Since the end of World War II and the emergence of the Bretton Woods Institutions, the idea of global rule-based order evolved considerably, the Western-led efforts to create the International Institution started with the Wilsonian vision, but that vision was cut short by the nationalist forces in Europe when Hitler and others disrupted world peace with a global conflict. The end of world war II offered an opportunity to the Western powers to make a true society and make it work, thus with the evolution of multilateralism, globalization, and international organizations helped the world to build a genuinely interconnected International system, where no nation can tread its own path but is always dependent on other nations, thus it’s every action has consequences. To achieve foreign policy objectives economic sanctions work as initial softening of the targeted country, organization, or any individual, but it’s not always the case as countries with dilapidated human rights record, war criminals, terrorists, and individuals of particular concern can be sanctioned without any reversal so that they cannot continue with their violations of international law, thus economic sanctions are not only categorized as the form of economic coercion. When we tie economic sanctions with a foreign policy we include its various implementation phases as well because without the implementation or enforcement the economic sanction will be of no use, in this case, we can term the naval blockade as an enforcer of those sanctions if we are pursuing it under the foreign policy objectives. The Central point here I want to make is that in today’s world the economic sanctions are an effective tool to achieve foreign policy objectives and the efficacy of these sanctions is because of the interconnected global economic system, in which the West is still seen as a dominant player. In this paper, we will explore various dimensions of economic sanctions under the garb of foreign policy objectives, and will thus focus on various circumstances and conditions will ascertain the legality of those economic sanctions and once imposed the strategic and economic consequences of enforcing those sanctions, in doing so we will focus on a variety of examples from the real world politics. As we are exploring economic sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy, here we won’t be able to enlist examples from WTO or UN, as they are international organizations, but we will be using examples from EU, because its both an economic and political union, but WTO and UN do ascertain the legality of economic sanctions.
Economic sanctions are not a new concept but it existed from ancient times and is pursued by kingdoms and states throughout history mainly as a military tool to subdue the enemy. Thus the economic sanctions have clear foreign policy undertones. But the economic sanction after the peace of Westphalia was first used by nation-states following the creation of the League of Nations (Economic Sanctions, 2019). The traditional embargo tactics emerged in the colonial era when countries developed seapower capabilities, and thus naval blockades were the main enforcer of economic sanctions (Economic Sanctions, 2019). But the development of International Organizations following the end of world war II, and later after the dissolution of soviet Union marked the beginning of a new era of the multilateral world, in which the World Trade Organization became the successor General Agreement on Trade & Tariffs the GATT (Masters, 2017). And the new era offered new ways to enforce economic sanctions, both in terms of bilateral sanctions or organizational sanctions of any country, or any other entity. Sanctions are thus not just imposed by a country on another country, but also imposed by international and regional organizations such as the United Nations, WTO, and the European Union.
Economic Sanctions. Circumstances and Conditions.
Economic sanctions are imposed by the nation as a coercive measure to halt any economic activity that goes contrary to the national interests of that state. But sometimes these sanctions create a dilemma, as one nation is friendly or an ally while the other is an enemy state. Like we have the case of Nord Stream II, a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea (Nord-stream2.com, 2017). The gas pipeline goes contrary to the United States global Liquified Natural Gas plans, as it is now set to become the largest LNG producing nation (Anon, n.d.). The Russian pipeline will allow Germany to get Russian gas throughout the year without any disruptions as it will become a direct buyer of the natural gas, and will escape being trap in a Russia-Ukraine political scuffle. The United States to halt the construction of the pipeline imposed economic sanctions, by putting the PEES Act (Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act) into the National Defence Authorization Act, to limit the role of the Western technological firm in the construction of Nord Stream II pipeline (Atlantic Council, 2019). This decision was taken by the Trump administration in circumstances that will create a permanent dent in the US global energy future, as Germany is well connected to its European Neighbours and any direct gas link will surely extend to other countries as well, putting a question mark on its European energy market utilization plans. The sanction bill provided a few months window to Western firms to pull out of the Russian-backed pipeline. It was a result of these economic sanctions that all major Western firms withdrew from the construction putting a lid on the project for almost a year (www.spglobal.com, 2020). Thus the efficacy of economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool cannot be overruled and is used excessively in international politics. The US sanctions on Nord Stream II is an interesting case because it’s against a major power, which is Russia in this case. Quick compliance can minimize and entirely reduce the cost of economic sanctions (Doxey, 1980). The Western companies involved in the construction of Nord Stream quickly withdrew from the project to escape the sanctions. But in the case of major industrial power like Russia, compliance is out of the question. As there is a must reaction cycle to the economic sanctions (Doxey, 1980). Russia brought back the project with its indigenous technologies and national companies to complete the pipeline, though missing a crucial completion deadline this year due to US sanctions. Another important aspect is the economic sanctions and state responsibility, as China is continuing its crackdown on Hong Kong protesters there are growing calls in the UK to impose magnitsky style sanctions on selected individuals directly linked to human rights violations in Hong Kong. These kinds of sanctions are powerful foreign policy tools to tarnish the credibility of those individuals internationally. The UK is weighing whether to impose these sanctions on China as an answer to its flouting of the terms of understanding with the UK over Hong Kong (edm.parliament.uk, n.d.). State responsibility is thus the main reason for these potential sanctions, to impose costs on Chinese actions (Routledge & CRC Press, n.d.). The magnitsky sanctions were first formulated in the US, as being the economic center of the world, and the dependence of other major economic powers and institutions give it an upper hand in freezing the assets of individuals involved in violations of international law. The IEEPA, The International Emergency Economic Powers Act gives the US a comparative edge to freeze the assets of these individuals (Alerassool, 1993).
Unilateral sanctions are the most rampant form of sanctions imposed by the US on many enemy states like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, etc, while also on renegade nations like Pakistan, and few Latin American countries. (Routledge & CRC Press, n.d.). The United States is an active player in the South Asian region, as it is finding a suitable way to pull out its troops from Afghanistan, prior to that since 1970, South Asia remained a proliferation concern for the White House, as two of the leading countries in South Asia, India and Pakistan intended to acquire nuclear weapons, though there were no prior economic sanctions on Pakistan, Indian space related trade activities with the Soviet Union came under US sanctions. After the nuclear tests in 1998 US activated an economic sanctions regime on both countries, to achieve the non-proliferation policy objectives. The sanctions were imposed using The Glenn Amendment, which was enacted in 1977, which was formulated to impose on countries that detonate a nuclear device (South Asian Voices, 2018). The economic sanctions against these new nuclear powers did achieve its intended foreign policy objectives, as both nuclear powers focused greatly on the non-proliferation aspect of these weapons, and invested a right share to beef up the nuclear command and control, to avoid theft of the nuclear device and its proliferation pathways. The sanctions were lifted later after compliance from both nations as both nations imposed a moratorium on nuclear testing and since 1998, no other nuclear test was conducted in the South Asian region.
Trade relations are either harmonious or full friction. This was the case in a recent US-China Trade relations, which saw an upward trajectory for over 2 decades and was turned into a friction saga by the Trump administration, as Trump hefty tariffs on Chinese imports. The US is leading in the innovation industry, and thus repeatedly blamed China for Intellectual Property theft, to combat this theft, US Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen and Republican Senator Ben Sasse introduced targeted legislation to punish China for the IP theft by imposing economic sanctions on Chinese technological firms (Wolfe, 2020). This particular upcoming legislation shows that the concept of economic sanctions evolved considerably and now there are a separate set of legislations for each kind of violation, which can determine the circumstances and conditions of the breach, and these set of laws provide the executive with a foreign policy tool to impose sanctions and halt any potential danger to the economy. These new targeted sanction legislation according to some experts ushered in an era of smart economic sanctions (LSE International History, 2015). These kinds of smart sanctions give a credible narrative to the sanctions as it is not targeted at the innocent people of that country who don’t pose a threat to that country’s interest but affect only those entities which are being sanctioned or whose assets are being frozen.
Modern trade relations are regulated between nations via bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, as developing and underdeveloped nations seel more trade with developed countries, these industrialized countries offer certain trade concessions in the form of market access as is the case of European Union GSP (Generalized Scheme of Preferences) plus status (Generalized System of Pr Generalized System of Prefer references HANDBOOK ON THE SCHEME OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, n.d.). This kind of trade access depends on developing countries’ human rights, environment, climate change, and level of democratic standards, and low in these indicators will automatically shun the GSP plus status for that country. This kind of trade instrument thus turns into economic sanctions as it imposes costs on that particular regime to mend its ways or lose a trade partner in Europe. The GSP plus is a strong foreign policy tool to change the attitudes of hybrid regimes.
The legality of the Economic Sanctions.
The economic sanctions imposed by any country or Multilateral organization does raise an issue of legality, as mentioned earlier that most foreign policy objectives pursued by states are based on national interests and thus to protect those interests that state can go to any length using its economic relevance or might to hurt the other state. This on certain occasions raises an issue of the legal status of those sanctions. Here we have a relevant example from the US-Iran rivalry over the decades. The US is one of the first countries to link national security with International law, and thus used economic sanctions as a foreign policy, trespassing its legality. The US economic sanctions regime against Iran since a revolution and the hostage crisis is the most sustained economic sanctions framework in the world, in 1996, the US enacted the ILSA Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (Bhala, 1998). From that era in one form or another sanction, regimes remained in place against Iran. In 2015, a breakthrough nuclear deal JCPOA The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed between Iran and P5 states including the United States ended the sanction regime for a brief period of time (Armscontrol.org, 2019). Trump on winning the elections reimplemented the maximum pressure policy on Iran and breaching all International conventions announced a unilateral withdrawal from the Peace Deal and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran (Gould, 2018). This withdrawal places the EU in a precarious position. As it saw no legal justification to withdraw from the deal, as Iran was complying as per the official IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency reports. The EU implemented its part of the deal with Iran till now. The European Union devised a trade framework with Iran to escape the US sanctions this framework is known as Special Purpose Vehicle (ECFR, n.d.). The US over-reliance on these trade sanctions compelled some of the biggest Trump critics, Nobel Prize Winner Professor Joseph Stiglitz, that the EU and China which are under illegal tariffs, must impose joint economic sanctions on the US. Illegal coercion contributes to a sustained sanction regime (Amazon.com, 2020). The US has a long history of legislation pertaining to economic sanctions as mentioned earlier that IEEPA was promulgated in 1977, the act was a replacement of the Trade with Enemy Act TEWA, in 1917 (Rogers, 1989). The repeated violation of International conventions brought the US in a very precarious situation, and two successive Presidents, President Bush, and Obama strived hard to change that image and it was the reason that the US opened to China by facilitating it to join WTO and the Obama administration did a lot to change the course of history with Iran. Which was later undone by President Trump.
The secondary economic sanctions are the right way to deal with rogue states and their leaders, as they commit mass atrocities against their own people, targeting the whole population under the stated foreign policy objective is unlawful (Fabre, 2016). The sanctions policy in the West evolved rapidly after the fall of the Soviet Union, as it was the beginning of a unipolar era, as the year 1992 saw the most number of economic sanctions imposed (PIIE, 2016). As mentioned earlier, it’s now been four decades that Iran is under a sanction regime. Many experts believe that unilateral sanctions are illegal from the perspective of international law (Marossi and Bassett, 2015). The recent Chinese opening to Latin America and Central Asia is also under the US lens, and countries relying on Chinese loans come under intense scrutiny, as most nations go to IMF and world bank to bring some monetary and fiscal discipline in their countries, the Trump administration put on notice all the renegade nations and due to United States influence in these institutions their payments were delayed or halted, this is tantamount to indirect economic sanctions, but it does violate the principles of these international organizations and is thus illegal to influence or disrupt the process if all conditions are agreed upon between that particular state and the IMF or World Bank.
Consequences of the Economic Sanctions.
There are multifaceted consequences of the economic sanctions, if economic sanctions are imposed due to economic expediency to punish or change the behaviour of nations which are involved in predatory trade or dumping practices, its outcome is always positive, But if the main reason behind imposing economic sanction is political and tied to the achieving the foreign policy objectives then it can create large humanitarian disasters. As seen in the case of Iraq, which came under sanctions regime in 1990 (Breuning, 2007). This was the beginning of globalization and due sanctions regimes in place the globalization never reached Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba and Iran and these are one of the worst places on earth in terms of the standards of living and security. Many of the International organizations such as FATF Financial Action Task Force, which is also known as a minilateral organization, in which powerful countries influence can label any country as a grey list or black list, if this is done through unbiased scrutiny then it’s always produced great results to cap money laundering and terror financing (Nance, 2017). Due to political reasons FATF is used for foreign policy objectives, any grey or balck listing can tarnish a country’s economy in which the main victims are the common people. The targeted economic sanctions such as freezing of assets compel dictators to look inward and exploit the local economy to its own advantage thus creating more misery for the people, thus Humanitarian consequences are the multifold of the economic sanctions. Some economic sanctions against established major powers can bite back, as is the case of Russia and China, which devised its own sanctions regimes against the EU and United States. Russia is a major gas supplier to most of Europe, and it devised its own expediencies to deal with targeted US sanctions on its oil, gas and LNG companies, these expedencies allowed these countries to bypass those sanctions resulting in a foreign or energy policy failure for the other nations (www.nlb.gov.sg, n.d.). The non economic assessment to gauge the efficacy of these sanctions is often carried by our political think tanks, which rarely ascertain the costs of those sanctions on those companies. But platforms like S&P Global, Bloomberg, The Economist and Forbes do come up with irrefutable data that show where these sanctions are hurting. The multifaceted consequences make it clear that economic sanctions come with ethical and legal costs for the nation who imposed such sanctions, and in case of major powers these sanctions can backfire.
All the examples explained in the paper clearly depicts that political expediency is the major impetus behind imposing economic sanctions, and these expenedicies are thus part of the larger and sustained foreign policy objective of any nation. US and EU are in military and economic alliance and thus have more potent frameworks to impose the most effective economic sanctions, new emerging powers like Russia, China India and Brazil are well placed to impose their own sanctions, but due to their precarious or ungraded position in the rule based order make their sanctions less effective. International organizations like the EU and UN are not intended to serve the foreign policy objectives of any nation in imposing heavy sanction of tariffs on any country, but due to constant blackmailing of the WHO World Health Organization, World Trade Organization and UN as a whole, under the Trump administration created so many new precedents. The EU as a political bloc can also impose economic sanctions based on its urge to achieve foreign policy goals in any particular region.