Sanctions as Instruments of US Foreign Policy 1
Sanctions as Instruments of US Foreign Policy
ISAAC OLUSEGUN OLUBO
US FOREIGN POLICY IN THE POST COLD WAR
The US is among the countries that widely use sanctions in efforts to compel a certain government(s) to change their policy appropriately. Usually, the embargos involve the restrictions on trade, investment and other commercial activities. The US mainly applies sanctions to countries which violate human rights, sponsor terror acts, trade unfairly or develop weapons of mass destruction. Depending on the level of the violation, the severity can be mild or extreme. Embargos have become the vehicles of non-military coercion, and the US does not hesitate to use them whenever necessary in order to reinforce the US foreign policy and promote the change of the victim countries for the better. However, the application of sanctions has attracted significant criticism following arguments that they affect the innocent civilians. As such, this paper will discuss how successful sanctions have been as the instruments of the US foreign policy. The discussion will borrow from the case of Cuba.
Failed Sanction Goals
It cannot be said that sanctions have been successful because they are not living up to the set expectations. The case is not only so in Cuba but also other countries such as Iran and North Korea which faces embargos from the US. As hinted earlier, the main problem with the sanctions is that they only hurt the people who the US government is intending to help. For instance, in the case of a trade sanction, a worker in a factory cannot receive raw materials and farmers are unable to export their crops. The US and Cuba has a long history in relation to sanctions. Since the 1960s, the US established strict restrictions barring Americans from investing in, trading with, and traveling to Cuba (White, 2014, p. 22). The primary objective for this sanction was to save this Caribbean Island from the dictatorial regime.
The Castro’s government was tyrannical. It prohibited free elections, and people who opposed the government were jailed, tortured or/and killed (Taylor 2009, p. 27). The country’s economic system was centrally planned, and it was one of the poorest nations. Despite having a small population when compared to other countries, the citizens did not enjoy free enterprise and private property. Hence, the US was determined to sap the regime of Castro and improve the livelihoods of the citizens in this Island. American then set strict measures against the nation hoping that the regime will be forced to hasten the process of liberalization and democracy. The argument was that the economic sanction would deprive Cube of resources thus undermining the Castro’s reign. Along the way, the sanctions also include a security rationale given that Castro served in the Soviet Union in 1991 (Clifford 1993, p. 161). However, service in the Soviet Union was short-lived following the fall of the Soviet Communism.
Despite the restrictions put forward by the US, the regime was still slow in enhancing liberalization. The existence of multiple parties was only legalized in 1991 but with prohibition from campaigning for elections (Taylor 2010, p. 33). By 2005, almost half a century since the initiation of the embargo, Cuba was still not liberalized and it is the citizens who felt the heat. Cuba was poor and dysfunctional, especially since other sponsors also parted ways with the country. In fact, the state was too poor that it did not pose any security threat to America or the neighboring regions. The security issue was a concern because there were unfounded claims that the government of Cuba was supporting terrorists abroad. Therefore, the sanctions were not effective since the citizens of Cuba continued to suffer while the government officials the US intended to suppress led desirable lifestyles at the expense of the civilians. What is the point of having sanctions which hurt the people who the US government wants to help?
Even worse, the sanctions gave the Castro regime a reason to justify their failures. It blamed the embargo for the intense suffering experienced by the state. The government went ahead to suggest that the situation can only change if the sanctions are lifted in order to encourage market reforms. Castro clinched on this claim regardless of the fact that the domestic policies prevailing in Cuba had worse repercussion than the sanctions (Whang 2011, p. 793). Suffice is to say that the US policy failed at its goal to bring freedom and individual development in Cuba. By suppressing investment and trade, the people had to deal with high cost of living. Workers and entrepreneurs in Cuba had insignificant independence, and any surplus realized went to Castro and his ruling group.
The ruling elite did not feel the heat as they insulated themselves meaning that the innocent civilians were the one to bear the pain. Therefore, if the two countries had nurtured a relationship, Cubans would have been able to access low-cost food and goods from the US. Notwithstanding the sanctions, Cuba does not fully acknowledge the religious and political rights of its people and is yet to completely forego its reparation claims against the US. Clearly, the sanctions have not met the set goals.
America is also negatively affected by the sanctions as it loses opportunities to make revenues, particularly through exports. Cuba is one of the largest export markets and by restricting trade with this country denies America the opportunity for Cuba to buy American goods. Not even the introduction of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 exploited this opportunity. The Act only allowed cash-only sales of American farm products and medical supplies (Neuenkirch & Neumeier 2016, p. 115). In fact, Cuba was among the leading countries that largely bought American farm products.
Hence, the stringent restrictions saw the US underplay the opportunity to substantially increase sales and revenues. Again, the US was unfair as it allowed the sales of farm products and medical supplies to Cuba but still limited the traveling of Americans to Cuba. This would have been essential as the people would benefit from revenues created by tourism. It can thus be argued that the US may use sanctions to enrich itself and this questions its sincerity in helping the people of Cuba. The concern about the lost opportunities the US experienced courtesy of the sanctions is evident after the ease of sanctions spearheaded by President Barrack Obama in 2014.
The loosening of the sanctions regulations was instrumental as it brought changes which made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and the legal nonimmigrant Cubans to earn salaries (Davis 2016, p. 1). Americans can travel to Cuba even for educational purposes and encourage meaningful interactions which reduce the dependence of Cubans on the Cuban authorities. On the other hand, permitted nonimmigrant Cubans including athletes and performers can travel to the US and earn salaries and stipends. Banking regulations were also revised, and money from Cuba would pass through US banking institutions to other countries. With the leniency on the US-Cuba relations, Cuba has experienced significant growth and development in various areas including telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, travel and cargo, technology, construction and infrastructure. Today, a good number of US companies have leveraged the warmer relationship and invested in the Cuban market. Major airlines are flying to Cuba from America. For example, Airbnb is experiencing its fastest growth in Cuba. Hotels, banks, cruise ship companies and automobile firms are largely joining the Cuban market as well.
Therefore, the sanctions were barring growth and development for both regions. The US has wasted over a half a century in upholding sanctions which only worsened the situation in Cuba and delayed the progress associated with a healthy relationship between the countries. Inasmuch as the use of sanctions is a powerful weapon, it is important to determine how the sanctions will play out. The point is to avoid adopting embargos frivolously as barring a country from participating in the global financial system can have severe consequences to innocent civilians. The case is especially so because the governments facing sanctions are mostly dictatorial and may not mind the plight of the civilians.
Hence, it is necessary to devise ways in which sanctions can be established to directly inflict the government and the ruling elite without worsening the condition of innocent citizens. Moreover, since it may be difficult to come up with sanctions which do not affect civilians, the US should be establishing the harshest embargos in order to compel the governments to change their behavior within the shortest time possible. This was a case witnessed with Iran forcing the country to reach a deal with the US and agreeing to limit its nuclear program (LeoGrande 2015, 939). With the harshest sanctions, it can be difficult for governments to remain resistant for long as in the case of Cuba.
What the Future Holds
The future still looks bright for the US-Cuba relations, especially because Trump promised a solid and strong deal with Cuba. The president has the executive authority to preside the direction of sanctions as stipulated under the Trading with the Enemy Act (Segall 2016, p. 2). If Trump embarks on a mission to change the policies surrounding the US-Cuba relations, he will be forced to ensure that the two countries reach a better deal. It is unlikely for him to reverse the policy developed by the Obama administration owing to the negative consequences that would ensue. Activities such as telecommunications services and the exportation of agricultural commodities and medical supplies would be limited.
More so, a significant number of US companies are largely investing in Cuba. Trump would not want to interfere with the success of these firms meaning that he will be inclined towards making a better deal. The case is especially so given the Helms-Burton Act which authorizes claimants to sue foreign companies in the US federal court for expropriation (Gershberg 2016, p. 1). The last three presidents have been suspending the Act and Trump can choose to do so or prepared for a series of lawsuits. Nevertheless, the only threat that can potentially disrupt US-Cuba relations is any links to the country to sponsoring terror acts. The US is extremely serious and cautious regarding matters of security and would take any measure to safeguard its citizens. In such an event, Cuba may face harsh sanctions.
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