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Article by Middle East specialist Stephen Zunes, Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco (firstname.lastname@example.org). ******************** Are Iraqi Sanctions Immoral? By Stephen Zunes Foreign Service Journal / February 1999 http://www.afsa.org/fsj/Feb99/AreiraquiSanctionsInmoral.html WITH THOUSANDS OF CIVILIANS DYING, AND SADDAM STILL ENTRENCHED, CAN SANCTIONS STILL BE JUSTIFIED The question of whether and under what circumstances the United States should impose economic sanctions on foreign countries has long been a source of controversy. Critics on both the left and the right have advocated and condemned the use of sanctions, often based in part on the ideological orientation of the regime in question. Some conservatives of a libertarian persuasion oppose sanctions on principle since they interfere with the rights of investors. Indeed, with the creation of the World Trade Organization, it has become more difficult to legally justify sanctions on non-economic issues at all. In addition, recent efforts by the United States to enforce its unilateral sanctions against Cuba and Iran on foreign companies have led to heated diplomatic exchanges with our Canadian and European allies. One of the biggest criticisms of the use of economic sanctions, however, has not been in the legal or political realm, but with regard to ethical questions over their impact on the civilian population. Most people recognize that civilians will, in the short term, inevitably suffer to some degree from economic sanctions. However, it is hoped that this suffering will thereby spur the population to challenge the policies of the government which led to the imposition of sanctions and perhaps even lead to the overthrow of the offending regime. Sanctions, then, while not painless, are often seen as a nonviolent alternative to military intervention as a means of applying pressure to recalcitrant regimes. In the case of Iraq, however, ongoing United Nations sanctions _ most vigorously supported by the United States _ may have actually been more destructive than war, in terms of the number of lives lost as a result. While there is virtually no opposition to the United Nations' strict weapons embargo against Iraq, the mbargo against civilian trade has created great controversy due to its humanitarian consequences and questionable political effectiveness. Though overshadowed here in the United States in recent months by renewed military confrontations between the United States and Iraq, the sanctions regime has become the major concern for Iraq and much of the Middle East. Indeed, it was the perceived lack of prospects for lifting the sanctions which prompted Iraq's defiance of United Nations inspectors, prompting the recent military confrontations. The Iraqis have seemed resigned to heavy air strikes, with many expressing the sense that they had very little left to lose. Sanctions That Bite Sanctions were originally imposed by the United Nations in August 1990, immediately following Iraq's invasion, occupation and annexation of Kuwait. There was little controversy within the international community or in the United States about such a course of action. Indeed, many believe that had the U.N. imposed sanctions following Saddam Hussein's 1980 invasion of Iran or his use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, he would not have been emboldened to invade Kuwait in the first place. When finally imposed in August of 1990, the sanctions were the most rigorously enforced in history. The CIA estimated in a report that autumn that U.N. sanctions were blocking 90 percent of Iraqi imports and 97 percent of Iraqi exports. (Since the Iraqi defeat in 1991, sanctions have been less effective.) Sanctions alone were insufficient to pressure the Iraqis to withdraw their forces, however. Some argue that the Bush administration's insistence that sanctions would continue even if Saddam Hussein withdrew his forces from Kuwait gave the Iraqis little incentive to comply. Furthermore, the simultaneous preparation for an armed assault caused many Iraqis who might otherwise have challenged the regime over the country's deteriorating economic situation to rally around the flag in the face of an imminent attack. Others, however, are convinced that Saddam Hussein would not have pulled out in any case and that sanctions alone were insufficient to force the Iraqi withdrawal. The war had a devastating impact on Iraq's civilian infrastructure, as the country experienced the heaviest bombing in world history. Unlike some other countries subjected to heavy air strikes, such as largely rural societies like Vietnam and Afghanistan, the heavily urbanized Iraqis were severely impacted by the sudden absence of clean drinking water, normal distribution systems for basic commodities and _ in part due to the fact that they are a largely arid country dependent on irrigation systems severely damaged by the bombing _ severe food shortages. Sanctions have remained in effect for the eight years since the war as a result of Iraq's less-than-full compliance with several provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 imposed at the end of the war. This has not only led to enormous human suffering, but many argue that it has been counterproductive to the broader U.S. goal of bringing down the Iraqi dictator. It was precisely out of Iraq's middle class that forces might have emerged capable of successfully challenging Saddam's regime. Having been reduced to penury, and struggling to survive, the middle class cannot be a base for political opposition. Thousands have emigrated. Indeed, as more and more families become dependent on government rations for their very survival, they are forced to cooperate even more with the government, and the already-high risks of challenging Saddam's rule have become too great for many. Critics of the current sanctions regime argue that the lifting of non-military sanctions would allow the country to be deluged with business people and other foreigners, creating an environment far more likely to result in a political opening than the current sanctions regime which places the country in impoverished isolation under Saddam's grip. Public Health Devastation There has been some limited media coverage in the United States of the hardships the sanctions have inflicted on the once-prosperous Iraqi middle class, such as professors selling their valuable books, families selling their pets and women selling their family jewelry in order to buy basic necessities, as food prices are now 12,000 times what they were in 1990. Yet it is Iraq's poor, particularly the children, who have suffered the most. Estimates of the total number of Iraqis killed as a result of malnutrition and preventable diseases as a direct consequence of the sanctions have ranged from a quarter million to over one million, the majority of whom have been children. UNICEF estimates that at least 4,500 Iraqi children are dying every month as a result of the sanctions. Indeed, perhaps there has been no other occasion during peacetime when so many people have been condemned to starvation and death from preventable diseases due to political decisions made overseas. While the repressive nature of Baathist rule under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s is well documented, the Iraqi regime _ like a number of fascist governments historically _ maintained a comprehensive and generous welfare state, generally doing a respectable job of meeting the nutritional, housing and health care needs of its population; indeed, Iraq had the highest per capita caloric intake in the Middle East. Most of the population had direct access to safe water and modern sanitation facilities; there was a wide network of well-functioning and well-supplied hospitals and health care centers. The overall economy was strong, with Iraq considered a "middle income" country, importing large numbers of foreign guest workers to fill empty spots in its growing economy. Now, it ranks as one of the most impoverished countries in the world. According to a 1997 report by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), "Four million people, one-fifth of the population, are currently starving to death in Iraq. Twenty-three percent of all children in Iraq have stunted growth, approximately twice the percentage before the war. Alarming food shortages are causing irreparable damage to an entire generation of children." The FAO further estimates that there has been a 72 percent rise in childhood malnourishment, affecting 32 percent of children under five. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that "there has been a six-fold increase in the mortality rate for children under five and the majority of the country's population has been on a semi-starvation diet." Does Saddam Care? These deaths are a result of inadequate medical supplies, impure water and nutritional deficiencies. With water purification and sewage systems heavily damaged by American bombing raids in 1991, and with the Iraqis unable to repair these facilities since the embargo prohibits the importation of spare parts, there has been a dramatic increase in typhoid, cholera and other illnesses which had largely been eliminated in Iraq prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles, and even their spare parts, are among the items banned. Hospitals are unable to acquire spare parts for incubators, kidney dialysis machines and other equipment. Even materials such as food and medicines not covered by the ban have become difficult to purchase due to the lack of capital. Electricity is irregular and conditions at hospitals are becoming increasingly unsanitary. With tap water no longer safe, a gallon of bottled water now costs as much as 500 times more than a gallon of gasoline. Iraq's primary source for foreign exchange, oil exports, is of course subject to the embargo, with the exception of a limited amount of petroleum which may be sold for food under strict U.N. monitoring. Until recently, Iraq was allowed to sell only $2 billion in oil every six months to purchase food. About one-third of that was allocated to Kuwait for reparations and to the U.N. for administrative costs. Though the FAO and the WHO have given Iraq high marks for their distribution of food and medicine, the U.N. estimates that about $4 billion is the minimum needed to meet basic needs for food and medicines. Over initial U.S. objections, the U.N. raised the permitted amount to $5.2 billion (of which $3.5 billion actually could go to Iraq) last spring, though the lack of spare parts for its oil industry has made it difficult for Iraq to produce that much oil. A full quarter of Iraq's school-aged population is no longer in school, in a country which previously had near-universal primary education. For those who can attend school, books and other educational resources are in extremely short supply. The U.S. has blamed the suffering on the Iraqi regime for its failure to more fully cooperate with the United Nations. Said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the National Press Club on May 12, 1998, "Saddam Hussein is the one who has the fate of his country in his hands, and he is the one who is responsible for starving children, not the United States of America." Furthermore, there has been some outcry at the Iraqi government's decision to use scarce resources for the construction of opulent mosques and additional palaces for Saddam Hussein, his family and associates, though the Iraqis claim that these use indigenous materials and are paid for in Iraqi dinars. Albright has justified the sanctions in part as a test to prove if Saddam "really cares about his people." Most knowledgeable observers of Iraq recognize that no such test is necessary; Saddam's primary concern has always been his own power. Indeed, Saddam Hussein is ultimately responsible for his people's suffering from the sanctions. But since it has long become apparent that such suffering is not altering Iraqi policy, one must also therefore raise the question of moral culpability on the part of the United States. Iraq's Totalitarian Regime Part of the ineffectiveness of the sanctions comes from the nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. It is more than simply another authoritarian Middle Eastern government; indeed, next to North Korea, it is the most totalitarian regime on the planet. Therefore, the ability of the population to organize effectively against the regime or its policies, particularly under dire economic conditions created by the sanctions, is severely limited. Indeed, this is why virtually every recognized Iraqi opposition group has come out against the sanctions regime. The potential political effectiveness of sanctions _ as well as their morality _ can be judged in part by the willingness of the opposition to have its people endure the hardships imposed. A counter-example would be the case of South Africa, where the black majority had long lobbied for a tough stance by the international community against the apartheid regime. Surprisingly, there is little debate in the U.S. Congress regarding the lifting of sanctions. Rather, some politicians would make them tougher. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) has called for a total blockade, including food. Some members of Congress, such as Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), have begun to publicly question its effectiveness. Much of the organized opposition has been among some churches, humanitarian organizations and peace groups, which have sent delegations to Iraq to bring medical supplies, often in direct defiance of the sanctions. Such acts of civil disobedience and the stories participants have brought back home to their congregations, civic groups and local media have begun to influence public opinion, though some individuals and organizations have compromised their credibility by citing exaggerated statistics and engaging in apologetics for the Iraqi regime. As word of the appalling conditions in Iraq has spread within the United States and other countries, pressure has grown for a change in policy. Though the humanitarian imperative has failed to resonate with the Clinton administration or Congress, the fact that the sanctions have had absolutely no tangible benefit in altering Iraqi policy may be enough to persuade U.S. policy makers to liberalize the sanctions regime in order to ease the human suffering. A Sanctions Quid Pro Quo? Part of the problem is that the United States has given Iraq little motivation to cooperate with its international obligations. For example, Madeleine Albright declared in March 1997 that the U.S. would veto any U.N. Security Council efforts to lift sanctions, even if Iraq finally came into full compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions; only if Saddam Hussein no longer ruled Iraq would the U.S. allow the sanctions regime to end. President Clinton reiterated this position in November 1997. This stand not only goes far beyond the original U.N. mandate _ it also gives the Iraqi government no incentive to cooperate: Saddam might be willing to make further compromises on issues of weapons production and inspector access if that would result in lifting sanctions, but not if sanctions would remain intact anyway. Indeed, Saddam's harassment of U.N. inspections was based largely on the realization that he has nothing to lose as long as the U.S. maintains its uncompromising position. It has long been recognized that for sanctions to work, one needs a carrot as well as a stick, something which the U.S. has largely failed to recognize. Indeed, there has been a historic tendency for governments to ignore the huge body of evidence that punishment doesn't change behavior of other governments as effectively as does reward. It would be far more effective for the United States, in consultation with other members of the Security Council, to offer to lift certain non-military sanctions in return for compliance with inspections and other outstanding issues of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, and to be specific as to what positive responses could be expected in return for certain improvements in behavior. Former U.N. Special Commission chief Rolf Ekeus has proposed just such a scenario, though the current UNSCOM leader, Richard Butler, has taken a more hard-line approach. The vigor with which the United States has pursued strict sanctions against Iraq over its failure to comply with sections of one Security Council resolution stands in stark contrast to the U.S. position blocking sanctions against governments allied with the United States _ such as Indonesia, Israel, Morocco and Turkey _ for their ongoing violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. This perception of a double standard has led the Iraqis, rightly or wrongly, to determine that the sanctions are punitive and politically motivated. Whereas sanctions against Iraq during the occupation of Kuwait were widely seen by ordinary Iraqis as the fault of their own government, the post-war sanctions are almost universally blamed on the United States and the West. The humanitarian crisis has also led to widespread resentment in the Arab world, even by those very much opposed to Saddam Hussein. Such resentment can spill over to anti-American violence. Indeed, along with U.S. support for Israel and the Saudi royal family, the continued sanctions against Iraq were among the main grievances expressed by terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. Morality and Consequences The morality of a particular foreign policy is tempered by its results. If human suffering from economic sanctions can advance a policy goal that would lead to less suffering in the long term, one could make the case that it was morally justified. Indeed, in an interview on "60 Minutes" regarding the devastating impact sanctions were having on the children of Iraq, Albright declared that "we think the price is worth it." Yet the apparent failure of the sanctions to move Iraq's level of compliance with the international community forward raises serious doubts. Former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali challenged the international community to confront "the ethical question of whether suffering inflicted on vulnerable groups in the target country is a legitimate means to exerting pressure on political leaders whose behavior is unlikely to be affected by the plight of their subjects." Indeed, there is little indication that Saddam Hussein, his inner circle and key elements of the military leadership are suffering any shortages of food, drinking water and medical supplies. The suffering of the civilian population has become an effective propaganda tool to stir up anti-American sentiment, but does not seem to have had an impact in altering Iraqi policy in ways consistent with U.S. interests. This raises the question as to whether the morality and the political efficacy of the ongoing sanctions regime can be separated. Like the air strikes of recent months, the motivation appears to be more on an emotional level than a rationally calculated strategy. Indeed, the worst mistakes of recent years in foreign policy have tended to come from reactive decisions born out of frustration at impudent regimes which have challenged basic international standards and U.S. policy interests. Diplomatic historians of the future will likely raise serious questions regarding the morality of the sanctions regime against Iraq. They may also come to see it as one of the key errors in U.S. policy which eventually did serious harm to American interests in the Middle East. ******************** This article thanks to a US-based discussion list and the Helena Service for Peace and Justice, SERPAJ@aol.com (http://www.nonviolence.org/for/) -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html