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.
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.