Sanctions do little right and lots wrong

The United Nations’ decision to impose sanctions on Afghanistan was ill-advised. Not only do sanctions have an extremely low success rate, but sanctions typically hurt only those already at risk, leaving the leadership free of repercussions.
Yesterday, the United Nations, spurred on by the United States, imposed sanctions on Afghanistan to demand the arrest of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is suspected of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in August of 1998, which killed 224 people.
The leadership of Afghanistan has a lot for which to answer. In addition to their suspected harboring of bin Laden, the Taliban, the religious army currently in charge, has imposed an extremely harsh regime, considered by many to be the most repressive to women in the world.
In Afghanistan, women cannot work, vote or go to school. They must wear an all-encompassing burqua, cannot leave their home without a related male escort, and cannot see a doctor, because to do so would require them to remove the burqua. The Ministry of Vice and Virtue, responsible for the laws, has employees driving the streets looking for women who violate the edicts. Women who are caught violating the rules are publicly beaten, frequently with a leather bat.
While the Taliban clearly has an extremely repressive and horrible regime, the sanctions will only make the situation worse for the citizens of Afghanistan. In anticipation of the sanctions, food prices have already more than doubled, and the value of the Afghan currency sharply dove Saturday from 47,000 to the dollar to 51,000 to the dollar. The members of the Taliban are unlikely to face any actual consequences from the sanctions, but the general population will suffer from increased starvation, and the health sector will face extreme shortages of medicine and medical equipment.
Sanctions ostensibly work by making the population of a country angry at its leadership, leading to either a revolution or dramatic policy changes. In reality, sanctions usually have the opposite effect. The country feels alienated by the outside world, and the leadership actually has a surge of support. On Sunday, tens of thousands of Afghans marched through the streets of the Afghan capital Kabul to protest the sanctions. Demonstrators threw stones at U.N. offices and the U.S. embassy, shouting, “Death to America, down with Clinton!” and “Long live Islam!”
Many point to the ending of apartheid in South Africa as proof that sanctions can be successful. That situation was quite different than most, though. In South Africa, there was widespread support for the sanctions by the general populace of the country, a situation not replicated in most countries. Cuba and Iraq are excellent examples of the failure of sanctions to accomplish anything besides increasing poverty and strengthening the support for the leaders of besieged countries.
It is difficult to stand by and do nothing while repressive regimes trample upon their citizens’ civil rights and refuse to punish terrorists. However, when the solution only serves to make the problem worse, the United Nations and the United States should wait until another alternative arises.