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Assessing failures of “Humanitarian Intervention”: Finding a “non-traditional”approach

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Within the context of traditional theory of international relations humanitarian intervention is referred as “intervention-from-above”, highlighting the “tactics of intervention” by various states, international institutions, government sponsored think tanks and international aid organizations. At the global level, flow of international aid is unidirectional (traditionally flowing from North to South); although, intervention is not only limited to North, but may occur regionally in the South too. Historically, the world has witnessed tensions highlighting “certain drawbacks” in the global legal system particularly within the context of a donor country “crossing humanitarian boundaries, sovereignty, the principle of non-intervention, while purposefully meddling in the regional affairs of the host”, violating every nomenclature of humanitarian assistance and instigating dilemma among probable future host economies.

Today, host countries are forced to question the objectives of donor economies. Many states begin formulating an “after-effect strategy” in case the donor intends to violate, in the light of many least economic developed economies being host, fewer states respond. From the aforementioned arguments, the questions that challenge policy makers of today are: Does humanitarian intervention bring results? Does it truly assist the host economy? If it does, which is the best effective and efficient plan of action?

Policy makers must focus their attention on the “flaws in international law highlighted in the aforementioned arguments”. Furthermore, historically it has been seen that, nations ignore legal guidelines and international laws which does not benefit it while giving jurisprudence to politics than the international laws.

Today, the focus of the article will be on the three traditional pillars of humanitarian intervention, the donor’s “capability” to assist the host, the donors “interests” in providing assistance to the host, and the “after-effects” on the host; in an effort to “effectively” understand and identify factors responsible for recent “negative outcomes” from humanitarian interventions while identifying alternative non-traditional approaches of humanitarian intervention shifting the focus of political thinkers and strategic experts from military theories, while giving special emphasis on the role of non-government development agencies and civil society organizations. Keeping all relevant actors in play, it is literally impossible to predict the success of “traditional grass-root focused ”humanitarian intervention especially when the “much advanced top-down approach” continue to fail.

The quest to identify non-traditional theories of humanitarian intervention, also termed by strategic experts as “bottom to top approach”, will be the focus of this article. It will be safe to say that, such non-traditional approaches, will depend majorly, on intervention policies of humanitarian aid agencies and public works development focussed institutions of non-governmental organizations, development focussed civil society and volunteer groups from the masses, civil rights advocacy groups and organizations advocating for a specific society.

Decoding the myths

Political and Strategic experts have, classified, two types of traditional “humanitarian intervention” theories. The first theory relies on aggressive military intervention to fulfil strategic objectives of the host and is carried under the leadership of one or more host states, or by unanimously approaching the United Nations Security Council and other regional and international institutions.

The first theory comprises of intervention tactics, which could fulfil positive humanitarian objectives of great benefit for the host, however it remains secondary to the intervention objective implemented by the host. For example, repetitive acts of crimes against humanity, horrific abuses by successive regimes could come to an end through an intervention which is designed specifically by the host government. It is important to note that, such intervention is rare, especially considering the “humanitarian” view of this form of intervention, instead their long presence could result in oppression against the masses forcing the host to use all forms of excessive force.

Some historical examples include devastation of Germany during World War II, the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, and the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam in 1968. Policy makers must understand that, interventions at such level involves specific military and political goals that starts with “intervention and occupation” for an indefinite time.

In this form of humanitarian intervention, genocide, crimes against humanity and violence induced on local masses are common. Such acts are destitute to walk among the strategic and military objectives of the host. However, in regions where the host intervened without any strategic objectives, for example intervention on Kurdish regions since World War I, and military confrontation against the indigenous tribes of Amazon, excessive violence induced against human life have been categorically side-lined or purposefully ignored.

In the second theory of humanitarian intervention, human rights abuses instigate an “aggressive response”, although without any strategic advantage. If the intervention does takes place, it will be implemented without a “clear sight, objective or commitment” on the host intervening state, the commitment would be largely to challenge the political structure or the authority responsible for carrying such horrific crimes. Strategic and political experts refer this scenario, which remains active in the Middle East today, “the CNN factor”, an aggressive wide scale visual representation of horrors and distress particularly depicting crimes against humanity, stressing the masses of West to force their governments to response, particularly “Americanised” nations.

If the agendas established by policy makers are restricted, and the actors tasked to “bull-work” the humanitarian intervention agendas follow strict discipline and designated guidelines, simultaneously earning the trust of the masses, humanitarian intervention in this platform could bring relief to the socio-economic havoc wretched life of the masses. This initiative has been implemented for the Kurds living in northern Iraq post-Gulf War, in the early years of relief and rehabilitation initiatives in Somalia (before invasion),and deployment of UNPROFOR aid and relief units for the then civil war-stricken masses of Croatia, the then Bosnia. In the aforementioned examples, however, the strategic objectives to eliminate the factors responsible for the crisis were absent, on larger extent, the crisis devastated the lives of millions.

If the state intervening in the crisis receives armed responses that could increase volatility in the region, then the state forces intervening could deploy evasive tactics and steer away from the confrontation. The participation of Washington has been vital with relevance to its extensive experience in humanitarian intervention. During Clinton administration, the US aggressively shifted its policy of “strategic objectives dipped humanitarian intervention” and an example to this “doctrine” was largely visible during the “initial deployment of medical and food aid workers” deployed in Somalia, eliminating the “strategic discourse” while establishing an example of “stringent and self-restraining” regime. The new established theory was a perfect example of “intended humanitarian intervention” of a state, having an edge over responses taken by globally established international institution.

The change in international relations dynamics followed by acute regional, religion/ sectoral “coloured” violent conflicts has resulted into numerous debates on “humanitarian intervention as a viable tool in global politics”. The debate however, failed to separate the two theories of humanitarian intervention aforementioned discussed. This has resulted in “fragmented policies which not only failed but also became a principle factor in fuelling regional conflicts, further deteriorating an already deteriorated situation” leading to discontent and apprehension towards humanitarian intervention, while fuelling rage among the local masses and apprehensive governments towards UN actions. Clearing the “thick air” is not the purpose of this article, but many progressive steps could be taken in an effort to identify alternative theories.

Establishing outcomes from intervention

To begin with, a political tool such as an “intervention”, if introduced as a traditional mechanism in foreign policy, is troublesome even without the presence of “strategic action”, witnessed from the example of US intervention in Vietnam, or Soviet Union intervention of Afghanistan.

Using military superiority and using it to achieve desired political objectives/agendas is increasingly becoming difficult inspite of the “rightist regimes in the West”. The traditional tools of foreign policy (aggressively used by Washington during post-World War II until the end of Cold War) such as “cloak and dagger diplomacy”, “gunboat diplomacy” which elevated Washington’s position as a hegemon, benefitted many US intelligence agencies in holding many economies hostage without any resistance. In the light of globalisation, tradecraft tactics evolved and advanced weaponry, began playing a much larger role.

In 1983 when a single truck exploded inside the barracks of US soldiers, Washington which was already on an edge, withdrew the remaining stationed US forces and shifted the US foreign policy which was focussed on rebuilding and restructuring city of Beirut during post-1982 war. An aggressive President Bush Jrdid not undertake restructuring and rehabilitation initiatives in Iraq, which could have forced Washington to deploy forces in Iraq which could have instigated terror factions in targeting US soldiers. Bush understood the “careful policies implemented by Clinton administration ”particularly the actions taken by Washington in Somalia an example of “self-limiting” the objective to strictly humanitarian intervention. His objectives were very clear, turning Iraq’s fate into Bosnia was all he feared.

Since 1989, the traditional concepts of international relations have evolved. The pragmatic but traditional theories that were applicable in IR are fairly limited. This has largely been a “misconception” among traditional international relations theorists, military and political experts making their expectations uncleared:

a) Even today, traditional theorists continue to believe, that cooperation and coordination among the nations could only be effective within the UN.

b) The aforementioned notion comes from the successful restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty after the deployment of UN forces. The resultant of the conflict created a biased approach on a half-baked truth followed by rhetorical idea that combined security initiatives would be sufficient to mobilise large troops and financial assistance to implement resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council. The traditional theorists failed to acknowledge the presence of Washington’s “hunt for oil” and Israeli’s “security dilemma”. They also failed to foresee the lust for Middle East economies to acquire nuclear weapons.

c) Numerous severe simultaneous humanitarian crisis erupted which resulted in dictatorial regimes and failed states. The continent of Africa witnessed subsequent collapse of imperial regimes while the Central Asia witnessed the collapse of Soviet Union and the then Yugoslavia, which paved the way for ethnic conflicts, civil war and nationalist dictatorial regimes.

d) It was by now evident that, cost-efficient intervention will not be effective and even an objective focussed intervention will not bear desired results fearing which no political leadership was willing to accept the high cost of collateral damage during uninsured even in the name of “vital national interests.” Reinforced by poor political leadership in intervened states and their failure to adhere or implement any concrete domestic policy along with subsequent challenges to domestic security, decision makers “waited and watched”.

e) In colonial dominated regions particularly Africa, Latin America and Caribbean and South Asia, the concept of“ humanitarian intervention” represented the interest of traditional colonial forces in the region, paving a way to regain dominate the lost territories, particularly those with significant Muslim population. This “delusion” idea was further fuelled by the West’s retention of oil in the Gulf but refraining from taking any action against “systematic killing, ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in Serbia. Furthermore, the use of technology in the urban setting especially in the regions of Mogadishu to hunt warlord Aidid, reinforced their idea.

Strategy or Politics?

Bringing the focus back on political leadership, Bosnia was “political fore-play” which backfired. Argued by ethics professors even today, the reluctance to interfere, even after witnessing the horrors in war, mass killings, rape, gender-based violence and genocide reminding the days of World War II gripped Europe, the world has been reminded of another holocaust. It is nothing less than a betrayal to the lives of people who took a pledge “Never Again”, the pledge was disrespected by the ugly truths of international political world. When thousands of leftists were brutally murdered in Singapore, the West particularly Washington compensated the loss of lives with the fear of communist controlled Singapore. When Indonesia invaded East Timor, dismantling all trumps (sovereignty, national and territorial integrity and right to existence) of international relations, instigating a policy on mass rape, murder, extensive killing and genocide which resulted in the deaths of over half of the then population, intervention in all forms remain absent.

Perhaps evidently, inspite of genocide carried by communist regime on large scale in Cambodia, forced the West not to intervene (presence and support of China)in the Vietnam invasion of Cambodia which resulted in the end of Khmer Rouge. Policy makers must understand that, the decisions under taken by the West form a pattern: strategic objectives outweigh even the harshest and deplorable humanitarian crisis.

The aforementioned statements points towards the fact that, there is an imminent need to re-evaluate and reassess humanitarian intervention policy. Today, the masses will not accept the decision to “fight someone else’s war” irrespective of deplorable circumstances. This could come as a relief for many rightist political leadership, but it practically “chokes” the nation’s policy for humanitarian intervention.

A failed political leadership to blame?

It is important to note that, the political leadership reluctance highlights the “inadequate importance” given to the segment of humanitarian intervention in international diplomacy coupled with the “saga of failure” of global powers and international established institutions failures in the past. Coupled with the failure of political will and leadership, identifying “strategic interests” and formulating a strategy resulted in some of the worst humanitarian crisis in Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda. The larger responsible segment of this failure goes to liberal “appeasing” foreign policy coupled with strategic interests and domestic security preferences. Historically, Washington was pushed to take a leading role and pulled by its own masses particularly when the “stakes were too high” overseas. This “tendency” continues to thrive within power nations which is evident from the on-going Rohingya crisis in South Asia.

The fundamental issue with humanitarian intervention lies largely on “intervention” aspect rather than “humanitarian” support, the larger perception remains the same “internal violence being the only factor capable of changing the dynamics of the domestic policy of a state”. Policy makers must note that, if the nation undertakes the responsibility of providing“ clean water, food, medicine, temporary shelter for refugees and internal displaced conflict-ridden masses” limiting the action to strictly humanitarian, then nations should not consider it an “intervention” even if the host country has not acknowledged or given a formal consent. If the intervening state intents to meddle with the host state’s internal issues particularly in times of internal conflict or civil war, then the intervening state will fail even if its intentions are “humanity centred”.

It is imperative for policy makers to identify or formulate strategies of “humanitarian intervention” without instigating further violence, fuelling crimes against humanity, genocide, factors leading to further deterioration of the host state.

Anant Mishra is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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International Law

Cooperation in a Changing World: A Discussion on New Regionalism and Globalisation

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The two main trends that have shaped the World Economic Order are 1) multilateralism, which sets global rules for international trade without favouritism, and 2) new regionalism, which sets up several zones of regional free trade and cooperation that can apply development and economic growth more quickly and flexibly but have a limited geographic scope.

Hettne (1995) says that “new regionalism” is not a single policy but a set of policies that focus on economics or other factors. “Regionalism” refers to a complex change process involving state and non-state actors at the global, regional, and national levels. Since actors and processes interact at many different levels and their relative importance changes over time and space, it is impossible to say which level is the most important (Soderbaun, 2001).

This article highlights the discussions between the experts on regional cooperation and integration and the supporters of multilateralism and globalisation. The objective is not to extend arguments that can be endless due to rich literature, however, it is to show the major points of contention that can lead to more research and discussions.

Gilson (2002) and other scholars argue that regionalism divides the international system into different and separated competitive blocks, despite arguments to the contrary from authors and analysts like Hettne (1998, 2005), Beeson (2009), and Dent (2004). Regionalism, especially forms of closed regionalism, acts as an obstacle on the path to globalisation (Dent, 2008).

Authors in the first category argue that globalisation and regionalism are not mutually exclusive concepts. Their reasoning rests on the GATT-WTO conception of regionalism and regionalisation as integral to and predating globalisation. As of 2022, the WTO had informed about 356 Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) in force (and its predecessor, the GATT), while several others are thought to be in effect but have yet to be reported (see: WTO, 2022 database).

 Regional trade liberalisation and cooperation arrangements have been considered important intermediate measures, enabling nations to cope with the risks and opportunities of the global market and embrace new multilateral regulations (Katzenstein, 1997). The developing tensions between economic regionalism and economic multilateralism directly result from the mutually reinforcing nature of regionalism and globalisation. As seen with the end of the Uruguay Round, when integration into the EU prompted some member states to adopt the GATT deal, and with NAFTA’s significant impact on the liberalisation of investments, regional cooperation can be a good stepping stone to an accessible international economy. According to Summers (1991), regionalism affects the multilateral international trade system and will increasingly serve as a driving factor towards liberalisation. Summers contends that regional liberalisation is the best approach towards liberalisation and globalisation.

In contrast, the second category of experts’ places greater emphasis on the notion that discriminatory regional and sub-regional accords are a response to globalisation. As an example, Bhagwati (1993) argues that protectionism, mercantilism and other regionalism delay global liberalisation and threaten the multilateral trading system. Bergsten (1997) says that the European Monetary Union (EMU) shows how it sets priorities that differ from those of the world. Furthermore, regional blocs can contribute to geo-economics conflicts, which may have political implications.

Three key issues are raised by those who want complete dependence on the multilateral approach (Bhagwati and Panagariya, 1996):

  1. Trade is diverted by regional cooperation.
  2. The distraction of attention.
  3. The geopolitical consequences of regionalism.

 First, they point out that trade is diverted by regional cooperation that provides members favourable treatment over non-members. Members may also profit from favourable policies and regulations for restricted content in addition to differential tariffs. According to opponents, the disadvantage of regional liberalisation can be more than overcome by the impact of preferences, resulting in a diversion of the trade balance.

Also, they are worried that transferring tariff revenues under a preferential arrangement could hurt the way one member’s income is split. The distraction of attention is the second point raised by critics. They say that if countries get involved in regional projects, they might lose interest in the multilateral system, which could stop its growth and possibly make it less effective.

The United States’ rapid change in trade policy since the early 1980s has drawn particular attention. The international system had previously received top attention from the United States. It declined to take part in regional economic integration. The main reasons the U.S. agreed to the creation and growth of European integration were political and security issues. The U.S. wanted to keep Europe safe and out of war.

The geopolitical consequences of regionalism are the third issue. Regional trade agreements (and economic groupings more generally) may have caused political and even military conflicts between governments in former times. While modern regionalist critics do not expect such severe results, analysts are concerned that close and intense regional links may cause aggravations and even conflicts that extend beyond economics to more generalised domains of global affairs.

Regionalism proponents hold opposing viewpoints on each of these topics (Bergsten, 1996). First, they contend that regional agreements advance free trade and multilateralism in at least two ways: first, that trade expansion has typically surpassed trade contraction, and second, that regional agreements support both domestic and global dynamics that increase rather than diminish the likelihood of global liberalisation. For developing nations, the internal dynamic is particularly crucial since regional agreements, which can be negotiated considerably more quickly than global accords, lock in domestic reforms against the possibility that succeeding governments will attempt to reverse them. Internationally, regional agreements frequently set the stage for liberalisation concepts that can then be broadly applied in the multilateral system.

Second, regionalism critics pointed out that it frequently has considerable, verifiable impacts. Regional integration will likely lead to further multilateral initiatives when officials, governments, and nations adapt to the liberalisation process.

Third, proponents of regionalism argue that it has had more positive than negative political consequences. Because of trade and closer economic cooperation, a new war between Germany and France was almost unthinkable in the European Union. Argentina and Brazil have used it to end their long-running rivalry, which has recently taken on nuclear implications.

APEC’s primary objectives include establishing the United States as a stabilising power in Asia and creating institutional ties between nations that were once adversaries, like Japan, China, and the rest of East Asia. Therefore, the potential of carrying up peace through cooperation is greater than the likelihood of generating conflicts.

Defenders of regionalism point out that regional agreements are permitted explicitly by Article 24 of the GATT and, more recently, the WTO, recognising their consistency with the global trading system. Three requirements must be met for these agreements to be effective:

  1. They must substantially encompass all trade between member nations;
  2. They must not erect new barriers for outsiders;
  3. They must accomplish free trade among members by a specific date (usually to be at most ten years from the starting date).

Although it is generally acknowledged that the most significant regional agreements (the EU and NAFTA) have fully or largely met these criteria, the GATT and WTO have been largely ineffective in certifying and overseeing their implementation. Because of this, the important regions have had many reasons to say that they work well with the multilateral system.

In conclusion, regionalism and globalism are linked, but only if the major countries involved in the process manage it well. History shows they can succeed if they try to improve things for both sides. The outcome in former eras shows that this is also reasonably achievable if they desire to pursue one at the expense of the other. The process’s inherent dynamics are sufficiently balanced for the participants’ policy choices to be decisive.

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International Law

Institution’s evolution

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As the human civilization is evolving, the institutions that were once very relevant and inevitable have been becoming archaic and irrelevant and alarmingly becoming deleterious if remain enacted and rigid. Standing mass armies is one of such institutions, which is losing its relevance that it once earned through conscription of human resource and extraction natural resources. With the emergence of democracy coupled with the dilution of borders by globalization, the armies have lost their stage and much eulogized roles as the defender, protector and invaders. The yardstick to measure the strength of any nation was their military’s might which has now been replaced with other well established indicators.

To shed light upon how and why the role of armies has been dwindled, we have to dive into the modern historical account of the events and reasons that once made the army inevitable and much desirable. As the raison d’etat for establishing the armies and galvanizing their influence   was to acquire the large swaths of land and the quantifiable amount of people to propel the engine of their state machine. Resultantly, the expanded territories were in dire need to be regulated and protected with the iron fist rule, which could not be done without strengthening armies.

Now the hitherto said aspirations have become obsolete and less desirable due to changing dimensions of a society as a whole thereby the military too. To give credence to these assertions it is adequate to allude towards the decline in the tendency of ragging the territorial acquisition wars specifically in the post peace era. Now there is no incentive to acquire the large latifundia or the large amount of people to be slave them as farm workers or to conscript them into armies.

As per the report of the freedom house, there were scant sixty-nine electoral democracies in 1990; today there are more than one hundred and fifteen electrical democracies, which are more than sixty percent. In recently emerged democracies, resultantly, the transition from the centrally planned economies to the economic liberalization spawned the era of entrepreneurship and innovation. Now these budding democracies have recently embarked on the journey towards more opportunities and rising incomes that remained chimera twenty years ago. To bolster this claim, the human security report is enough as it claims that state-based arm conflict has ebbed by 40 percent and which is waning the propensity of countries to wage a full-scale war.

Furthermore, well-established democratic peace theory hits the last nail in the coffin of the aspirations to reinvigorate the military might. The increasing number of democracies are less likely to wage a war with another democratic country, which in result declines the chances of war.

As initially claimed, the ab initio reasons of having standing armies have squarely been replaced; it comes naturally in mind what have replaced them. In a complex and entangled world woven with the fabric of trade, ideas, and innovations, the war-philic countries are the least fit for survival in the Darwinian sense. The countries who are doing wonders in the spheres of economy ideas, innovations inter alia services are less prone to war and aggression.

Many but naming few as the innovation, ideas, trade, and entrepreneurial tendencies have substituted the reasons, which once made the armies relevant and inevitable. Sweden, Norway, UK at the top of global innovation index 2021 and the countries deprived of bloated, mighty, and behemoth militaries, which are also circumscribed in the limited territories, are at the peak of ideas, prosperity, and innovation as compared to those who are bestowed upon with unassailable armies.

Ostensibly, after taking into account the recent shift in the reason of having large standing armies, it is now necessary to discuss about the nature of the future warfare which poses the threats, but here too while dealing with them make everyone wary of the institution of armies and militaries which are too rigid to abreast with the current dynamic nature of warfare, resultantly, they have to bear the brunt of their rigidity everywhere.

Therefore, the Character of the future warfare is dramatically changing which incorporates the novel means to materialize the desired and often mischievous aspirations. In this regard, hybrid warfare is one emerging character, which includes a diverse variety of activities and instruments to destabilize the society, which surely would be desirable for its user. These instruments are like interfering in the electoral processes in which the adversaries can influence the outcome of the electoral processes in the direction, which benefit the adversaries’ political aspirations – Putin’s interference in Trump’s election campaign and Cambridge analytica.

Other instruments are disinformation and false news, Cyber-attacks, and financial influence. Which all of them have already been employing in different dimensions and scales. In this domain, Russia is employing all of these instruments with great dexterity. To better deal with such recent emerging means and tools, it has become a need of hour to introduce the more integrated and sophisticated ways to deal with hybrid warfare and to replace the rigid, archaic and obsolete militarily solutions. In doing so, fostering democracy, inclusion of civil society investment in media literacy are few but viable solutions.

Succinctly, the justifications for raising the large armies, which were to expand the territories, to slave the people or to protect the volatile boundaries, have recently been replaced or become obsolete and irrelevant. Therefore, this institution should be abreast its pace with the dynamic and changing character of the threats posing the great dangers. Moreover, the gauge to quantify the power of any country has resultantly been changed from the strength of armies to the innovation, ideas, entrepreneurial spirit, trade, and socio economic and socio political stability. Contemporarily, it has become futile to strengthen and increase the sizes of armies, which have already lost their relevance, conversely, the changing Character of warfare or better known as hybrid warfare, demands more.

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International Law

Sanctions as Weapons: A Challenge in Addressing Our Global Collective Problems

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Since the Ukraine conflict, ‘Sanction’ has become a buzzword worldwide. It has become a new instrument for the West to coerce others to attain their interests. The impact of the sanctions imposed on Russia has already reached almost every corner of the earth. The sanctions subsequently bolstered the energy crisis globally. It has also disrupted Russia’s worldwide trade and commerce as payment gateways block transactions. However, Russia was quick to overcome the financial blockade. China and Russia are also looking for alternative gateways to reduce their reliance. The latest sanctions have only complicated world affairs, putting the great powers at dagger’s drawn.

Since the last decade, economic and Human Rights sanctions have become popular worldwide. But a decade later, these sanctions hardly solved any issues but put multilateralism under threat. And such weaponization of sanctions also poses challenges in addressing our collective global problems.

Our Global Collective Problems

Collective Global Problems refer to issues and problems that the world faces together. These issues are prevalent and have repercussions for almost all countries. In the 21st century, Human Rights and Democracy have become such issues. Deteriorating human rights standards and global democratic backslide have emerged as new collective global issues for us.

The ongoing global recession, commodity shock, and soaring inflation have also emerged as new global problems as the world suffers from these. However, the economic and Human rights sanctions by the West further complicate the scenario. The motivation of ‘One Size fits All’ is creating confusion and hampering global cooperation. The ongoing energy crisis is the result of such motivation. However, multilateralism is the best path for solving collective problems. But the sanctions and rivalries are polarizing the world and posing a severe threat to multilateralism.

Sanctions as Weapon

Sanctions emerged in the interwar period as a tool for the great powers as they significantly contributed to global and bilateral economies. The early pioneers developed it as an alternative to brute force to coerce the opponent to end or avoid war. Early ‘Sanctionists’ believed it was an effective tool to avoid bloodshed. However, it was used during peacetime in the 1930s. According to Nicholas Mulder, the author of ‘The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War’, the use of sanctions by the allied powers further radicalized fascists at that time also. Mulder also thinks the current situation parallels the scenarios of then. Advanced globalization and financial inclusion have created a complex interdependency among the nations that rely on a uniform system to conduct their foreign economic exchange and are becoming skeptical about it. Such skepticism also reinforces economic nationalism. And the sanctions aimed at rivals affect billions of ordinary citizens worldwide.

The use of sanctions has increased since Donald Trump’s ascension. The sanctions motivated by national interests and counter-sanctions have further complicated it. Between 2016 and 2019, the USA under Trump Administration imposed sanctions that constitute 40% of the total sanctions worldwide. The reliance on sanctions has also transformed it into a weapon. Sanctions also have an important role in Biden’s foreign policy as he has formulated his policy centering on Democracy and Human Rights.

Effectiveness in Question

During the last few years, economic and human rights sanctions became important. But many of them were motivated by national interests. As a result, the use of sanctions handicapped the scope for greater intervention. For example, when the Rohingya exodus took place, the West merely relied upon individual sanctions against the Myanmar Generals. The West thought it would serve their commitment as they have interests in Myanmar. But it seems the West could have a more proactive role in the Rohingya crisis to solve the problem. Again, the Biden administration announced sanctions on RAB and its 7 officials in Bangladesh last year on the allegation of human rights violation. But it seems the allegations are very few compared to the violations that took place worldwide, especially by the US allies.

Biden’s latest sanction schemes reveal that these are built upon controlling the global economy. For instance, the Russian sanctions attempted to exclude Russia from global transaction mechanisms. Both China and Russia have also acknowledged it and have made an effort to create a parallel system to avoid it. The attempt to internationalize the Ruble and Yuan is one example of such a claim. Hence, the sanctions are only creating confusion and turmoil in global politics. As a result, the effectiveness is in question.

In most cases, the sanctions only isolated the nations and backfired. Global Sanction Database recorded 1100 public sanctions between 1950 and 2019. The database also identified that the most common objective of sanctions imposed between 2016 and 2019 are human rights and democracy. However, only 42% of sanctions were partially successful.

A Challenge

Sanctions in the last decade motivated by national interest failed to uphold the public good. Instead, it is further polarizing world politics. It also creates distrust about existing global economic mechanisms among the great powers. The economic sanctions against the rivals also widen the gap between the great powers. Great powers like Russia and China are forced to establish an alternative economy to counter it. Such actions and counter-actions are challenging the uniformity of the global economy also.

Again, multilateralism is facing a crisis due to growing distrust and polarization. The ongoing economic recession, post-pandemic challenges, and soaring inflation require a multilateral solution. But the distrust is weakening the spirit. So, sanctions and the use of the global economy also pose challenges to our collective global problems. Therefore, sanctions are doing a great disservice than service.

In conclusion, Sanctions should not be an instrument during peacetime. It should only be reserved for wartime to avoid using brute force. Weaponizing sanctions and unilateral ‘abuse’ of the global economy and its control during peacetime threaten our multilateralism. In the current global context, it is posing a severe threat to addressing existing global issues. As the world is passing a tough time, Great powers need to come together and find solutions as their decisions affect all countries.

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