Can sanctions help save Ukraine?
Mulder draws attention to an important but often overlooked aspect of the early sanctions debate: the provision of economic assistance. The founders of the League emphasized what they called “positive aid”. They inserted language in Article 16 of the Pact committing member states to “support each other in financial and economic measures”. Economist John Maynard Keynes was a strong proponent of this approach. He thought an offer of financial assistance would be an attractive incentive for sanctioned regimes to make concessions. He also believed that positive economic aid would help alleviate the conditions that breed war. He advocated emphasizing “supply instead of deprivation”.
Ultimately, the League did not adopt these ideas, but proposals for positive aid and economic assistance were incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. Economic and social development programs are major elements of UN policy and are widely recognized as an essential basis for achieving lasting peace and preventing armed conflict. Social science research confirms that higher levels of economic development are strongly correlated with lower risks of armed conflict.
Researchers agree that sanctions work best when combined with positive measures. Economist David Baldwin stresses the importance of both negative and positive sanctions. It discusses restrictive measures that prevent access to trade, but also policies that provide assistance and opportunities for economic development. The combination of the two can form the basis of diplomatic strategies to resolve conflicts and strengthen international cooperation.
The most attractive form of positive assistance may be the offer to lift sanctions once certain conditions are met. Sanctions are not simply instruments of economic punishment and military containment. They are also tools for reaching a diplomatic agreement and can be used as leverage to negotiate a political settlement. Offering an adversary like Russia the possibility of escaping isolation, recovering frozen assets and resuming normal trade can induce political concessions.
Sanctions relief offers have been used as leverage in a number of major cases over the past few decades. In the late 1980s, South African leaders’ desire to escape international isolation and anti-apartheid sanctions was a factor in their decisions to broker a transition to non-racial democracy and dismantle the anti-apartheid agenda. the country’s nuclear weapons. Offers to lift UN sanctions were central to negotiations with Libya in the 1990s to end its support for terrorism. During the Dayton Peace Process in 1995, the promise of sanctions relief helped persuade Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević to end the war in Bosnia.
Perhaps the best-known recent example of this dynamic is the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which the United States and its European partners offered sanctions relief in exchange for an Iranian deal to establish limits to its nuclear program. Under the terms of the agreement, Iran reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98%, closed two-thirds of its centrifuges, drastically reduced its enrichment capacity, eliminated its ability to produce plutonium and agreed to a system of comprehensive and intrusive weapons inspection. . In return, the Security Council, the United States and the European Union lifted proliferation-related sanctions. The deal has been successful: a dozen inspection reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirm that Iran has fully implemented the terms of the deal. The Trump administration backtracked on that deal in 2018, but that doesn’t change the fact that negotiations based on sanctions relief contributed to nuclear nonproliferation throughout the life of the deal. Negotiations are now underway to reinstate the deal, based on the same formula of lifting sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, though a final settlement remains elusive.
American and British officials recognize the potential value of sanctions relief. Echoing a statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in late March that sanctions could be lifted if Russia withdrew its troops. Sanctions “would come with a full ceasefire and withdrawal, but also a commitment that there would be no more aggression,” Truss said. The New York Times editorialized in support of this strategy, calling for more intensive diplomatic efforts and the promise of sanctions relief as leverage to end the war. The Time called on Western leaders to clarify the circumstances and conditions that would make it appropriate to rescind the sanctions. These conditions must be communicated clearly and frequently to the Kremlin as an open invitation to halt its attack and withdraw its troops.
Putin gave the appearance of being interested in negotiations in the weeks leading up to the invasion. Russian diplomats have engaged in negotiations with Germany and France under the Normandy format to resolve border issues in Ukraine, and Moscow has held parallel talks with Washington on East-West security issues. Since the start of the invasion, however, there have been no negotiations other than humanitarian talks, and Putin remains uninterested in meaningful diplomacy. However, as Russian battlefield casualties mount and the costs of sanctions rise, he might be willing to reconsider options for ending the war. The offer of sanctions relief could be a catalyst for the resumption of negotiations. This would shift the emphasis from sanctions as a weapon of war to sanctions as instruments of diplomacy.
Mulder may be right to say that the danger of sanctions lies not in their weakness but in their strength, and in the overconfidence they can inspire in the governments that impose them. Some observers seem only too convinced that a combination of sanctions and Ukrainian military resistance will be enough to bring Russia to its knees. A strategy of maintaining sanctions indefinitely and prolonging the war until Russia is forced to admit defeat poses enormous risks and will either result in further loss of life and increased costs. If the priority is to stop the bloodshed and secure the withdrawal of Russian forces, as it should, then the focus should be on diplomacy and using the peacemaking potential of sanctions. to reach a negotiated agreement.