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Do Sanctions Deter the Actions of Rogue Nations?

Updated on February 21, 2014

Sanctions are powerful deterrents especially in the global village today. Nations today are living in an interdependent world that cannot hope to exist in isolation for long. In 1919 Woodrow Wilson said, “Apply economic sanctions peacefully, silently and effectively, and there will be no need for war.”

If there is a choice between sanctions and war, sanctions is always preferable for its peaceful nature. However, before applying sanctions the United States and the other nations must study the issue carefully so that the innocent nations do not get punished. Sanctions will in such cases lose their moral sanctity. Sanctions are a powerful weapon that must be used carefully.

In past especially during the second world war sanctions were effectively used against nations, although in the past they were not as powerful deterrents then – as Mussolini in 1937 with Abyssinia – as they are today. Over the last 50 years since the Second World War more than 100 sanctions have been put in force to avoid full scale war. There have been mixed results, but they helped identify dictators from the democrats.

However, there have been tremendous successes with sanctions in taming the rogue states. These sanctions even went on to change the course of history, as for instance, Rhodesia in 1965.

While many sanctions have been of unilateral or limited nature, there have been sanctions when the international community united against the moral outrage committed by a nation. It is quite possible that “Apartheid” might have continued to remain in existence in South Africa if the international community had not joined together in sanctioning this nation. Sanctions did bring about tangible results in Vietnam and North Korea. In recent times, the Iraq’s invasion against Kuwait could have been total and complete if sanctions were not imposed against them.

Several rogue states have either refrained from going nuclear or withheld their on going nuclear program for the fear of sanction.

Kimberley Elliott writing in “Factors Affecting Success of Sanctions” says that a fall of 2.5 percent in GNP in a nation where sanction was applied produced successful result; and in 9 out of 11 cases produced positive political result, where the decline was 5 percent in GNP. In other words economic sanctions do produce positive result if the sanctions are effective.

The opponents to sanctions might prove with facts and figures that overall only a very small percentage of sanctions have been successful. The reason may be found in misuse of this weapon rather than the inherent strength of the weapon.

Sanctions are often successful when a large proportion of the international community feels outraged. The rogue state then has very miniscule or no support. However, should a powerful state try to impose sanction against a weak neighbor that doesn’t affect international community, the sanction is likely to be less successful.


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