.
I really, really hope we don't go to war with Iran. Iran is our most obvious ally in that area (between the Middle East and Central Asia). We need to be friends, not enemies with Iran. Obviously, the regime is crazy, but it is not at all North Korea. There are different fractions, a popular opinion, and many other ways of engaging in politics.
posted by mumimor at 1:35 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


BTW, I've also visited Syria. It's not at all the same. All power to the Syrian people, but they are neither educated nor curious, and the alternative to dictatorship is religion in a country with a multitude of religious positions. This will be a hard struggle.
posted by mumimor at 1:39 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"....since economic desperation is a big driver for popular uprising....."

Two counterexamples: China during the Great Leap Forward, mass starvation without a hint of a popular uprising. The second example - North Korea.

One theory I've read to explain the lack of revolutionary traction in these cases is that the population was mostly rural. It's much harder to organize mass unrest in the countryside than in the cities.
posted by storybored at 9:01 PM on February 19, 2012


Two counterexamples: China during the Great Leap Forward, mass starvation without a hint of a popular uprising. The second example - North Korea.

Another counter-example: Spain 1945-1955. In this case, outside sanctions were reinforced by the regime's self-imposed autarky. The result was extreme poverty and starvation, still remembered by those Spaniards born before 1955, but also the consolidation of a regime which could have easily lost its grip on power in the immediate aftermath of WWII and would instead last for a further 30 years.
posted by Skeptic at 7:34 AM on February 20, 2012


This was a really well-written article, and it's a shame to see it snarked on as obvious — a lot of what was presented in the article wasn't obvious at all in terms of counterfactuals, and goes against a fair amount of internationalist (as opposed to realist) dogma.

As far as I can tell, what sanctions do well is confine a country and make it unlikely to invade another, but they do that at the cost of human suffering and reinforcing an authoritarian regime. They make sense when the primary objective is to keep a bellicose power within its borders, but not when the goal is to promote democratization or humanitarian reform. I'm curious about what's meant by "smart sanctions," which they say are more directly targeted to undermining the elites than affecting common people.

The lack of efficacy of sanctions does reinforce one of the other tenets of internationalism at least, that the most effective way to increase human rights standards is to promote peaceful contact and interaction. For free marketeers, that's often spun as trade, but it can be all sorts of international programs including cultural exchanges.

This also ties into a couple other things we know about democracy — that democracy requires a certain standard of living in order to be sustainable, and that authoritarian regimes have a lot of systemic costs and generally fail when they institute reforms that reduce regime cost by allowing more freedom.
posted by klangklangston at 10:34 AM on February 20, 2012


Curious how the people who supported the war on Libya to forestall potential civilian casualties from Qaddafi aren't calling for immediate NATO action against Syria to protect the people being killed there daily.

Well, there's the small detail of the Libyan opposition asking for foreign military intervention and the Syrian opposition being explicitly against it.
posted by Anything at 5:08 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I call baloney. Correlation doth not causation maketh. I didn't bother reading the cited articles but unless they're able to quantify authoritarianism, they're just speculating can not demonstrate a causative relationship, much less a predictive one.

It appears that voting with your dollars in America is actually probably your greatest democracy - just ask Target or the Kohen Foundation. By withholding their income, they both capitulated by repealing their narrow anti-democratic actions.
posted by onesidys at 4:17 PM on February 21, 2012


Well, there's the small detail of the Libyan opposition asking for foreign military intervention and the Syrian opposition being explicitly against it.

The hell they are. Several leaders of the opposition have specifically asked for it, but they definitely haven't said no to it.
posted by empath at 5:12 PM on February 21, 2012


Wait, so you want military involvement in Syria now?

As far as I can tell, Libya had several things going for intervention that Syria doesn't:

Libya's opposition was more united than Syria's; the Arab League backed broader military intervention; the theater was less urban, with more space for operations; NATO hadn't just intervened militarily in another conflict; the threat of indiscriminate civilian shelling was seen as more acute than it is with Syria; Qaddafi had spent decades establishing himself as a mad-dog dictator in a way that al-Assad just hasn't.

Further, the framing you're going for here is kinda silly and trollish: Just because someone supports one intervention (which does seem to have been largely successful), doesn't mean that they have to support all others. In all interventions there is a real cost, and it's entirely reasonable to say that intervening in Syria at this point seems like it's more of a risk with less reward and thus not worth doing as things stand.
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 AM on February 22, 2012


The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said on Wednesday it was coming to the view that military intervention was the only solution to the nearly year-old crisis.

"We are really close to seeing this military intervention as the only solution. There are two evils, military intervention or protracted civil war," Basma Kodmani, a senior SNC official, told a news conference in Paris.

Kodmani said the SNC was also proposing that Russia, an ally of Damascus, help persuade Damascus to guarantee safe passage to humanitarian convoys ferrying aid to civilians.

She said the SNC proposed setting up corridors from Lebanon to the besieged city of Homs, from Turkey to Idlib and from Jordan to Deraa.

The SNC will also urge Egypt, at a Friends of Syria meeting due to be held in Tunis on Friday, to restrict access to the Suez Canal to any ships carrying weapons to the Syrian government. [Reuters]

posted by empath at 11:37 AM on February 22, 2012


That quote doesn't really address any of the things I wrote. I don't have a philosophical objection to military intervention, I just haven't been convinced it's the right thing to do here. I didn't think it was a good thing to do in Egypt either.
posted by klangklangston at 11:21 PM on February 22, 2012


The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said on Wednesday it was coming to the view that military intervention was the only solution to the nearly year-old crisis.

"We are really close to seeing this military intervention as the only solution. There are two evils, military intervention or protracted civil war," Basma Kodmani, a senior SNC official, told a news conference in Paris.


This is very recent news and I'd guess it will affect the opinions of many in the West who supported the intervention in Libya towards also supporting an intervention in Syria.
posted by Anything at 5:10 AM on February 23, 2012


"I think the reports of my survival may be exaggerated," she wrote. "In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information."

On Tuesday night, Sayed also lodged a final missive. "Baba Amr is being exterminated. Do not tell me our hearts are with you because I know that. We need campaigns everywhere across the world and inside the country. People should protest in front of embassies and everywhere. Because in hours, there will be no more Baba Amr. And I expect this message to be my last."
posted by empath at 6:58 PM on February 23, 2012


So, what would you have the US do, Empath?
posted by klangklangston at 12:57 AM on February 24, 2012


Sanctions. I'm against military intervention,
posted by empath at 4:49 AM on February 24, 2012


Well, I think everyone here is against military intervention, but the article was just about how sanctions don't work.
posted by klangklangston at 9:03 PM on February 25, 2012


« Older 11 year old Nanaka showing off her impressive skat...  |  Paul Cornell, noted genre auth... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments