Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Debate: Effectiveness of Sanctions

In my opinion, the economic sanctioning of countries has, to date, been misused, overused, and has proven a relatively ineffective foreign policy tool or economic weapon. Now that I have laid that qualifier out, I must take the position that sanctions remain tool that should not be abandoned. I maintain that states, particularly major powers, may make effective use of sanctions if they are practiced with less frequency, greater strategic consideration, and within certain constraints.

There are many examples of where sanctions have failed. US sanctions on Cuba did contribute to Cuba’s turn to Russia, nor has their continuation since the end of the Cold War brought any advantage to the US or any political change in Cuba. Iran has not quailed under the pressure of US sanctions, instead, it has turned to Russia and China for trade and weapons. The Iranians have also demonstrated that sanctions alone will not end their nuclear program. North Korea too has refused to bend to economic pressure, even though its people have suffered great starvation.

Perhaps I exaggerate but it appears that sanctions have been used as some great economic club that can be slammed down upon countries with the expectation that this will force their governments and people to surrender unconditionally. This is clearly not the case. Sanctions have appeared unsuccessful at effectively turning public opinion against their governments in states like Iran and often resulting in increased public hostility toward the state imposing the sanctions. Additionally, the long-term implementation of sanctions perpetuates hostility and exacerbates the miserable conditions of the common people.

So, what has gone wrong? I think that trade sanctions have been ineffective primarily because they have been improperly utilized. Too often, sanctions have been employed (particularly by the US) in disputes without being coupled with meaningful negotiations. For international disputes to be resolved, negotiations must take place. Even Teddy Roosevelt, who advocated carrying the “big stick,” admitted that you need people who “speak softly.” Sanctions are not a substitute for diplomatic bargaining. They are, rather, a tool, or a “stick,” to be used in tandem with various “carrots.”

As a diplomatic stick, sanctions would be more effective as a rather short knife than a giant club. Sanctions would be most effective when used as a short term tool, to make an economic or diplomatic point. Any elegant strategy, like an eloquent speech, should not rest too long on one point, but move on before the effect become stale. In addition to being used in the short term, sanctions could be more effectively utilized by targeting specific industries. If several key countries used this strategy, sanctions could strike at key economic targets within another offending country without necessarily creating hardship for the general population. This tactic might even allow pressure to be exerted more directly on those who hold greater influence within that country’s government, as key players often tend to be closely tied to a country’s key industries. Essentially, it is time to turn sanctions into surgical airstrikes – carpet bombing went out with World War II.

Russia To Deploy Thousands of Troops to Patrol Borders in Georgia

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Azerbaijan wants Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Georgia Faces Mutiny at Military Base

As Georgian President Saakashvili clings to the presidency in Georgia after the devastating Russia-Georgia war of 2008, Georgia appears ripe for increasing internal turmoil. Particularly if foriegn powers are playing games in Georgian internal politics. See this great article for a report on a recent mutiny by several Georgian military men.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A New Cold War?

Since the Russia-Georgia war of last year, alarm over Russia’s use of military force has spread through Europe and the US. In particular, the US and Russia have been drifting steadily apart. Russia has defensively responded to US attempts to expand NATO, including US backed efforts to grant membership to Ukraine and Georgia. This would bring the western security apparatus deep within former Soviet territory, a belt of states that Russia perceives as a strategic buffer.

Tension between Europe, the US, and Russia is not only about military security, however. It is also about energy security. Georgia occupies a key geographic space through which oil and natural gas pipelines pass on their way from the Caspian Sea and on to Western markets. Russia’s post-Cold War economic recovery has been largely based on growing energy revenues, and it is attempting to maintain this economic strength by monopolize the sale of energy resources from the greater Caspian Sea region (the Caucasus and Central Asia). The pipelines passing through Georgia, then, undercut Russia in this regard.

Georgia has also been a recent darling of the West, as the result of democracy’s triumph in the “Rose Revolution.” Russia has viewed the spread of democracy in its former Soviet republics with suspicion, as the subsequent elections have led to pro-Western, anti-Russian leaders gaining power. So, when the Russia-Georgia war began (under murky circumstances) it was easy to perceive the conflict through a paradigm of East versus West, free world versus centralized power, and David versus Goliath. It didn’t take long before the media in the US began talking about the possibility of a “New Cold War” emerging between the US and Russia. Some in the media and the academy, however, have gone even further. They have claimed that we are seeing not a “New Cold War” but essentially a “Cold War II.” The idea is that the old conflict between Russia and the US was merely been “frozen” or buried temporarily until Russia could restructure its economy and re-emerge as a more powerful challenger to US hegemony.

Both the idea of a New Cold War and a Cold War II are understandable given the American experience with Russia, but they provide a skewed paradigm from which to view the Russia-Georgia war or Russia-US tensions. The greatest and most memorable conflict the US has ever had with Russia was the Cold War. This conflict left an indelible mark on the American consciousness, and now when Russia appears to be the enemy, there is really only one conflict with which Americans associate Russia. Europeans have had a longer experience with Russia throughout history and are more likely to realize that East versus West tensions long preceded the Cold War. They also are more likely to understand Russia’s desire for a security buffer, as it has been invaded various times across its long and open borders. Indeed, Germany and other European states have been the ones putting the brakes on US attempts to bring NATO to Russia’s doorstep.

To really understand why this talk of another Cold War is a misunderstanding, however, one really only has to look at the defining characteristics of the Cold War. That conflict divided the world in to two major power blocks: the communist world versus the “free world.” Why was the “free world” billed as free? This was partly due to the prevalence of democracy in the states forming the core of this block, but it was particularly due to the free market orientation of these states. The ideology that divided the world was primarily rooted in opposing economic visions. The Cold War was about free markets and individual rights versus command economies and community rights. Today, Russia has maintained its tendency to centralize power but has embraced capitalism. It is capitalism, even if not completely free, that has brought the Russian economy back from the dead. Russia is not advocating a new world economic system, and it is no longer attempting to export ideology around the world. Instead, it is pursuing its own specific economic and security interests in order to maximize its power as an independent actor on the international stage.

This sort of behavior is actually a return to pre-Cold War days. It is much closer to the practice of Realpolitik and the idea of power balancing. Instead of a new Cold War engulfing the globe, we may be seeing a pattern of conflict much more similar to the power games played out between Great Britain and the Tsarist Russian empire during the 19th Century. The competition between these two, which focused on the greater Caspian Sea region has been referred to as the “Great Game.” Today, a New Great Game would not only have similar international competition between global powers, however, it also must consider the strength of growing regional powers like Turkey and Iran. There is not a new single, worldwide conflict brewing behind the Russia-Georgia war, but a complex new set of conflicts involving various different actors and differing interests.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I've created this blog to begin provide an outlet for my interest in international politics. Content may range, but Eurasia in particular will receive attention.