Sanctions worked: George Lopez, David Cortright

George A. Lopez, Director of Policy Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and David Cortright, President of the Fourth Freedom Forum and Research Fellow at the Kroc Institute, argue in favour of the sanctions regime in Iraq during the 1990’s.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, they propose that far from being a complete disaster, the sanctions regime, and the subsequent introduction of “smartâ€? sanctions, was a resounding success.

They base their argument largely on the fact that the UN inspection teams, UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, were successful in both destroying existing weaponry (as evidenced by the non-existence of WMD after the invasion) – and in monitoring the Iraqi regime to a sufficient extent that a new weapons program could not be implemented. The sanctions were essentially the stick with which the inspectors could threaten the regime, while the carrot was the lifting of sanctions.

The sanctions regime was also successful in stopping Saddam reconstituting his conventional weapons, as evidenced by the lack of medium to heavy weaponry after the March 2003 invasion.

Lopez and Cortright are quite convincing, while also being critical of the current administration, they note:

Having failed to understand how sanctions and inspections worked in Iraq, the United States risks repeating its mistake in the future. The crisis of intelligence that pundits and politicians should be considering is not why so many officials overestimated what was wrong in Iraq; it is why they ignored so much readily available evidence of what was right about existing policies. By disregarding the success of inspections and sanctions, Washington discarded an effective system of containment and deterrence and, on the basis of faulty intelligence and wrong assumptions, launch a preventive war in its place.

Critics might point out that the war in Iraq had the effect of getting Libya into line, and abandoning its WMD program. But Lopez and Cortright deal with this issue too:

The case of Libya shows that sanctions can indeed influence regime behaviour in the long term. Muammar al-Qadaffi was once as much an outlaw as Saddam Hussein. But over time, and under the weigh of international sanctions, Libya accepted international norms, ended its support of terrorism, and gave up its clandestine efforts to acquire or build WMD. President Bush and other supporters of the war in Iraq have attributed Libya’s dramatic turnaround to what Representative Tom Lantos (D-Calif) termed the “pedagogic valueâ€? of the war. But in reality, Libya’s reversal began years earlier. UN sanctions during the 1990s brought about the negotiations that convinced Libya to turn over suspected terrorists for trial in The Hague.

Are Lopez and Cortright correct? Could the introduction of smart sanctions brought about a more prosperous Iraq while preventing the spread of WMD? And would this have brought an eventual end to Saddam’s regime without the need for invasion? We will never know.

One thought on “Sanctions worked: George Lopez, David Cortright”

  1. One fundamental problem with the sanctions solution was that it required a deterrent in Saudi Arabia, which inflamed the more strident Islamists. Additionally, the sanctions worked because there was a real stick there. The enforced no fly zones kept a close watch on Saddam and made him feel constrained.

    I was against the first Gulf War, but I think the biggest problem was that the war was prosecuted to achieve only the minimal needed to call it a success. After that, we were left with sanctions (did they or did they not lead to real suffereing of the Iraqi people?) that were unable to finish off the regime. That meant we were faced with either (a) lifting the sanctions and all the enforcing measures hoping for the best with Saddam or (b) pro-longing forever a sanctions regime that was killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, according to popular mythy at least, which was also fueling violent anti-Americanism.

    I think if anything, it shows that sanctions are ultimately of no use. Saddam’s tyrannical regime carried on and only the poor people at the bottom of society suffered. It may have (temporarily?) prevented him from rebuilding his WMD programs, but it provided plenty of propaganda fuel for his cause and did nothing to lessen the suffering of the Iraqi people.

    I’d also wait until I have the final details on the oil for food money before I jump to a “sanctions work” conclusion.

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