War by Another Name: Sanctions are not a gentler alternative to conflict

Joshua Craze in The Baffler, with photographic collages by Wolf Böwig:

The use of sanctions doubled in the decade following 2000, while their rate of success plummeted. The Global Sanctions Database evaluates that from 1985 to 2000, they worked between 25 and 40 percent of the time; by 2016, that figure had fallen to below 20 percent. Why, then, do sanctions remain an instrument of first resort for the American foreign policy establishment? Their centrality is paradoxically a sign of American weakness. In an increasingly multipolar world, the United States has fewer ways of influencing global politics and less domestic appetite to do so. Sanctions are one of the last tools in an emptying diplomatic toolbox, as illustrated by recent events in Afghanistan and Russia.

In August 2021, the United States impounded $9.4 billion of Afghan Central Bank assets, following its humiliating withdrawal from Kabul. The consequences for Afghanistan are sure to be grim. On March 25, 2022, the World Food Program predicted that 22.8 million people—more than half of the country’s population—will be acutely food insecure this year, with 8.7 million facing famine-like conditions. Biden has promised to increase food aid, but, as a group of forty-eight Democratic members of Congress noted in December 2021, “No increase in food and medical aid can compensate for the macroeconomic harm of soaring prices of basic commodities, a banking collapse, a balance-of-payments crisis, a freeze on civil servants’ salaries, and other severe consequences that are rippling throughout Afghan society, harming the most vulnerable.”

Planning for sanctions against Russia began in November 2021, when U.S. intelligence received credible reports about the invasion of Ukraine.

More here.