…by Henry Kamens, …with New Eastern Outlook, Moscow
[ Editor’s note: Henry Kamens brings us a very good analysis of the ongoing three ring circus that US sanctions policy has become. It is beginning to reveal itself as primarily a “jobs program” for State Dept. officials, because we can easily see from the track record they almost never have the desired effect.
On the contrary, they often create new enemies and antagonists among all those caught in the free fire zone of the knee-jerk, showboating sanctions.
The Russians understand this fully, as they came out early by announcing that they would not be engaging in corresponding sanctions against the West for exactly the reasons I describe. This is why I have editorially been referring to the Russian diplomacy as representing the only grownups in the room.
So why does the West continue to use these failed tactics? The most obvious but overlooked reasons, never touched on by corporate media, is that we now live in a total-deniability culture, where top political officials routinely accept no responsibility for their own manufactured disasters.
When is the last time you saw anyone, anywhere, accept responsibility for their failures?
Without accountability, it really makes no difference what the name of your political structure is. It is an autocratic one. And to call it a democracy just increases the shame all the more for putting your stupidity on such shameless display.
So the bad news is that we are seeing a disturbing pattern of the people in free countries all over the world accepting this ongoing fraud with very little resistance. The bad guys are just loving that, and we can expect more of the same from them. And part of that cruel twist to this house of horrors, we… like them… will accept no responsibility for our failure either… Jim W. Dean ]
– First published April 8, 2014 –
When all else fails, and out of revenge, the need to posture for the sake of it or lack of interest in really doing anything about the situation in hand, a country or international organisation can turn to sanctions.
We have seen these works so ineffectively in Cuba since the 1960’s, where the people they are supposed to be supporting suffer the most from them.
US economic sanctions against that country have been judged as a failure because rather than persuade people to rise up against their government for upsetting the US they have been blamed on the US itself, playing into the hands of the Cuban government.
Now the US is going to impose sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, a country where, according to the US propaganda machine, the people have already suffered enough. As always in such cases the party imposing the sanctions, the “punishing party”, claims to be trying to redress a wrong.
The idea is that Russia will see the error of its ways. If this were likely to be so, the Soviet Union would not have lasted for 70 years and previous protests against Russian behaviour would not have resulted in the same US claiming that it could not go any further due to the economic harm Russia could inflict on its neighbours in retaliation.
As we saw when Russia imposed a gas embargo on Ukraine during the Orange Revolution government’s rule, the West can reduce but not actually prevent this harm, as it does not have the resources to do so, and knows it. Withdrawing Western economic resources from Russia is hardly going to harm the government of that country, even though its people may be left with fewer choices.
The policy choice between economic sanctions and military coercion cuts across the theoretical divide in international relations theory between liberal institutionalism on the one hand and realism, which is about actors, not instruments, on the other.
One would think there would be a clear link between international cooperation and the successful imposition of sanctions. The results of more or less empirical studies however are rather surprising.
Speaking with one voice
The wording of the US bill which would allow it to impose mandatory sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against selected persons demonstrates that posturing rather than effect is the main purpose of this move. The US, and the US alone, decides who is on the list of persons said to have been engaged in violence or serious human rights abuses in Ukraine.
Obviously the inclusion of any person’s name on this list can be challenged in any court as the criteria for making this decision are unclear. The only way to demonstrate that the person is guilty will be to show that they have been tried and convicted of a specific offence by a court – which would impose its own sanctions, making any US move irrelevant and nullifying the intended political effect of economic sanctions the US knows will not damage Russia, only some Russians.
Why now and not before?
The democratically elected Ukrainian government, whatever its faults, was not overthrown by the Ukrainian people. It was a victim of the previous US failure to get its own way.
Having installed Yanukovych by means of a coup and then seen him ejected by the electorate, the US was not going to go away and lie down.
The same agitators who never disguised their role in the Orange Revolution are still in Ukraine, insisting that protests over other issues were protests in favour of their pet causes, paying snipers to kill indiscriminately and list all the dead as their supporters, etcetera.
All this happened against a background of Russia asserting it has a “sphere of privileged interests” in its near abroad which included Ukraine. Therefore it might have been expected that Russia would respond to further US agitation with direct action. Instead it did nothing. Its ambassador didn’t say a word, its parliament appealed for calm, its troops stayed at home.
Eventually it moved in to protect the ethnic Russian population of Crimea when they protested that their rights were being violated. This may or may not have been true, but if the Western powers can intervene when one section of the population claims the same thing they can hardly protest when Russia does likewise. The people of Crimea then voted democratically to leave Ukraine and apply for membership of the Russian Federation.
Crimea was granted the right of self-determination – as the West allegedly granted to Kosovo, Montenegro, half of Europe after the First World War and large numbers of former colonies and states it created through its own wars and diplomacy, regardless of what the countries they used to be part of thought about it. Russia had an agenda, but so had the West on all the above occasions. Now, for following the lead of the West, Russia is facing sanctions.
Are sanctions worth the price?
Any sanctions imposed will not have a broad effect on the whole population. As in all such cases, certain goods and services will be subject to bans of different degrees of effectiveness.
Sanctions will be imposed on individuals, but their effect will not be consistent. Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy PM, is one of the many Russian officials targeted by U.S. for their involvement in Crimea’s vote to join the Russian Federation.
He tweeted earlier in March: “Comrade @BarackObama, what should do those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or U didn’t think about it?”
Russia will be excluded from participation in the FIFA World Cup, an event most Americans are ambivalent towards, if they know it exists, making it an easy target for attack, like sport in general. In the UK some defence contracts have been suspended, and with them exports.
Military exports are currently worth approximately £90 million to the UK, and include things like cloth for uniforms, alloy wheels, nuts and bolts for armoured vehicles, handheld radios and visors for pilots’ helmets. It does not appear that the loss of such items will have any impact on Russia, which can manufacture them all domestically, and the ban on exporting them will only hurt the suppliers.
Therefore the Russian state is unlikely to be damaged by sanctions, but certain sections of the population can expect to be hit disproportionately – with the state obliged to do nothing to prevent this as it is the result of other countries’ sanctions.
The US and UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, for example, are estimated to have cost the lives of at least 500,000 Iraqis. The goods subject to sanction included the chemicals used in water purification. The absence of these led to infants and toddlers dying from the fatal dehydration caused by the diarrhea resulting from gastroenteritis.
Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State and UN Ambassador, pretty much summed up US policy back in 1996 when asked about the death of these 500,000 Iraqi children. She said it was “a very hard choice”, but all things considered “we think the price is worth it”.
As yet there is no word on how many dead Russian children constitute an acceptable price. However, it is not difficult to imagine what the US would say if a Russian politician had said the same in support of Russian sanctions.
Symbolic aid to Ukraine
Despite its rhetoric the US has tacitly admitted that these latest sanctions have no real substance. It has linked them, as is common practice, to granting aid to the “good” side in the conflict it is punishing Russia for, i.e. the new government of Ukraine. But what is being offered Ukraine is more an insult than an affirmation.
Ariel Cohen, a Russian and Eurasian affairs analyst at the neocon Heritage Foundation in Washington, has said that the $1 billion the U.S. is providing in loan guarantees, even when coupled with the IMF and EU pledges, is a drop in the bucket.
The IMF has earmarked 18 billion for Ukraine, but this too will be of little use. This is because it comes with the usual strings attached – strings which have long since brought the IMF and World Bank into disrepute into the developing world.
The IMF has, as always, imposed a “structural adjustment” on Ukraine in exchange for its assistance. Under the terms of this, pensions will be slashed and unpopular austerity measures will be implemented in many other social spheres. This is described as the “price of independence” but it is a price independent nations are increasingly reluctant to pay.
Argentina, Brazil, India and many other countries have complained publicly that their IMF and World Bank programmes have led to financial collapse, environmental devastation and extreme social consequences such as mass migration to already overcrowded cities. Many countries thus “helped” are obliged spend more on servicing IMF debts than providing social services, with not enough to show for the money spent.
The aid being offered Ukraine will put it in permanent hock to the US but not actually help the country develop its economy or services. Indeed, the Asian Development Bank in Azerbaijan predicts that it may well have the opposite effect to the one intended. Russia believes that the sanctions already imposed will not be tightened further, as the European Union would lose 1 billion euro by doing so.
The sanctions will not allow the Russian economy to overcome a period of stagnation in 2014, but the incorporation of Crimea will, as it will expand domestic demand and the massive investments (about $10 bn) which will be made in connecting it to the rest of the RF will boost heavy industry and give it a serious package of orders.
Russia is a major player in the global energy sector. It supplies nearly a third of Europe’s energy needs and is counted amongst the world’s top oil producers. If the US and can impose sanctions, so can Russia. Whenever Russia has threatened to disrupt energy supplies before, the West has caved in, just like that.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged that that the West has not yet reached a stage where it is ready to impose economic sanctions on Russia, stressing that she hoped for a political solution to the stalemate over Ukraine. Even Voice of America, VOA, has echoed what most officials in Russia already know.
In a piece entitled Analysts See Little Impact From Western Sanctions on Russia, Political scientist Stephen Farnsworth from the University of Mary Washington says that:
“It is a difficult challenge for United States and EU to make sanctions sufficiently painful and just enough to ‘save face’ as we know from not only practice but the academic literature that sanctions do more harm than good and it is difficult to correct the damage done, especially on the diplomatic level.
Russia has read the academic literature and understood it, ‘smart sanctions’ won’t work – sanctions don’t work and it fully understands that the US, EU and other countries are never going be able to close ranks tight enough to even make sanctions painful.”
The US has to make some sort of statement after getting its way in Ukraine, even if only to detract attention from the suspicions that the breakup of Ukraine was planned all along so that each side would have its own sphere of influence – which is what has happened, and was predicted in a previous column in this journal. Economic sanctions however merely force someone else to pay the price.
If Ukraine is now going to be someone else’s problem, shouldn’t those who will actually be hurt by the sanctions be given the power to resolve it, rather than the politicians who created the problem in the first place when they considered it “their” problem? Or would this be taking democracy too far, in the eyes of its irredeemable proponents.
He is working to find time now to database his extensive video archive of Americana and interviews filmed during his public TV days so individual topic segments can be key word searched to quickly use in future multi-media projects.
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