Mr. Thomas is an honors graduate and tutor of Middle East studies and international relations at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia.
In July 2012, the 100 members of the Friends of Syria international group met to call for tougher sanctions on Bashar al-Assad's government and its supporters. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Russia and China to "get off the sidelines"1 and assist the rest of the international community in putting pressure on the regime. Animosity between Syria and the West was not new, but the uprising further cemented Syria's perception as a pariah with the Western world.
One of the only non-military options at the disposal of the Friends of Syria in dealing with the crisis is sanctions. Sanctions are a common option for states when dealing with "rogues" or "pariahs," and as such it is important to constantly re-evaluate them as a foreign-policy tool. Syria is an ideal case study for this re-evaluation, as there are two clear instances in which sanctions have been implemented to change the regime's policies after 9/11:
• the sponsorship of militant organizations and efforts to destabilize Jordan
• the disproportionate military response to the uprising beginning in 2011
Tim Niblock's book Pariah States and Sanctions in the Middle East examines the details and effectiveness of sanctions on "pariah states" from the end of the Cold War until 2001. The outcomes observed in this book will be applied to the Syrian case in this article. While the text is over a decade old, these outcomes will make it possible to determine any similarities, differences, improvements or failures of contemporary sanctions regimes by comparing current practices with Niblock's findings.
The purpose of this article is to provide an analysis of the efficacy of unilateral and multilateral sanctions on Syria since 9/11 and the policies that underpin them. It will also attempt to provide potential remedies to what is perceived to be a limited and unpredictable foreign-policy tool in international relations.
From the U.S. perspective, Syria had an obstructing influence on American interests in the Middle East from 2001, particularly due to its sponsorship of organizations such as Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas. United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1373, which sought to prevent "those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts from using their respective territories for those purposes against other countries and their citizens,"2 did not outline any sanctions to impose on state sponsors of terrorism. However, it showed the Security Council's willingness to prevent international terrorism and paved the way for sanctions to be imposed unilaterally. The United States did this in 2003 under the George W. Bush administration with the Syria Accountability Act, which required the Syrian government to cease all support for international terrorist organizations, end its occupation of Lebanon, halt all state production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and end its facilitation of insurgency in Iraq.3 The act employed the following sanctions on the Syrian regime in 2004:
• bans on the export of all military and dual-use items4
• bans on U.S. exports to Syria, with the exception of medicine and food
• bans on all Syrian aircraft flying over or landing inside U.S. borders
• the severing of ties between all U.S. financial institutions and the Commercial Bank of Syria
• the freezing of all Syrian state monetary assets in the United States5
Following their implementation, minor alterations were made, such as the removal of export bans on aircraft parts, information technology and products for UN operations. Some allowances were made for chartered flights to the United States from Syria.6 However, most of these sanctions still remain in place.
In terms of the uprising, there has been no Security Council resolution endorsing sanctions on Syria over its use of force, in spite of the efforts of the United States and the United Kingdom. Instead, individual international actors have taken it upon themselves to impose their own sanctions regimes. The EU employed several targeted sanctions against the regime, including the banning of 12 officials from entering the EU, sanctions on two of Syria's biggest oil companies and the freezing of some individual assets within the EU.7 The United States has employed similar targeted sanctions, prohibiting specific transactions, denying entry to persons of interest, and blocking Syrian government assets.8
In Chapter 25 of Pariah States and Sanctions, Niblock outlines six outcomes from his research of sanctions on Libya, Iraq and Sudan. They reflect that sanctions after the Cold War were mostly ineffectual at maintaining international order, with one positive outcome and five negative ones:
(I). Conventional sanctions were typically able to contain the regimes they were targeting. This often resulted in the cessation of some destabilizing activity, as it forced the regime to focus on economic survival. However, for this to occur, the support of regional and neighboring states was required.9
(II). There was no evidence directly linking economic sanctions to the achievement of Security Council objectives. On the rare occasion that these achievements were met, it is likely for other reasons. Niblock argues that sanctions were not the catalyst for any change in Libya and Iraq. In Sudan, change occurred, but only through diplomatic means.10
(III). Authoritarian regimes actually consolidated power as a result of being targeted with economic sanctions. In states such as Libya, the population became more dependent on the government rather than overthrowing it. The government could exercise greater control of the population through rationing systems as the economic climate worsened. Furthermore, nationalist governments also bolstered their own ideological legitimacy with the population, "where external powers (especially Western powers) are seen as imperialist crusaders."11
(IV). The democratization of an authoritarian state became less likely in the economic climate that sanctions created. The reduction in available resources forced citizens to consider their own survival due to competition, as well as the general reduction in health and standards of living within the population.12
(V). The political stability of the state was greatly affected and resulted in broader repercussions for the region.13 By slowly eroding the infrastructure of the targeted state, economic sanctions can counteract efforts to politically integrate the population in the long term.
(VI). Sanctions delayed the prospect of regional cooperation. Niblock argues that "as long as a state is under UN sanctions, other regional states will be constrained from seeking collaborative links with it."14 A normative international principle set by the superpowers during the Cold War discouraged states from cooperating with members of the opposing power bloc.
It is worth noting that the uprising in Syria is still unfolding, and any positive or negative effects of the sanctions imposed could come to fruition. This is very unlikely, however. It is relatively clear that the conflict has escalated past the point at which sanctions could have any tangible effects on the behavior of the regime and bring about a peaceful resolution, especially with mounting tension between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights. The United States has come to terms with the fact that Bashar al-Assad and the regime are not going quietly and has resorted to arming the rebels through covert means,15 essentially acknowledging the failure of economic sanctions.
(I) Have Sanctions Isolated the Regime?
The Syria Accountability Act has had little effect in isolating Syria from its peers, primarily because of Iran. Both Iran and Syria have together continued to encourage the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah to persist in its armed struggle against the Lebanese government, in spite of Syria's withdrawal of its troops from the country in 2005 and the terms of UNSC Resolution 1559.16 After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election in 2005, the countries became even closer. The Iranian president met not only Assad, but also the leaders of Hamas, PIJ and People for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PLFP-GC) when visiting Damascus in 2006.17 Iranian investment in 2006 equated to roughly $400 million on top of a steady increase in cultural exchange and cooperation.18 Rather than isolating the Syrian regime, sanctions have helped foster an increasingly dependent alliance between Damascus and Tehran. Even outside of the Middle East, Syria had its allies. Russia, which also has had a longstanding relationship with the Assad regime, has not been deterred by sanctions in its dealings with the Syrian government.
Sanctions pertaining to the uprising have also had very little effect in isolating the regime politically. Before the uprising, relations between Syria and Turkey were improving. In 2010, Syria and Turkey signed 51 bilateral protocols designed to promote "strategic relations... [along with] economic and social integration."19 Since the beginning of the uprising, the goodwill between the two nations has all but evaporated. However, this is more likely due to the pressure on Turkey's border from Syrian refugees than sanctions policy. Syria's relationships with Russia, Iran and Venezuela are still strong; these countries continue to export gas, oil and diesel fuel to Syria.20 Even as the country plunges deeper into civil war, the Russian government has been arming the regime with S300 surface-to-air missiles in spite of mounting international pressure. 21 It is hard to imagine this relationship deteriorating as a result of continuing sanctions.
(II) Were Any Objectives Achieved?
The objectives of the Syria Accountability Act were for Syria to cease its support of international terrorist groups, withdraw its troops from Lebanon, stop developing WMD and end its support of insurgents in Iraq.22 Only one was realized in 2005: the government ended its occupation of Lebanon. It is likely that the sanctions played at least a minor role in this decision, as they contributed to significant pressure on the regime. However, the subsequent assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, in 2005 suggests that Syria continued to operate in Lebanon. It is relatively clear in this instance that the Syrian government was simply trying to find a way around sanctions policy without changing its political aims.
Keeping in mind that multilateral sanctions in relation to the uprising have been limited due to the vetoes of Russia and China in the Security Council, the sanctions that have been employed thus far have had little effect. Those implemented by the EU in March 2012 aimed "to weaken the regime's resources and its ability to conduct its brutal campaign."23 On the other hand, Congressional Research Service documents in May 2012 indicate that the objectives of Congress culminate in the removal of President Assad from power.24 Neither of these objectives has been achieved.
(III) Has the Regime Consolidated Power As a Result of Sanctions?
The Syria Accountability Act did not have the same strengthening effects on Syria that sanctions had on the regimes in Libya and Iraq. While there were obviously significant points of contention between Syria and the West, the regime did not overtly rally its population against Western ideas and culture. On the contrary, the Syrian economic sector underwent Western-style reforms in 2005. The fact that most of the sanctions in the Syria Accountability Act targeted the elites and the government also meant that there was no tangible increase in the reliance of the people on their government for welfare. Also, the government's Alawite ethnicity has made the call for a rally behind national identity difficult. The Alawites are a minority sect, and the government has typically kept legislation nonsectarian because of this.25
It is clear that the sanctions pertaining to the uprising have done nothing to consolidate the power of the regime either. The government is going through the process of losing power, and U.S. and EU sanctions are essentially syphoning further resources away from the regime. The regime has been able to utilize militant supporters known as shabbiha26 in an attempt to maintain power, but this is most likely in retaliation for the strengthening of the resistance, as opposed to a reaction to sanctions policy.
(IV) Has the Likelihood of Democratization Decreased?
Scholars Raed Safadi, Laura Munro and Radwan Ziadeh see the Syrian political structure under Bashar as "highly centralised and dirigiste,"27 even after the economic liberalization policies of 2005. In a country where democratization was a distant prospect to begin with, the sanctions employed after 2003 did little to create conditions for political change. The president received 97 percent of the vote from the 2007 parliament when he was the only candidate.28 Yet sanctions had no tangible adverse effects on conditions for democratization either, especially when compared to the use of conventional sanctions in the 1990s on Iraq and Libya. As a result, a democratic movement was no less likely after sanctions were imposed than before. This is indicated by the protests leading up to the 2011 uprising in Syria.
However, during the uprising, sanctions have played a large role in the deterioration of the Syrian economy. The United States and the EU, desperate to find a peaceful solution, have resorted to blanket sanctions on oil. A steep drop in Syrian oil exports has cost the country $3 billion since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, exacerbating the economic pressure from over a year of unrest and a drastic reduction in tourism.29 Syria's economic woes are manifest in a decrease in Syrian standards of living. Urban districts experience regular fuel shortages and power outages, inflation has risen substantially, and the national stock market has plummeted by 40 percent since March 2011.30 Journalist Nir Rosen of Aljazeera, after traveling to rebel strongholds in rural Syria, noted, "Credit cards no longer work. The price of the dollar has nearly doubled. Fuel for cooking and heating is hard to come by."31
(V/VI): How Have Sanctions Affected Regional Stability and Cooperation?
It should be acknowledged that the sanctions regarding Syria's occupation of Lebanon might have led to the assassination of Rafik Hariri. It may have been easier for the regime to withdraw from Lebanon and pursue its political aims in Beirut through the proxy of Hezbollah rather than bear further sanctions from the West. Syria was to face an independent United Nations enquiry into the assassination as a result of UNSC Resolution 1644,32 but this did not have the economic repercussions of the additional sanctions that would have been placed on the regime if they did not withdraw. However, Syria's foreign policy after 9/11 was far more destructive to regional cohesion than the sanctions it faced. On top of dealing with Hezbollah, Hamas and the PIJ, the Syrian government provided refuge and aid to the Turkish-separatist PKK, resulting in the threat of military action from Turkey. It also continued to fund Sunni insurgents in the Iraq War, primarily to irritate Washington.33 Similarly, during the uprising, it has been the actions of the regime that have led to political tension among its neighbors. Sanctions are the lesser of two evils from the perspective of the West, especially regarding regional stability.
Assuming that the ideal outcome of sanctions is to induce normative change in a state's policies without harming its civilian population, the case of Syria shows that the formulation of an effective sanctions policy is a difficult balancing act. While acknowledging that the impacts of sanctions are not entirely negative, it is important to look at the limitations of sanctions as a foreign-policy tool. These need to be examined in two different contexts: limitations specific to the Syrian case and limitations of sanctions as a whole.
IN THE SYRIAN CASE
One of the main factors that limited any positive outcomes was the fact that Syria's foreign policy from 2003 onward was diametrically opposed to U.S. interests. After 9/11, regarding state-sponsorship of terrorism, U.S. policy was "sticks without carrots."34 The United States would not foster any goodwill with Syria or other states if they continued to conduct their foreign policy in such a manner. The United States also expressed concern over Syria's WMD program, its role in undermining the Arab-Israeli peace process and myriad domestic issues.35 With both sides unwilling to compromise, the possibility of tangible normative change to Syrian foreign policy in the region was significantly limited. The Syrian government perceived every attempt to change its actions as yet another means for the United States to involve itself in Middle Eastern affairs; the United States perceived every stubborn response on the part of the Syrians as confirmation that the state was a "pariah".
A significant issue was the government's Alawaite grip on power. Much like Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis in Iraq, the Alawites are a minority sect in Syria. They tolerated very little dissent and prohibited most forms of free expression.36 With the political deadlock between the United States and Syria at a foreign policy level, the success of sanctions was essentially based on the Syrian population's deposing the regime. This was very unlikely at the time, with members of the Alawite sect occupying all positions of power. Gambill argues,
...the Assad family could count on Alawite loyalties to maintain the infrastructure of oppression. [They] bolstered their support base with patronage, a diversionary foreign policy and secular Arab nationalist ideology that abnegates political threats from the left and draws allegiance from minority Christians.... [The] sect provided the firewall that kept [the regime] afloat.37
While he was not all-powerful like his father, Bashar had considerable control over the population and acted swiftly against dissent. It would take the birth of social media and the success of several other revolutions in the region to incite widespread rebellion in Syria. This has yet to result in the overthrow of the regime.
As much as the United States has used the pariah label against Syria, the term is accurate in describing how Syria sees his actions. Unconditional support for Israel and efforts to impose democracy on Afghanistan and Iraq have produced a view of the United States as a destructive force in the region in the eyes of the Syrian regime. Alan George argues that perceptions of the United States and other Western states in Syria were so bad that hardline Syrian conservatives were able to bring Bashar's proposed democratic reforms to a grinding halt in 2001, arguing that they would be pandering to George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon.38 Negotiating with the United States was off the table for the Syrian government. They did not wish to endorse what they saw as regional destabilization. Imposing sanctions on Syria for its dealings with militant groups was as likely to induce political change in the regime as would Syrian sanctions on the United States for its actions.
Not only was the purpose of both U.S. and multilateral sanctions to change the foreign policies of Syria, they were also intended to significantly change political life in Lebanon. The demands of Security Council Resolution 1559, which outlined a plan to remove all Syrian forces from within Lebanese borders, were not entirely supported by the Lebanese. When the draft resolution was released, the Lebanese government noted that Syria had facilitated the security of Lebanon's borders and came to Lebanon in response to a legitimate request for military assistance.39 It was also noted by the Lebanese that, while the resolution calls for free and fair elections, elections were "an internal matter for a member state [and] had never been discussed in the Council. Lebanon's parliamentarians had the right to make decisions pertaining to elections."40 The fact that the successful outcome of sanctions on Syria would have significant implications for Lebanon's political climate further compounded the difficulties already present in the Syrian case. The international community was attempting to bring normative change, not only to a "pariah state," but also to another state perceived to be under its influence. The Lebanese factor added more variables to the Syrian case and diluted the effectiveness of sanctions.41
The main obstacle to the success of sanctions policy in terms of the uprising is the lack of a true multilateral effort. The international community has not yet been able to tailor a global sanctions policy in the Security Council, mainly due to the reluctance of Russia and China. UN policy observer Jeffery Laurenti noted that U.S. and Western efforts to coerce Russia into voting for UN sanctions were misguided, in that they "[assume] that Russia does not wish to stand alone in vetoing action..., but the United States has not hesitated to stand alone in vetoing council resolutions on Israeli settlements in Gaza when all fourteen other members were united."42 With both Russia and China standing steadfast to defy multilateral sanctions policy, Western countries have had to formulate their own. Apart from losing the added pressure of the Russian and Chinese governments on the Libyan regime, the fact that sanctions are only being employed by Western countries perpetuates the Syrian regime's notion that the West is just attempting to impose its political will on Syria rather than help the people on the ground.
The very nature of the conflict has limited the effectiveness of sanctions. According to the United Nations, more than 18,000 people had been killed as of September 2012,43 but it is unknown what proportion are Syrian government troops, rebels or civilians. Most information about the conflict comes in the form of amateur video, rebel testimony and Syrian state TV. Furthermore, very few sources of information have been verified by UN observers and the few media correspondents in Syria. As such it is very difficult for the international community to ascertain the nature of the fighting, let alone whether sanctions are having positive or negative effects. In a situation where sanctions need to be tweaked as the circumstances change, the lack of corroborated information is a distinct drawback.
As they did in the post-Cold War period, non-targeted sanctions risk harming the civilian population. Their use in the case of the uprising would cause even further damage, as it would significantly hinder the rebel cause. This is evident in the employment of U.S. and EU sanctions on oil, which significantly restricted both civilian and rebel access to foodstuffs and services such as power and natural gas.44 If one acknowledges that the primary goal of these sanctions is to oust the Assad regime, then broad sanctions such as this are counterproductive. The international community is therefore limited to targeted sanctions if it wishes the rebel cause to succeed.
As the conflict continues, both sides are becoming increasingly desperate. This is a problem, as sanctions are based on the notion that the targeted states and officials will act rationally.45 Former U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and other political officials often expressed concern that the Assad regime would employ chemical weapons in order to maintain its grip on power, and that the conflict was "rapidly spinning out of control."46 The use of chemical weapons would not be considered rational, even by most authoritarian regimes, but the conflict is escalating to the point where U.S. and EU policy makers are unsure how far the Assad regime will go to keep itself in power. Furthermore, the likelihood of positive sanctions outcomes has been significantly reduced now that the regime's survival is at stake.
All sanctions have an obvious limitation in common: they are specifically intended to force a targeted state into making a policy decision it does not wish to undertake.47 If the targeted state is able to withstand, or even circumvent, the sanctions imposed on it, there is no need for it to comply. Therefore, a targeted state will only comply if the negative effects outweigh the benefits of the policies that sanctions have endeavored to change.48
The fact that sanctions are essentially a Western institution and the vast majority of targets are non-Western states is a significant issue. Niblock argues that the resistance to sanctions is not necessarily due to an ill regard for international law and order, but more about a resistance to international law and institutions being used as a tool of U.S. and Western interests.49 He describes this perception as the "view from the underside of sanctions,"50 which rejects that the sanctioning of "pariah states" leads to a more peaceful international society. This popular perception in the Middle East was used to the advantage of both Colonel Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein. The fact that sanctions have little-to-no legitimacy "from the underside" means that targeted states are more likely to ignore their demands.
The structure of international society is also partially responsible for limiting the effectiveness of sanctions. The lack of accountability allows states to directly and openly oppose sanctions regimes that do not serve their own national interest, in spite of being signatory to a treaty theoretically condemning the actions of a sanctioned state, for example, the UN Human Rights Charter. Targeted states will be more likely to continue their foreign-policy objectives if they know they will be able to garner support from other members of the international community. Support from the Russian government through its use by the veto in the Security Council has allowed the Syrian regime to evade UN Security Council sanctions. Essentially, targeted states are seen by the international community as "law-breakers," but there is no impartial police force that can ensure that the law is being upheld. As a result, states will continue to carry out and ignore transgressions of international law in spite of sanctions, if the positive outcomes of their policies outweigh the negatives.
It is clear that the limitations inherent in the imposition of sanctions are often out of the control of those who formulate policy. The outcomes of sanctions seem to be random; policy makers can neither take into account the immense number of variables needed to ensure their success, nor be fully aware of how far the target state is willing to go to pursue its policy objectives. The case of Syria illustrates this particularly well. It was not clear to the U.S. government how integral the sponsorship of militant organizations was to the regime, and the desperation of the uprising has become increasingly unpredictable for the international community. It is therefore understandable why the shortcomings of sanctions after the Cold War are still present today.
This does not mean, however, that sanctions policy cannot be improved for implementation in the future. While many of the shortcomings are difficult to avoid, it is still possible for the potential effectiveness to be maximized when attempting to induce normative change in a state's behavior.
In recent history, employing sanctions has typically resulted in the reduction of diplomatic ties with the target state. Many states employ sanctions to distance themselves politically from the target state, which usually means that diplomatic ties have been tenuous to begin with.
Diplomacy should play a much greater role in the use of sanctions. While the reasons for cutting diplomatic ties are somewhat practical, it also has the potential to work against the goals of the sender state. As explained in Chapter 3 of his study, Niblock found that the targeted regimes often consolidated power from demonizing the sender state (or bloc), painting them as an aggressive force that wishes to oppress the population.51 If sanctions are imposed with no diplomatic discourse preceding it, it is much easier for the targeted regime to portray the senders in this light, akin to invaders. From the perspective of the target, sanctions are purely a means for the sender to further its interests abroad. As Niblock argues, "attitudes toward sanctions are clearly conditioned by perceptions of the current global order."52
With this in mind, there is clearly very little Western empathy for the "underside" of sanctions policy. Before sanctions were imposed, the United States had a significant opportunity to diplomatically resolve some of its issues over Syria's sponsorship of terrorism. The Syrian regime had been very cooperative in handing over its intelligence on al-Qaeda after 9/11 and had also undergone Western economic reform in 2005, providing at the very least some points of cooperation. None of this kind of commonality existed between the United States and Iraq or the United States and Libya, yet meaningful diplomacy was shut down in a similar manner. Sanctions may have been more successful if they had been more bipartisan, allowing for the Syrians to put forward legitimate grievances and explanations. This kind of relationship may not have directly induced normative change in Syria, but it would have significantly changed the regime attitude toward the U.S. government. Better relations with Syria would have given Washington more leverage and the Syrians more political options. Instead, the United States put completely non-negotiable terms on the table under the banner of U.S. exceptionalism.
In the Congressional Record, the president is urged to "use all available political and diplomatic means, including sanctions, to persuade the [government] of Syria...to end their support of Hezbollah and Hamas."53 Sanctions are certainly a political tool, but in their current form are hardly diplomatic. If diplomacy played a greater role, the relevance of sanctions as a foreign-policy tool would greatly increase.
There have been attempts at adding a diplomatic element to supplement sanctions regimes, even in the Syrian case. The UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, originally led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and now by Lakhdar Brahimi,54 made specific efforts to diplomatically curtail the violence in Syria while sanctions were in place. The focus of the envoy was to end the violence, not necessarily to demonize the regime any further. It advocated a six-point peace plan that called for
• political discourse led by the Syrian government addressing the grievances of the people
• a UN-observed ceasefire
• the timely provision of humanitarian assistance, including the introduction of a daily two-hour humanitarian "pause"
• an increase in the speed and scale of the release of government detainees
• the preservation of freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists
• respect by the regime of freedom of association and peaceful protest55
While it is probable that the envoy was designed to eventually bring about a transition of power away from the Assad regime, as that would have been the most peaceful solution to the conflict, it did not take sides. As a result, there were some mild improvements in the situation. The mission did provide better access for foreign journalists and gave a formal political platform to the resistance,56 but the envoy failed to bring any meaningful reduction in violence. This is due to several shortcomings in its implementation. First, the envoy was created far too late into the conflict as a result of a Security Council deadlock. If the envoy had been sent to Syria before the desperation of both sides had escalated exponentially, a sustained ceasefire may have been a possibility. Second, the scale of the conflict was far greater than the observer mission accounted for. Chris Doyle, director of the Council of Arab-British Understanding, notes that the 300 members of the UN Observer Mission were "slow to deploy and too small.... If the UN had been serious, there would have been between 3,000 and 5,000 observers backed up by a large team of expert mediators."57 Third, the envoy has had to work within the context of a politically divided international community, making it difficult for any tangible goals to be set.
Clear and Publicly Stated Goals
In a 1992 report to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the General Accounting Office (GAO) said the following regarding the foreign-policy goals of sanctions:
The prevailing belief in the academic and business communities that sanctions are generally "ineffective" has been reached by comparing the results of sanctions against their publicly revealed primary goal. This goal is often presented in terms of making the target nation comply with the policy goals of the sanctioning nation.... Yet policymakers in the sanctioning nation may have incentives to overstate this primary objective. The real goals of sanctions may be unarticulated and more modest.58
There is certainly some truth to this statement. The perceived failure of sanctions comes from an analysis relating to stated goals as opposed to unstated goals. But the very fact that there are two types of goals to every sanctions regime, some hidden and some public, means that the message being sent to the target state and the international community becomes ambiguous. It is understandable that states need to keep some of their foreign-policy goals classified, but having unstated or unclear goals potentially dissuades prospective supporters, much like Russia in the Security Council over the Syrian uprising. Author and journalist Fareed Zakaria notes that the Russian government's political and strategic reliance on Syria is relatively insignificant.59 He explains that the primary reason Russia does not support multilateral sanctions on Syria is that Russian officials fear the United States is attempting to set a precedent for the subversion of sovereignty of autocratic regimes as one of its unstated goals.60 The United States has no plans to sanction a state like Russia, nor does it see any practicality in attempting to overthrow the government. Yet, by withholding some of their goals for sanctions policy in the past, the United States has dissuaded Russia from supporting a UN Security Council resolution to employ sanctions on Syria.
The goals of sanctions that have been publicly stated need to be consistently clear and pragmatic. Mikael Eriksson, when considering some of the pitfalls of EU sanctions policy, notes that the goals of sanctions can often be very abstract.61 As such, in order for them to be successful they must be grounded in reality, drawing up "concrete and achievable goals....[They] should contain clear goals, clear ideas on how to effectively monitor sanctions, how the sender could help and supply other states in sustaining the sanctions, etc."62 The primary reason for clear goals is to make possible the creation of concrete monitoring standards for progress. If the goals are clear, milestones for success can be determined more easily and monitoring mechanisms can be readily attuned to the specific case. Clearer goals lead to an increase in legitimacy and lower political risk for the sender.
Awareness of Limitations
All sanctions attempt to achieve something very difficult by endeavoring to change the foreign or domestic policy of a state expressly against their will. Sanctions are only one of many potential tools to use in a foreign-policy dilemma, and, if their likelihood of success is not significant, other options should be considered.
Perhaps more important than the overall limitations to sanctions is for sender states to consider the limitations within specific cases. Both the circumstances and the target regime should be assessed on a case-by-case basis in order to ascertain how effective sanctions can be.63 In Libya, the welfare system was a significant limitation; sanctions drove the Libyan population onto government handouts and increased their reliance on the regimes.64 In Syria, Bashar al-Assad's fiercely loyal inner circle was also a significant limitation,65 given how resolutely the regime has attempted to quell the uprising with military force. Instead of looking at each case individually, states today have been utilizing the same sanctions policies, irrespective of the target state.
Clear Contingency Plans
States constantly make contingency plans about security issues, even regarding sanctions. However, they do not always make these plans clear to the target government while the sanctions are in place. Contingency plans often mean military action or invasion, such as the action that Israel is likely planning against Iran if sanctions have no effect on its nuclear program.66 By making contingency plans clear, sender states have a concrete option if sanctions fail to achieve their specified goals. Furthermore, this kind of transparency allows the international community to prepare for further action and possibly pledge their support. Creating a follow-up sanctions policy that is both public and much more severe would force the target to conduct a cost-benefit analysis in relation to its foreign-policy objectives. Contingency plans also important when sanctions are successful. If Syria had ceased its support for militant organizations because of the Syria Accountability Act, it would have been important for the United States to have a clear course of action, to make sure that the government did not backslide. It needs to be in the target state's interest to continue to comply with the terms. If the target complies and they continue to be treated as a "pariah", there is no incentive for them to cease their actions. The notion that sanctions are able to succeed is based on the fact that states will want to alleviate international pressure as well as economic pressure. As such, states need to be careful in how they reintroduce "pariahs" states into the international community when sanctions are successful.
Academics are mostly critical of sanctions for a reason. Historically they have done more harm to the population of the target than to the target elite, and target states do not always act in a predictable manner. However, sanctions will continue to play an integral role in the international system for the foreseeable future, if only because the options are so limited. In a world where states wish to move away from military conflict as a prevalent foreign policy tool, sanctions will be an essential part of foreign policy.
It is clear that there is plenty of room for improvement; the international community has yet to utilize sanctions in a way that takes advantage of their full potential. The biggest issue holding sanctions back is a lack of empathy or discourse with the targeted states. Sender states cannot hope to achieve any of their policy goals through sanctions if they do not acknowledge or understand the "underside". To date, sanctions have been applied to states with the underlying principle that their behavior needs to be corrected, which in many cases is justified. Yet, to label a state a criminal in the international community is not going to change its behavior. The target needs to be part of the process.
The Syrian case has shown that there are two potential paths to take. If sanctions continue to be implemented in the manner that they are today, they will be looked at by historians and academics in years to come as ultimately ineffectual political tools that do more to divide states than create a secure international community. On the other hand, if sanctions are reformulated in the ways specified, they have the potential to achieve tangible changes in the policy of target states, increasing accountability in an otherwise anarchical international system.
1 Hillary Clinton, July 6, 2012, in "Syria Crisis: Powers Call for Tougher Sanctions," BBC News online, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18733535, accessed on June 6, 2013.
2 United Nations Security Council, Press Release SC/5158: Security Council Unanimously Adopts Wide-Ranging Anti-Terrorism Resolution, 2001, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sc7158.doc.htm, accessed on March 9, 2012.
3 Jeremy M. Sharp and Alfred B. Pados, "Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues," Congressional Research Service, September 19, 2007, Washington D.C., 26, http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL33487_20070919.pdf accessed on March 9, 2012.
4 Dual-use items are items that can be used for both military and civilian purposes.
5 Ibid, p.27.
6 J. M. Sharp and A. B. Pados, "Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues," 27.
7 "EU Tightens Sanctions against Syrian Regime," EU@UN Website, Europa, Brussels, 2012, http://www.eu-un.europa.eu/articles/fr/article_12013_fr.htm accessed March 9, 2012.
8 "Executive Orders," U.S. Treasury Department Website, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/syria.aspx accessed March 4, 2012.
9 Ibid, 217.
10 Tim Niblock, Pariah States and Sanctions in the Middle East: Iraq, Libya, Sudan (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, 2001), 218.
12 Ibid, 219.
14 Ibid, 220.
15 Gary C. Gambill, "How Washington Lost Syria," Foreign Policy Institute, May 2012, http://www.fpri.org/enotes/2012/201205.gambill.washington-lost-syria.html accessed on June 26, 2012.
16 Gabriel G. Tabarini, "How Iran Plans to Fight America and Dominate the Middle East," Author House (Bloomington, 2008), 159.
17 Ibid, 161.
18 Mona Yacoubian and Scott Lasensky, "Dealing with Damascus: Seeking a Greater Return on U.S.-Syria Relations," Council of Foreign Relations, New York, June 2008, p.28.
19 Ozden Zeynep Oktav, "Turkey in the 21st Century: Quest for a New Foreign Policy," Ashgate, Burlington, 2011, 79.
20 Jeremy M Sharp and Christopher M Blanchard, May 24, 2012, "Syria: Unrest and U.S. Policy," Congressional Research Service, 2012, 25.
21 "U.S. and Germany Urge Russia Not to Arm Syria Military," BBC World News Online, May 31, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22734537 accessed on June 1, 2013.
22 Jeremy M. Sharp, Syria: Issues for the 112th Congress and Background on U.S. Sanctions (Congressional Research Service, 2011), 20.
23 Catherine Ashton in Section 7.25 of Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: European Scrutiny Committee, Sixty-first Report of Session 2010-12: Documents Considered by the Committee on 27th March 2012, TSO, London, 2012, p.50.
24 J. M. Sharp and C. M. Blanchard, "Syria: Unrest and U.S. Policy," 15.
25 The Report: Emerging Syria, 12.
26 Information on the shabiha is limited to the testimony of activists on the ground in Syria. They have been allegedly responsible for the massacre in Houla in May 2012 in which over a hundred people were killed. For more information, read BBC News Online, May 29, 2012, "Syria Unrest: Who Are the Shabiha?," BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14482968, accessed on July 11, 2012.
27 Raed Safadi, Laura Munro and Radwan Ziadeh in Ibrahim Elbadawi and Sami Makdisi, Democracy in the Arab World: Explaining the Deficit (Taylor and Francis, London, 2011), 142.
28 Section 183, Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Foreign Affairs Committee, Human Rights Annual Report 2007 (TSO, London, 2007), 68.
29 J. M. Sharp and C. M. Blanchard, "Syria: Unrest and U.S. Policy," 24.
31 Nir Rosen, "Q&A: Nir Rosen on Daily Life in Syria," Aljazeera, Feb 20 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/02/2012220164924305314.html, accessed on July 11, 2012.
32 J. M. Sharp, Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues (Congressional Research Service, 2006), 2.
33 Anthony H. Cordesman, Arab-Israeli Military Forces in an Era of Asymmetric Wars (Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C., 2006), 332.
34 Hazem Kandil in Bahgat Korany and Ali E. Hillal Dessouki, The Foreign Policies of Arab States: The Challenge of Globalisation (The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 2010), 436.
36 G. C. Gambill, "How Washington Lost Syria," May 2012.
38 Alan George, Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom (Zed Books, London, 2003), 169.
39 United Nations, Yearbook of the United Nations, Vol. 58, Canada, 2006, 506.
41 Ibid, 506-510.
42 David W. Lesch, Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad (Yale University Press, Cornwall, 2012), 194.
43 "Syria Conflict: Brahimi in First Mission," BBC World News Website, September 10 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19544899, accessed on September 11, 2012.
44 N. Rosen, "Q&A: Nir Rosen on Daily Life in Syria," Aljazeera, February 20, 2012.
45 Duncan Snidal, "Rational Choice and International Relations" in Beth A. Simmons, Walter Carlsnaes and Thomas Risse, Handbook of International Relations (Sage Publications, 2006), 81.
46 Leon Panetta in "Panetta Says Syria 'Spinning Out of Control'; Cautions Assad on Chemical Weapons," July 18, 2012, Al Arabia News English, http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/07/18/227069.html, accessed on September 13, 2012.
47 Ibid, 159.
49 Tim Niblock, Pariah States and Sanctions in the Middle East: Iraq, Libya, Sudan (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, 2001), 6.
50 Ibid, 7.
51 See "Chapter 3: Outcomes of Sanctions on Syria," outcome (III).
52 Tim Niblock, Pariah States and Sanctions in the Middle East: Iraq, Libya, Sudan, 6.
53 Congress, Congressional Record, V 152, Pt.11, July 13, 2006 to July 24, 2006, 14734.
54 Jane Arraf, "Interview: Syria Peace Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi," Aljazeera, September 20, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/09/2012920731664541.html, accessed on October 4, 2012.
55 Douglas Hamilton, "Text of Annan's Six-Point Peace Plan for Syria," Reuters, April 4, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/04/us-syria-ceasefire-idUSBRE8330HJ20120404, accessed on October 4, 2012.
56 Chris Doyle, "Kofi Annan's Resignation Is No Surprise, His Syria Peace Plan Undermined," Guardian, August 2, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/02/kofi-annan-resignation-syria-peace-plan, accessed on October 6, 2012.
58 United States General Accounting Office, Economic Sanctions: Effectiveness as Tools of Foreign Policy (General Accounting Office, Washington D.C., February 19, 1992), 3.
59 Fareed Zakaria, "Circling the Wagons on Syria," Time Magazine, July 9, 2012, 1, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2118300-1,00.html, accessed on October 7, 2012.
60 Ibid, 2.
61 Mikael Eriksson in Peter Wallensteen and Carina Stiabano, International Sanctions: Between Words and Wars (Frank Cass, New York, 2005), 121.
62 P. Wallensteen and C. Stiabano, "Between Words and Wars," 2005, 121.
64 Tim Niblock, Pariah States and Sanctions in the Middle East: Iraq, Libya, Sudan, 218.
65 G.C. Gambill, "How Washington Lost Syria," 2012.
66 "Israeli, Iranian Media See in Netenyahu Speech Warning of War," BBC News, September 28, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19758563, accessed on October 10, 2012.