The Case for Sanctions in Syria – Lessons from Africa

Sanctions are a hard form of economic power that Joseph Nye discusses in chapter three of his new book, The Future of Power, and a topic that is discussed widely today in relation to Syria. Many policy makers are pondering whether sanctions will be useful in convincing President al-Assad to stop killing his people. No doubt some in the camp that support sanctions would point to the smart sanctions that Rose Gottemoeller discusses in her article, The Evolution of Sanctions. She claims this progress has taken place after the world noted the failure of the blanket use of the measure against the Iraq regime that lead to suffering by the target population as a whole, and the corruption it bred. Gottemoeller suggests that smart sanctions “have been honed through the ‘war on terror’, and sanctions are hitting their targets among corrupt elites more often” (109). Many argue that sanctions are better than doing nothing, and a step below military engagement. This enables countries with public opinions that do not support the sacrifice of blood and treasure to still make their preference known in a forceful way. However, despite the near constant stream of sanctions and their intellectually enhanced offspring in the past decade, where do we see successes? Nye explains where economic power can be seen in the world today, but doesn’t place it fully into a country’s diplomatic toolkit. For example, many of the United States’ links with China are symbiotic and the circular relationship requires both sides to make policy changes in order to move forward. Certainly sanctions, as a piece of the arsenal of power could not solve this problem. Thus sanctions as a mode of influence have a fairly limited scope of use, even the ‘smart’ kind.

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