[pjw] Analysis: See sanctions for what they really are: war crimes (Cockburn/Ind't 1/19)

Peace and Justice Works pjw at pjw.info
Tue Feb 20 18:22:12 EST 2018

This is an analysis made on Jan. 19 by Patrick Cockburn about how 
sanctions can be a weapon of war-- the argument the Iraq Affinity Group 
made repeatedly between 1992 and 2003 as sanctions destroyed Iraq and its 
population. Cockburn makes reference here to his visit to Iraq in the 

I can't find an online version but at our IAG meeting last week I shared 
an op-ed by Sen. Jeff Merkley titled "Answer N. Korea's threats with 
sanctions." (It ran on Sept. 12 last year in the Portland Tribune.) He 
called to stop oil imports. Like the sanctions on Iraq, those items which 
have dual purposes for civilian and military use can't be banned just 
because of what the government might do (like, I don't know, waste the 
gasoline by driving tanks around for a military parade). It will just 
devastate the ordinary people of N. Korea (more than what's already 

Anyway, here's the article. Stay safe in the snow.
dan h
peace and justice works iraq affinity group

It?s Time We Saw Sanctions for What They Really Are ? War Crimes
     [127]Patrick Cockburn ? January 19, 2018
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     The first pathetic pieces of wreckage of North Korean fishing boats
     known as ?ghost ships? to be found this year are washing up on the
     coast of northern Japan. These are the storm-battered remains of
     fragile wooden boats with unreliable engines in which North Korean
     fishermen go far out to sea in the middle of winter in a desperate
     search for fish.

     Often all that survives is the shattered wooden hull of the boat cast
     up on the shore, but in some cases the Japanese find the bodies of
     fishermen who died of hunger and thirst as they drifted across the Sea
     of Japan. Occasionally, a few famished survivors are alive and explain
     that their engine failed or they ran out of fuel or they were victims
     of some other fatal mishap.

     The number of ?ghost ships? is rising with no less than 104 found in
     2017, which is more than in any previous year, though the real figure
     must be higher because many boats will have sunk without trace in the
     600 miles of rough sea between North Korea and Japan.

     The reason so many fishermen risk and lose their lives is hunger in
     North Korea where fish is the cheapest form of protein. The government
     imposes quotas for fishermen that force them to go far out to sea. Part
     of their catch is then sold on to China for cash, making fish one of
     the biggest of North Korea?s few export items.

     The fact that North Korean fishermen took greater risks and died in
     greater numbers last year is evidence that international sanctions
     imposed on North Korea are, in a certain sense, a success: North Korea
     is clearly under severe economic pressure. But, as with sanctions
     elsewhere in the world past and present, the pressure is not on the
     North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who looks particularly plump and
     well-fed, but on the poor and the powerless.

     The record of economic sanctions in forcing political change is dismal,
     but as a way of reducing a country to poverty and misery it is
     difficult to beat. UN sanctions were imposed against Iraq from 1990
     until 2003. Supposedly, it was directed against Saddam Hussein and his
     regime, though it did nothing to dislodge or weaken them: on the
     contrary, the Baathist political elite took advantage of the scarcity
     of various items to enrich themselves by becoming the sole suppliers.
     Saddam?s odious elder son Uday made vast profits by controlling the
     import of cigarettes into Iraq.

     The bureaucrats in charge of UN sanctions in Iraq always pretended that
     they prevented Saddam rebuilding his military strength. This was always
     a hypocritical lie: the Iraqi army did not fight for him in 1991 at the
     beginning of sanctions any more than it did when they ended. It was
     absurd to imagine that dictators like Kim Jong-un or Saddam Hussein
     would be influenced by the sufferings of their people.

     These are very real: I used to visit Iraqi hospitals in the 1990s where
     the oxygen had run and there were no tyres for the ambulances. Once, I
     was pursued across a field in Diyala province north of Baghdad by local
     farmers holding up dusty X-rays of their children because they thought
     I might be a visiting foreign doctor.

     Saddam Hussein and his senior lieutenants were rightly executed for
     their crimes, but the foreign politicians and officials who were
     responsible for the sanctions regime that killed so many deserved to
     stand beside them in the dock. It is time that the imposition of
     economic sanctions should be seen as the war crime, since it involves
     the collective punishment of millions of innocent civilians who die,
     sicken or are reduced to living off scraps from the garbage dumps.

     There is nothing very new in this. Economic sanctions are like a
     medieval siege but with a modern PR apparatus attached to justify what
     is being done. A difference is that such sieges used to be directed at
     starving out a single town or city while now they are aimed at
     squeezing whole countries into submission.

     An attraction for politicians is that sanctions can be sold to the
     public, though of course not to people at the receiving end, as more
     humane than military action. There is usually a pretence that
     foodstuffs and medical equipment are being allowed through freely and
     no mention is made of the financial and other regulatory obstacles
     making it impossible to deliver them.

     An example of this is the draconian sanctions imposed on Syria by the
     US and EU which were meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and help
     remove him from power. They have wholly failed to do this, but a UN
     internal report leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the effect of
     the embargo in stopping the delivery of aid by international aid
     agencies. They cannot import the aid despite waivers because banks and
     commercial companies dare not risk being penalised for having anything
     to do with Syria. The report quotes a European doctor working in Syria
     as saying that ?the indirect effect of sanctions?makes the import of
     the medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult,
     near impossible.?

     People should be just as outraged by the impact of this sort of thing
     as they are by the destruction of hospitals by bombing and artillery
     fire. But the picture of X-ray or kidney dialysis machines lacking
     essential spare parts is never going to compete for impact with film of
     dead and wounded on the front line. And those who die because medical
     equipment has been disabled by sanctions are likely to do so
     un-dramatically and out of sight.

     Embargos are dull and war is exciting. A few failed rocket strikes
     against Riyadh by the Houthi forces in Yemen was heavily publicised,
     though no Saudis were killed. Compare this to the scant coverage of the
     Saudi embargo on Houthi-held Yemen which has helped cause the largest
     man-made famine in recent history. In addition, there are over one
     million cholera cases suspected and 2,000 Yemenis have died from the
     illness according to World Health Organisation.

     PR gambits justifying sanctions are often the same regardless of
     circumstances. One is to claim that the economic damage caused prevents
     those who are targeted spending money on guns and terror. President
     Trump denounces the nuclear deal with Iran on the grounds that it frees
     up money to finance Iranian foreign ventures, though the cost of these
     is small and, in Iraq, Iranian activities probably make a profit.

     Sanctions are just as much a collective punishment as area bombing in
     East Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul. They may even kill more people than the
     bombs and shells because they go on for years and their effect is
     cumulative. The death of so many North Korean fishermen in their
     un-seaworthy wooden craft is one side effect of sanctions but not
     atypical of their toxic impact. As usual, they are hitting the wrong
     target and they are not succeeding against Kim Jong-un any more than
     they did against Saddam Hussein.
     (Republished from [141]The Independent by permission of author or

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