Sanctions and Rogue Regimes

March 02, 1992

Iraq has lived with United Nations economic sanctions since August 1990, so far with no harm to the government but a great deal to its 17 million subjects. Libya fears a more limited economic sanction. Each harbors deeper fears of a possible U.S. military attack. Neither wants to comply with United Nations Security Council mandates. Each is maneuvering desperately. Signs are that, with each, economic sanctions or the threat of them have effect, but require more patience than Western policy-makers normally have.

Iraq has overtly complied with U.N. inspections for nuclear weapons development but impeded the investigators. Reportedly, they are following intelligence leads to a possible plutonium-producing reactor as yet undiscovered. The latest development is that Iraq has told the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection team it wants to come clean. He is satisfied.

The catch is that the U.N. Security Council has other concerns, including Saddam Hussein's blockade against Kurds in the north, his trade sanctions violations, information on missing Kuwaitis, his refusal to sell oil for food for his people as the U.N. instructs, and the location of other weapons of mass destruction. But the Security Council itself is not coming clean. Two of its permanent members, Britain and the United States, want sanctions to remain until Saddam Hussein falls. But that is not a stated Security Council goal. Reportedly, President Bush has authorized covert means to arrange his overthrow, and the Iraqi army has invaded the last redoubt of Shiite rebels in the south.

Libya's problem is different. France wants it to provide evidence on four Libyans accused of bombing a French airliner in Africa in 1989. Britain and the United States want it to extradite two Libyans accused of bombing an American airliner over Britain in 1988, though neither has an extradition treaty with Libya. The U.N. has ordered Libya to comply, with the three Western powers preparing to back it up with an arms and aviation embargo. Dictator Muammar el Kadafi offers to comply with the French, but not the Anglo-American, request. The allies refuse to be split on this.

Sanctions are never a precise lever to manipulate another nation cleanly without side-effects. Usually, they hurt a people more than its regime. There can, however, be reasons for sanctions which can, with enough patience, achieve reasonable expectations. Both Libyan and Iraqi dictators are writhing to get off the hook, a positive sign. Saddam Hussein, not the U.N., is responsible for hunger in Iraq. But hopes of easily toppling him ignore the effectiveness of his police state and the fears of the Iraqi people. What sanctions can more reasonably compel is his compliance with Security Council mandates.

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