Sanctions fail as a foreign policy tactic

On Wednesday, under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, President Clinton issued an Executive Order declaring sanctions against UNITA, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, for failure to live up to the Lusaka Peace Protocol of 1994. This is the latest in a long list of sanctions imposed by America throughout the world. But sanctions are not stopping human rights abuses. They don’t work with Saddam Hussein, they don’t work in Cuba, or Burma, or anywhere. Sanctions are so filled with legal loopholes and exemptions that they are rendered ineffective, despite whatever good feeling the United States gets from thinking it’s doing the best it can. Sanctions are seriously hurting free trade, and in particular, American businesses.
The United States has imposed sanctions more than 60 times in the past five years, which is more than half the total of all sanctions imposed since World War II. Included on the list of currently targeted countries are Burma, China, Colombia, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Serbia, Sudan, Syria, Thailand and many more. The idea is to block such things as property interests within the United States, and prohibit imports — which also hurt exports, especially of grain. In Angola, sanctions include a ban on diamond exports and prohibiting the sale of American-made motorized vehicles, boats, spare parts, and other items. Meanwhile, the order exempts prohibitions for medical and humanitarian purposes. This is exactly where the sanction notion fails. Hypocritically, sanctions still allow the feeding and medical care of the enemy. If the sanction was to really be effective, depriving food and medicine would hit a country’s most vulnerable area. But farm groups such as the U.S. Grains Council or U.S. Wheat Associates can donate only so much. Foreign export of grain is crucial to American farmers.
Trade allows for increased productivity and income. It provides jobs. It opens doors for democracy. It allows for a higher standard of living. Free trade is not just an economic right; it is a human right. Under the Commerce Clause, the Constitution allows Congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations. What congress should do is get rid of our tariffs and other barriers to the free flow of goods and services into this country immediately. Taking down barriers increases competition, as America’s auto and communications industries serve as testimony. In addition, restrictions should apply to the number of local and state governments, such as in Massachusetts, that have enacted selective purchasing laws discriminating against companies that do business in sanctioned countries. The Massachusetts law is currently being challenged on constitutional grounds.
As the Cato Institute Center for Trade Policy Studies declares, open markets mean greater choices and more freedom. Competition increases productivity and innovation. The freedom to trade is a basic human liberty and is the principle means of crossing political borders and opening doors for peaceful cooperation. Human rights abuses must not be ignored, but blocking trade hurts U.S. consumers and exporters as well as the most economically vulnerable people world over.