Putting Teeth in the Tiger: Improving the Effectiveness of Arms Embargoes: Volume 10


Table of contents

(18 chapters)

International sanctions by organizations like the United Nations or European Union and individual countries, such as the United States, have become a useful tool of foreign policy. It is needed to prevent the target countries from threatening the economic or political interest of the sanctioning organization and their allies. Sanctions are also applied on moral and ideological ground like supporting human rights and freedom, trade policies and patent violations, protectionist policies, etc. However, it is widely believed that the sanctions are not effective. Some of the sanctions are also costly for the organization implementing the sanctions and the target countries can always go around the sanctions and are successful in getting sources of supply.

Collective sanctions have long been a contested instrument of international politics, especially since 1990, when United States and large power use of the technique increased to the point where Richard Haass declared that a “sanctions epidemic” had emerged (Haass & O'Sullivan, 1999). Regional bodies, most notably by the European Union (EU), paralleled this trend through a dramatic increase in their own resort to sanctions (Kreutz, 2005). The imposition of sanctions by the United Nations (UN) reached the point that, in comparison to pre-1989 behavior, the 1990s were labeled “the sanctions decade” (Cortright & Lopez, 2000).

The popularity of arms embargoes makes sense on the one hand but can be puzzling on the other. Since arms are a type of good often linked directly to war and peace as one of the central objects of international politics, stemming the flow of arms to a country or group accused of acting against international peace and security is a logical response. However, while this reaction is frequent, it is not generally regarded as being effective. In fact, arms embargoes have a reputation of not functioning well. One can find many references, in academic literature and policy papers alike, which state that arms embargoes “do not work” that they are “ineffective” or that they are “not worth the paper they are printed on.” The paradox that sanctions are deemed to be of little consequence but are still popular among policy-makers (Baldwin, 1997) is particularly striking.

Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the international community took vigorous, unprecedented steps to curb Saddam Hussein's military ambitions. The central component of these actions was a set of comprehensive arms, aviation, maritime, and economic sanctions, each imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). When the multinational coalition forces ousted Iraq from Kuwait the following year, the UNSC made these sanctions and embargoes a component of the armistice agreement. Over time, these sanctions were subsequently used as leverage to press for Iraqi compliance with relevant UNSC resolutions calling for Iraqi disarmament.1

The disintegration of the SFRY, which had its roots in the late 1970s and 1980s (Delevic, 1998), started with the decision of the Slovenian and Croat governments in 1990 to seek independence from Belgrade. The event triggering the outbreak of war in Slovenia was the takeover of Yugoslav custom houses by the Slovenia government, which prompted the YPA to intervene militarily, pitting a well-armed conventional army against the security forces of a nascent state, largely consisting of milita-style Territorial Defense Units (Lucic & Lynch, 1996, pp. 183–185). The EC and the United States moved quickly to impose an arms embargo against Yugoslavia following the military escalation of the crisis in June 1991. This was followed by resolution 713 of the UNSC (1991) imposing a “general and complete embargo on the delivery of weapons and military equipment to Yugoslavia” on 25 September 1991. During this early stage of the conflict, there was agreement among the key international actors (USA, Russia and the EU) that the conflict in Yugoslavia had to be contained and that the breakup of the federal republic should be avoided at all costs, not least because it would set a dangerous precedent for other parts of Eastern Europe. Some permanent members of the Security Council (such as France, Russia and the United Kingdom) sympathized with the Serbian position vis-à-vis the break-away republics and while the decision to apply the arms embargo on Yugoslavia as a whole was justified by the fact that none of the republics had been recognized as a subject of international law, policymakers must have been aware that they were putting Slovenia and Croatia at a military disadvantage through this decision (Lucic & Lynch, 1996, pp. 295–300).

Sanctions are normally used as an instrument by one country or an alliance of countries to affect change in the behaviour of another country. As Ian Anthony has noted, “Within the legal code of states, sanctions are that part of a law that inflicts a penalty for its violation. In common usage, international sanctions can be defined as any restriction or condition established for reasons of foreign policy or national security applied to a foreign country or entity by a group of states using substantially equivalent measures” (Anthony, 2002, p. 204). Most analysts would agree that clearly defined goals on the part of the initiator – and outlining a consistent set of policies with respect to such goals – are an important factor in gauging the effectiveness of sanctions at any given time.

On December 24, 1989, an armed insurrection began in Liberia. Charles Taylor, a former government official, led a rebel force, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), into the north-eastern Nimba County. A breakaway faction, the Independent National Patriotic Front (INPFL), led by Prince Yormie Johnson gained control of central Monrovia – the capital – and killed the President Samuel Doe. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened in August 1990, sending monitoring troops (the ECOWAS Military Observer Group, ECOMOG), and convened a national conference which elected an Interim Government of National Unity. In October 1990, ECOMOG established a neutral zone in Monrovia where Dr. Amos Sawyer was installed as Interim President in November. Various different factions and opposition groups were formed and clashes between the rebel groups and the Liberian army continued.

The drama of Angola's recent history must be seen against the backdrop of political developments in Southern Africa, which had a direct impact on the turn of events in the civil war. During the 1960s and 1970s, the conflict was widely regarded as a prominent example of a liberation struggle against the Portuguese colonial regime. In contrast, the bitter battle in the 1980s and early 1990s between UNITA and the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola – MPLA), the party which has dominated the government in Luanda since independence, was seen as a proxy war between the superpowers over the control of a key African state. During the final phase of the conflict, from the mid-1990s to early 2002, Angola was viewed as a quintessential resource conflict, a power play over access to valuable commodities such as diamonds and crude oil (Global Witness, 1998; Global Witness, 1999). All these categorizations – which reflect the dominant themes in conflict analyses of their time – fall somewhat short of grasping the complex reality of the Angolan conflict. Nevertheless, the shifting position of much of the industrialized world – particularly of the United States at the end of the Cold War – goes a long way toward explaining how the FAA managed, during the mid-1990s, to turn a decade-long military stalemate on the battlefield into a decisive victory. Looking at the geo-strategic picture also helps to explain why it took the comprehensive sanctions regime against UNITA so long to become effective in cutting the supply lines for arms, ammunition, and fuel.

In the early 1990s, the single-party regime of the Mouvement Révolutionnaire Nationale pour le Développement (MRND), headed by President Juvénal Habyarimana, came under growing pressure both internally and externally. Rwanda experienced widespread destitution and famine as state revenues from coffee exports fell from an annual US $144 million in 1985 to a mere US $30 million in 1993 (Debiel, 2003, p. 166). A Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), imposed upon Rwanda by the Bretton Woods institutions in September 1991, was largely irrelevant, if not conducive, to the rising impoverishment of the Rwandan people (Chossudovsky, 1994, p. 21). Between 1989 and 1993, the proportion of the population consuming less than 1,000 calories a day doubled from 15 percent to 31 percent (Maton, 1994).

Only two days before the UN imposed a mandatory arms embargo on Eritrea and Ethiopia, the German Minister for Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, issued a communiqué wherein she described the ongoing absence of international export restrictions against the warring countries as nothing less than a “scandal” (Agence France Press, May 15, 2000). Indeed, the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia had pre-dated the embargo by two years.

The dependent variables for this analysis include three measures of arms embargo effectiveness, which were referred to as ‘levels of effectiveness’ in the Framework Chapter. These are the embargo's success in causing a targeted policy change (level I effectiveness), success in changing arms flow to the target (level II effectiveness), and a measure of effectiveness to capture the arms embargo initiators satisfaction with the operation of the embargo (level III effectiveness).

Arms embargoes in themselves are not able to achieve political goals. At least in the past, they neither stopped wars, nor did they change the political behavior of the targeted states or groups.

Marc von Boemcken is a senior researcher at the Bonn International Center for Conversion, Germany. His areas of expertise include the international arms trade as well as the privatization of security provision.

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Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics and Development
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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