COMMENTARY | Economic sanctions rarely work as planned. Intended to apply pressure to the leaders of misbehaving nations, economic sanctions are considered the “civilized” alternative to gunpoint diplomacy. Instead of smashing a foe in the face you squeeze his pocketbook, bringing him to heel without bloodshed. While bloodshed is usually avoided, at least internationally, economic sanctions often hurt those they are intended to help: The common man.
We want the leaders of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba to feel the bite of American sanctions, but do they go hungry at dinner? Obviously not. If anything, the leaders of North Korea and Syria are known for their dictatorial opulence. It’s safe to assume that the leaders of Iran and Cuba are living comfortably as well. Who feels the brunt of Western economic sanctions? The civilians at the base of the socioeconomic pyramid. These common folks are the ones who do not eat when imports of foodstuffs are banned. They are the ones who shiver in the night when fuel is scarce.
Right now, as the West proposes levying economic sanctions against Russia in retaliation for Russia’s interference in Crimea, it is guaranteed that the politicians in Moscow will not be the ones feeling the pinch. In fact, according to ABC, Russian politicians who have had their assets frozen by the United States are laughing. They appear unconcerned by the looming economic threats.
If Russia’s imports and exports are stalled by sanctions, will Vladimir Putin go hungry?
Russia’s scoffing at Western sanctions should be the final straw that convinces politicians to end their reliance on these useless tactics. Russian leaders show no sign of ending their interference in Crimea and, if push comes to shove, we all know that Russia’s poor and middle class will feel the bite of sanctions long before the wealthy. And, if the wealthy do ever feel the bite, will they blame the Kremlin and urge Putin to withdraw from Ukraine…or simply hate the West?
Economic sanctions are more likely to embitter a nation’s citizens against the foreign sanction-placers than their own leaders. North Koreans, Syrians, Cubans, Iranians, and Russians are more likely to hate the West after sanctions are levied than pressure their respective leaders to reform, and for good reason. Are North Koreans supposed to write op-eds to Kim Jong Un? How have Russian citizens’ protests against Putin worked out? Civilians in these nations have little ability to alter what the West wants altered but are getting punished for it.