Economic Sanctions Are a Form of War and Should Be Regarded as One

food insecurity sanctions ukraine

The Ukraine topic has been a subject of long and rigorous dialogues. The Russian invasion has caused tremendous damage to the Ukrainian country and to the global economy subsequently. There is another problem that its consequences remain semi-obscured in this ongoing conflict. That is the problem of the imposed economic sanctions on the Russian country and economy.

The burden of economic sanctions falls on the common people

The topic of sanctions is a topic that has been widely discussed throughout the years. Although the concept of targeted and smart sanctions has switched the discussion from them as they are arguably imposed with much more guidance and monitorization (as compared to previous sanctions which caused catastrophic damage in countries like Iraq), economic sanctions still cause great instability and issues. The main issue, however, is the burden that falls on the common people most of the time.

Economic sanctions are arguably one of the most catastrophic economic tools that humanity has invented. A form of indirect war which has as its purpose to bend a country and its people to its knees. The humanitarian cost in countries like Iraq, Haiti and North Korea has been immense. Multilateral sanctions have usually been imposed in countries of the southern world (except Yugoslavia), and one can say that they are a form of neo-colonial tactic to conform a state and bring it back to the set standards of the international community. Sanctions were usually applied with no specific guidance, and their targets were unclear. For example, when applied to Iran, Washington was not sure if they wanted to change the country’s behaviour or the country’s regime. The same thing happens now, however, the second option seems more appealing. As a matter of fact, economic sanctions are a form of war and should be regarded as one. A war with no soldiers and arms, but by using restrictions, which leave countries deserted from both the infrastructure and the people.

A global economy and the indirect victims of sanctions

As the global economy has become increasingly interlinked and each domestic market is dependent on another domestic market, sanctioning one country creates chain reactions to the domestic affairs of another country. Restricting one country from entering that global market entails that this country will be in a dire economic situation. It also entails, however, that countries that rely on the sanctioned country’s economy will see themselves becoming indirect victims of those economic restrictions as well.

During the present situation, sanctions play a very important role in the shaping of the global market. We need to look at the dependency of some countries on the Russian economy. Russia is the 11th largest economy in the world. Up until now, exports from Russia and Ukraine have virtually ground to a halt because of sanctions imposed by Washington and the European powers on Russia’s banks, shipping and airlines and Ukraine’s ban on the exports of grain and other food products to prevent a domestic humanitarian crisis. Many countries rely on Russia for their food imports. More specifically, twenty-three of Africa’s 54 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for more than half the imports of one of their staple goods. For example, nearly 44 million Sudanese people are about to face hunger due to internal problems, the war in Ukraine and Russian sanctions. To give some brief numbers and facts, Egypt has banned the export of wheat and flour due to the sanctions and the war, something that will lead to an increase in the prices of these products. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine will likely be 7 million tonnes less due to the war and sanctions.

It is not only southern hemisphere countries that face problems, however. Germany and Hungary are among the countries said to have been reluctant to endorse a sweeping plan to block Russian oil imports to the EU amid fears such a move would deliver a severe blow to their economies. Sanctioning Putin’s gas industry will be even more difficult for Germany, which is heavily reliant on supplies from Russia for its energy needs.

What’s the actual problem, then?

Intense globalization and the creation of the commercial society have led countries to be so dependent on the global market with the liberal idea that there is an equilibrium when accessing that market. The material conditions of each country, however, are very far away from that idea. Colonialism and neocolonialism have had catastrophic effects in many countries, to the point that they cannot rely on their own land to sustain themselves and therefore have to rely on imports from different countries. These countries have seen their people killed, dispossessed, and their infrastructure destroyed.

What we are talking about therefore is a political and legal hegemonic community which relies on its economic power to enforce sanctions while having little regard for the material circumstances of countries they themselves have ruined. With such a bank dependent global financial system, it is true that US and general western banks have the means to hurt their opponents. Nonetheless, the fact remains that other countries get massively damaged by those sanctions, which are politically intended yet have grim economic consequences on smaller economies.

Panagiotis Gkagkatsi is a PhD Student in the School of Law, specialising in International Law, Economic Sanctions, Political Theory, International Human Rights Law, and International Humanitarian Law.

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