Biden Can Redefine U.S-China Policy; But he Must Avoid Doubling Down Trump’s Predominance in Asia.

Analysis by Allawi Ssemanda and Aziz Kalisa.

Vice President Joe Biden talks with Chinese Vice President Xi and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during a luncheon at the State Department, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2012. Curtesy Photo.

For a number of years, United Sates of America (U.S) and China relations has been worsening. Issues ranging from trade, technology, alleged influence peddling, military activities and human rights have always been cited as catalyst for animosity between Washington and Beijing.

Several analysts contend that whereas the origins of this undoubtedly destructive animosity have been in existence for several years, many argue that under the Trump administration, it has greatly worsened to unprecedented levels, on many occasions involving what some viewed as demonising rhetorics from Washington targeting Beijing,  with overly exaggerated and clearly inaccurate assessment(s) of the so-called serious threat Beijing poses to the U.S and allies, giving Trump’s Whitehouse an opportunity to continuously announce sanctions and threats against Beijing. Whether Trump administration’s claims of eminent threats from Beijing are right or otherwise, Trump’s response has always been excessive, political, feckless and largely self-defeating especially his trade traffics against China.

Upon critical analysis of remarks and the known policy position of president elect, Joe Biden, his political associates and those of Democratic Party, as night follows day, one can argue that a Biden presidency is very likely to correct many of Trump’s glaring and egregious mistakes while dealing with Beijing. However, this doesn’t guarantee we will see a total change ending Washington’s bipartisan shift seen in recent years identifying Beijing as U. S’ grand competitor.

However, there is much hope that gone will be the obvious over-the-top ideological rhetoric, endless wee hours tweets and provoking hints suggesting the need for regime change. An argument can be made that the Trump administration’s failure to understand that there is need for the two world’s leading economies to cooperate on key issues such as controlling pandemics, climate change and other crude policy excuses were overly ineffective and costly on key issues like the much-needed trade relations and technology decoupling.

Washington with a more professional and well-coordinated policy processes, a president that is willing to read and absorb briefings of intelligence community and take experts advice, we can predict that gone will be the contradiction and chaos of a Commander in Chief who conducts policy through tweets. Put differently, Biden administration is likely to act more professional, balanced, and arguably, it will try to avoid trade tariffs and decoupling and embrace dialogue.

Yes, all the above really sounds great. However, the real hurdle is seen when we dive into details, and arguably, such clearly called-for redefining and amendments by the new administration to U.S’ China policy will most likely find it hard to redefine and address some other more fundamental realities in regard to bilateral power relations, key being the U.S. leverage Washington hawks may want to see especially America’s position in the entire Asian region.

Presently, the U.S is a deeply divided country as a result of their November 3rd messy presidential elections. History has it that whenever U.S leaders want to unite Americans, leaders always come up with an issue to bring together all Americans under the so-called rally around the flag. Pondering at this, a few questions come up: Will the new Biden Administration follow Trump’s path of demonising and blaming China, referring to Beijing as U.S’ existential threat and the current global order, hence move on justifying worst case assumptions on virtually all China related policies?

Some analysts argue that this is a tact often employed by both Republicans and Democrats in their effort to scare American people so as to get their support for huge defence budgets as well as more unthoughtful and draconian policies toward China. The notion that China is a threat to the U.S and the world order is definitely entirely unjustified. On many occasions, Chinese president Xi Jinping has been clear that China ‘will not seek to dominate’, secondly, at present, analysts believe Beijing is not interested in war since it would disrupt their long plans of economic development. Also, Beijing is not interested in disrupting the current world order as some hawks in Washington contend, this is largely because it is the same order that Beijing has navigated to move to the top. This is evidenced with China’s continued support to the current Global order, such as at the United Nations, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, World Bank among others.

Upon that background, one can confidently say the fears Washington often talks about that Beijing poses are inaccurate, and grossly exaggerated. This lays a foundation for a second question: Will president Biden appreciate such facts and accurately define where and how China is a threat to Washington as some hawks claim? Such an approach will present Washington in a more sober and pragmatic stance and hence, possibly ease relations and any dealings with Beijing. Other than this, the Biden presidency risks being swallowed with unsubstantiated characterisation at Capitol Hill who believe in Libido dominand concept and back those who don’t believe in a fair competition which will prioritise nothing but a zero-sum game, move with containment methods instead of the much needed constructive forms of engagement which would bring positive results for both.

The other key question is: will Biden administration accept the new bitter reality that gone is the era of Unipolar when the U.S enjoyed military dominance across maritime areas of Asia and such an era will certainly not return in the near future? It is important to note that U.S politicians at Capitol Hill – both republicans and democrats still reflexively boast of America’s military might and the supposed necessity of the U.S to maintain unchanged level of their military dominance in the region of the Asian Pacific while moving to China’s borders as they claim their so-called “freedom of action” in the area. Arguably, one can conclude that it is naïve of Capitol Hill politicians to maintain that poorly conceived notion – that U.S military predominance can help to ensure order, and it is also delusional to imagine that the U.S has that much needed financial muscle of ensuring they retain the kind of military prowess very close to China as they wish to.

The open secret is that the world is headed to a de facto balance of power in Western Pacific between U.S and respective allies on one hand and China on the other. The trouble is that by nature, such balances often are risky – tempting each side to test its strength and leverage. In this case, the issue of Taiwan and Chinese maritime disputes with the United States and her allies may become a reality. However, if the Biden administration approach to the Taiwan question respecting China’s one country policy, arguably, Washington and Beijing will enjoy good relations.

It is upon this background that the new administration in Washington should recognise this strategic shift in the region and the likely negative implications it pauses should Washington politicians insist with their now fruitless efforts of retaining U.S predominance in the region. The most available short- and long-term remedy here is for the Biden administration to ensure Capitol Hill politicians swallow their pride, and transition from defensive and denial-oriented structures, drop the self-given responsibility of policing the region and allow their allies like Japan to own their security, and embrace dialogue with Beijing. Through dialogue, the two sides can initiate a strategic civil-military dialogue through which effective and crisis management mechanism can be established to avoid any future confrontations on issues like South China Sea and the Taiwan Question.

In conclusion, the Biden administration may consider adjusting America’s political alliances in the region, this in the long run will help them realise a positive-sum engagement across the region Beijing inclusive which will help them realise an overall stability and economic growth. When deeply analysed, an uncombative and less military-driven U.S that is willing to cooperate while listening and respecting Beijing’s concern’s in the region will give the above views a chance to thrive and hence the said stable balance, thereby giving the two powers an opportunity of ensuring peace and stable economic development both in the region and beyond compared to the current form of relationship which is a form of contestation for total supremacy. If all the above is considered, the authors believe it will give the Biden administration an opportunity to address the questions we raised earlier and help the U.S to meet some of their interest with regard to China instead of simply trying to right the incompetences left by Trump administration.

 

Allawi Ssemanda is a senior Research Fellow at Development Watch Centre with focus on Global Governance, Foreign Policy

Aziz Kalisa is a Ugandan Lawyer and Research Fellow at Development Watch Centre.

 

Global Governance: Erdogan Is Creating a New World Order in Which Turkey Is Rising Star

By Ssemanda Allawi, Marvin Saasi

and Emmanuel Mukiibi

Anyone is hoping for a turnabout in International Policy that would bend Erdogan’s will has received his loud and clear message: Turkey will be everywhere and nobody will stop it.

Turkey’s move to continue with its oil exploration in areas of the East Mediterranean which are laimed by Greece and Cyprus is visibly setting teeth on edge in Western capitals particularly in Washington and several other European Capitals. Last week, US’ State Department Spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus issued a statement calling Turkey’s move a calculated provocation that must end. “We urge Turkey to end this calculated provocation and immediately begin exploratory talks with Greece,” he said, adding that “Coercion, threats, intimidation and military activity will not resolve tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

On the other hand, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas whose country now holds European Union’s rotating presidency argued that,  “Ankara must end the cycle of detente and provocation if the government is interested in talks.”

Germany and America’s response followed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcement of Turkey’s geological oil survey in one of the marine at blocks close to Turkey. Greece claims that the bloc in question is in its territorial waters. Although Erdogan seemed to be bowing to diplomatic pressure, it is very clear that he is not about to abandon the idea of oil exploration in the East Mediterranean despite protests by Greece and Cyprus.

As Turkey advances their moves, talk of imposing sanctions and military embargo should Ankara continue exploring oil and gas in the contested areas is rife. Surprisingly, when European Union leaders met for a summit last Friday, the issue was not included on agenda, only to appear after Greece’s pressure. The move to approve sanctions was later blocked by five EU leaders.

After discussions, the EU summit firmly made it clear to Greece that it had better wait for the discussion of sanctions for the summit scheduled for December. The division between Germany, Spain, Italy, Malta and Hungary, who object to sanctions, and France is playing into Erdogan’s hands. These countries are afraid of a new wave of refugees Erdogan can send their way if they impose the sanctions on his country.

This isn’t the first time that refugees have become a winning bargaining chip for Turkey against the European Union. Despite Ankara not getting everything it wanted from the refugee agreement it signed with the EU, it has consistently threatened to open the refugee floodgates several times so as to block European initiatives to curb Erdogan, such as drilling in the Mediterranean or Turkey’s role in the Syrian crisis.  Indeed, in March 2020, the Turkish government bused thousands of migrants from Turkish refugees’ camps to Turkey’s border with Greece and threatened to allow more entre into Europe, a move that left European countries worried.

Diplomatically, Turkey is also awake. Last week, a rightwing hardliner who has long advocated for closer ties with Turkey won a presidential runoff in the Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. Ersin Tatar, whose candidacy had been openly endorsed by Ankara, garnered 51.74% of the vote once all ballots had been counted. In Public Diplomacy lenses, an Ankara-backed candidate winning polls in a region contested for by both Cyprus and Turkey is a win for Turkey. Indeed, Turkey’s president, Erdogan was quick to congratulate his counterpart, Tatar.

Arguably, pushing until December the discussions on blocking Turkey is in many ways connected to presidential elections in the US. Despite some rebukes and attempts from State Department, Erdogan’s personal relations with president Donald Trump cannot be underestimated. Trump stopped the congress and NATO’s plan to impose sanctions on Turkey when Ankara bought the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. This was after Erdogan promised Trump he wouldn’t use the missiles before the election, but just last week, Turkey held a drill using the missiles and there are also credible reports of having used them. It is important to note that Turkey was excluded from the F-35 planes’ building plan.

In the ongoing Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh where Turkey has openly expressed support for Azerbaijan, president Trump has avoided clashing with Turkey’s Erdogan. Trump instead first joined France and Russia’s call for a cease fire. He has since then gone silent and only offered to host negotiations between the sides in the United States which later announced a ceasefire that many believe will not hold with Turkey still stressing it is ready to intervene and support Azerbaijan militarily. Arguably, some analysts contend that Trump could not blame Armenia since he wanted the over 1.5 million Armenian votes of American citizens, who mainly live in the democratic cities of New York, Boston and Los Angeles. On the other hand, he’s also reluctant to blame Turkey because he has to protect his friend, Erdogan. Loath

Contrary to the above, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that “Russia never saw Turkey as a strategic ally, but as a close partner.” This means that unlike President Trump, President Putin doesn’t see himself bound by his good personal relations with Turkey’s Erdogan when Moscow sees Ankara to be stepping on Kremlin’s foot.

Considering Trump’s personal relationship with Erdogan, European Union may miscalculate that if Joe Biden gets into White House, Washington’s Foreign Policy specifically towards Ankara will fundamentally change and match with EU’s, hence amplify EU’s diplomatic pressure on Erdogan to slow down his rising wish to grow Turkey’s influence and ambitions especially regarding the Turkey-Greece crisis.

However, Erdogan has a favourable card that will continue to play in his favour that no matter who wins the White House race, European Union will have no shortcut to address the Turkish-Greek issue and at no time will Washington set rules to address the Eastern Mediterranean challenge.

For one to imagine that Erdogan is about to change the course of Turkey’s foreign Policy, is to dream. Indeed, during a press conference last week after the Cabinet session, President Erdogan was very categorical, stressing that:

“All the methods, including terrorism, revolution attempts, economic traps, efforts to isolate us, were intended to remove Turkey from its goals. We succeeded in thwarting all those attacks and schemes…Most international organizations and states that claim to carry the flag of democracy have exposed their true colors when they applied a double standard to Turkey…Turkey is becoming bigger and stronger and its interest fields are growing with it.”

Upon that background, whether it is the Libyan crisis where Turkish forces defeated War Lord Khalifa Haftar forces backed by France and Russia as Erdogan stood firm in support of UN backed Tripoli government, Oil exploration in the Mediterranean, Kurds in Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Israeli-Palestine conflict, or Turkey’s defense pact with Qatar that Erdogan feels will make Turkey great again, nobody will stop it, at least for now.

In his first steps as Turkey’s Prime Minister, Erdogan achieved his political power thanks to the meteoric economic success he led his country to. In recent years, despite the growing economic crisis, Erdogan has built Turkey into a regional and diplomatic power that cannot be ignored or dismissed – one that is ready to confront Europe, Russia and the United States.

From a state seeking a warm corner in Middle East, one can argue that in the process Turkey became a confrontational state leaving some Arab states to consider it an enemy. Early this month, following president Erdogan’s comments on murdered Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi in whose murder many believe Saudi’s Crown Prince had a hand, Saudi announced sanctions on Turkey. Though Saudi’s sanctions may cost Ankara about $3 billion, which is a considerable sum for a state whose currency is on a rising curve, with growing unemployment, and a budget deficit of about 4.9 percent of the gross domestic product, compared to a 2.9 percent expectation, Erdogan’s charismatic leadership and Foreign Policy stand makes him favourable at home. Referring to Saudi sanctions, Erdogan is quoted to have noted: “Don’t forget that these states didn’t exist yesterday and will probably not exist tomorrow, but we’ll continue hoisting our flag in the region forever, Allah willing.”

A closer analysis of Erdogan’s Foreign Policy moves is clear. He is making a point that Europe and indeed the United States need Turkey more than Turkey needs them. After questioning French President Emanuel Macron’s mental health claiming he is Islamophobic, Erdogan dared the US to impose sanctions on his country as he rejected US warnings not to directly get involved in Nagorno-Karabakh. “Whatever your sanctions are, don’t be late,” stressed Erdogan. He also dismissed US sanctions threats for testing Russia’s S-400 missiles noting that, “We stepped in for the F-35, you threatened us … you said, ‘Send the S-400s back to Russia.’ We are not a tribal state. We are Turkey.” He says the old world order, traditional coalitions and blocks, agreements that were practiced so far are collapsing and making way for new power balances stressing that, “Turkey is the rising star of these world and regional trends.”

This observation is possibly correct considering the upheavals that have occurred in the Middle East over the past decade, considering US’ diminishing power and status especially in this Trump era and European convergence.

Turkey’s Influence in Africa.

While Turkey’s growing influence in the Europe, and Middle East has caused some concerns, in Africa despite Ankara’s growing presence, there is no much concern so far. Since Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party assumed power in 2002, the country’s interests in Africa have been steadily rising especially diplomatically and through trade. In less than two decades, the country’s trade volume with African countries has grown to over $26 billion, representing a 381% rise. In 2005, the African Union granted Turkey “observer status” and opened an Embassy at AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa which resulted into high level exchange of visits and in 2008, AU declared Turkey a “strategic partner” of the continent. Since August 2008, Turkey has been organizing the Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit. During this summit, both sides have identified several key areas to be given priority in their cooperation. They include, among others; intergovernmental cooperation, trade and investments, agriculture, health, education, and security.

Today, Turkey has embassies in 42 countries and commercial counselors in 26 countries on the African continent. Turkey’s national airline also flies to 35 destinations on the continent. In 2017, Turkey opened its largest military oversea base in Somalia, with the intention of being a training base for several African countries.

In Libya, on invitation of the UN backed government in Tripoli, Turkey armed and fought alongside government forces forcing war lord Khalifa Haftar and his western backers to negotiation table. In Somalia, under the so-called “first movers” concept, Turkey has invested billions of money to rebuild the strategically located country to recover from effects of prolonged insecurity.

Generally, Turkey’s interests in Africa rival those of former colonial powers such as United Kingdom, France and those of China. Though Turkey’s interests may not be imperialistic per se, this also comes at a cost. For example, in 2017, Senegal and Sudan were forced to close several schools linked to one of Erdogan’s political rivals Mohammed Fethullah Gülen, a move that some analyst view as Turkey’s influence in African countries internal affairs for political reasons.

In conclusion, Turkey’s megalomaniac approach to its Foreign Policy under Erdogan, which in many ways seems to enjoy protection of both allies and rivals who seem to be afraid of his response, should possibly compel Scholars to critically examine it. Turkey’s appetite to extend her influence from its neighbourhood and beyond should attract Foreign Policy strategists to carefully examine the possible consequences of the now inevitable growing regional leader with a powerful military force while asserting that existing arrangements don’t bind him. It is not far-fetched to conclude that the current confrontation with Greece and Europe in general over oil exploration in contested areas may give Turkey a clear experiment in implementing Erdogan’s new ambitious Foreign Policy and Strategy and not only an economic influence between two states but many as we have seen in Libya’s case, Syria, and or currently over Nagorno-Karabakh. Whatever the lenses one chooses to use, President Erdogan is slowly but steadily planning a New World Order in Which Turkey Is The Rising Star in Global Governance.

 

Ssemanda Allawi is a Senior Research Fellow at DWC and author Global Governance and Norm Contestation: How BRICS is Reshaping World Order.

Marvin Saasi i is a Ugandan Lawyer and a Social Critic.

Joe Biden can display a new diplomacy-first US foreign policy by re-engaging Cuba

By John McAuliff.

Five years ago, I stood in a mostly Cuban crowd outside of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, excitedly watching our flag raised for the first time in 54 years. Two hours later, I was at a celebratory party at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, a beautiful building purportedly designed, but never used, as a winter White House for FDR. Scores of official and non-official Americans who had worked for normalization were there, along with diplomats from other countries. No one from the Cuban government attended because the embassy chose to invite a few prominent dissidents.

The path to this day had not been easy due to political distrust on both sides, but its success was a tribute to the determination of both Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro. None of us expected that future relations would be simple. However, we never anticipated that virtually everything would be undone by the election of Donald Trump.

Cuba relations will hardly be the largest problem or the first priority of a Biden administration, but it is low hanging fruit. While special interests are loudly in favor or against U.S. engagement with the island, two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Cuban-Americans, were quietly supportive of President Obama’s normalization path and ready to go further to completely open travel.

Joe Biden can rapidly and effectively build on Obama’s opening. He will do at least as well with personally affected Florida voters by convincing them his goal is a positive functional relationship with the land that is still the home of their parents, children, and other family members. He can counteract the narrow-minded regression of President Trump for whom Cuba policies were seemingly little more than a favor to Marco Rubio and Vladimir Putin.

Biden will be able to signal his concern for the well-being of the people of both nations, his desire to strengthen in practice pro-market reforms, and the need to effectively compete with growing Russian and Chinese influence. His administration could solidify a historic new chapter of post-Monroe Doctrine, post-Platt Amendment U.S. partnership with the hemisphere.

Biden’s campaign is already publicly critical of the Trump administration’s latest punitive pettiness toward Cuba: prohibition of rare private charter flights. Biden himself has told Americas Quarterly, “as president, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

Biden will certainly receive support from his vice president. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is among 46 bipartisan cosponsors of a bill to end all restrictions on travel to Cuba.

He can also expect an abrazo, a hug, from the new First Lady, whose moving cultural visit to Camaguey and Havana was portrayed in an Obama White House video.

Biden has four stages of opportunity that will cut the Gordian knot of six decades of intractable mutually destructive U,S,-Cuba relations.

First, during the campaign or right after election, he should announce that immediately upon taking office he will restore Obama’s policies on individual and group travel licenses, cruises, flights to regional cities, remittances, import of agricultural products, international shipping, specific types of investments, and banking and as well as facilitation of visas for educational and cultural exchange.

He should also clarify that Cubans granted visas for family and professional visits and for study in the United States will be deemed ineligible to claim status under the Cuban Adjustment Act, the law that provides legal status to those Cuban nationals who arrive to the United States illegally.  (Depending on U.S. success in controlling COVID-19, an announcement of intention allows planning for the winter season and spring semester by the travel sector and universities.)

Second, within his first year in the White House, Biden should fully restaff an embassy gutted by the Trump administration, which opportunistically exploited inexplicable health problems of U.S. personnel to abandon its responsibility .

He should also reopen consular authority and restore visa availability for immigration and family reunion visits. And Biden should support existing legislation to totally end restrictions on travel and other bills for comparable initiatives in agricultural and medical sales as well as on related financial transactions.

Biden should also enable collaboration in medicine and science, including on anti-COVID research, treatment, and international humanitarian assistance. He can also break new ground by testing and supporting economic reforms such as terminating application of the embargo to privately owned small and medium Cuban enterprises — thereby permitting their exports, imports, and U.S. investments.

Third, within his first two years in officeBiden should align with hemispheric and European goals by achieving through comprehensive negotiations a political settlement in Venezuela and an end to the unilateral U.S. embargo of Cuba.

He should open consulates in at least one Cuban and one U.S. city and allow ferry service between U.S. and Cuban ports. On the media front, he can seek reciprocal dampening of interventionist hostility by state funded publications, broadcasts, and social media, replaced by ongoing multi-sectoral dialog about conflicting human rights values and ideologies.

Finally, within his first term, Biden should follow the road map to restore full Cuban sovereignty of the Guantanamo base that was developed during the Obama administration’s normalization discussions by then-deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Alejandro Castro head of Cuba’s National Security Council and Raul’s son.

As the result of the Obama-Castro opening, real differences were emerging in Cuba about whether reconciliation and mutual respect with the U.S. was truly possible or a Trojan Horse. But President Trump’s harsh renewal of Cold War-era hostility foreclosed the discussion.

Closer U.S.-Cuban ties can also help lead to more definitive conclusions about just what happened to American diplomats in Havana regarding the mysterious health issues. The Cubans may be able to help eliminate the problem by identifying and controlling the cause based on Canadian medical and scientific research and private collaboration with U.S. scientists, doctors, and security officials.

A potential Biden administration has an opportunity to move the United States in the right direction, but real trust is impossible as long as the U.S. maintains a devastating unilateral embargo and refuses to restore the Guantanamo base to national sovereignty, consistent with U.S. principles elsewhere in the world.

John McAuliff, Responsible Statecraft.

 

It’s time to end senseless, endless sanctions.

By George A. Lopez

Thirty years ago this week the United Nations Security Council responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait with mandatory, comprehensive economic sanctions. By 2000 the UNSC, led by the United States, had imposed powerful embargos in 11 other cases of threats to international peace and security. Despite developing more targeted “smart sanctions” aimed primarily at group and national leaders, elongated sanctions episodes continued to wreak disastrous consequences on civilians through the present day. The Trump Administration’s use of maximum pressure sanctions, which some see as targeted, plus trade sanctions on steroids, have devastated civilians in North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela, thus solidifying wide acceptance that sanctions constitute economic war.

Just as U.S. policy should end our endless wars, sanctions as part of protracted war — as in Iraq and Afghanistan — or sanctions that make war on general populations should also end. Whoever wins the presidency in November must rethink how sanctions can be an essential, yet prudent, tool of U.S. economic statecraft. Such a reformulation should rely on lessons learned from sanctions research and include reconstructing the U.S. government vision and architecture for sanctions policy.

When, why, and how do sanctions work

Sanctions work best when they are one of a number of diverse tools employed to achieve a clearly defined and consistent set of policy goals. Sanctions must not only bite and enrage the targeted group or nation, but actually engage them in continued diplomacy focused on the behavior needed to lift the sanctions. At best, sanctions achieve compliance from their targets in about one-third of cases, with that compliance occurring within two and a half years. Short of full success, the greater the active diplomacy accompanying sanctions, the stronger the constraints stifling the target’s goals.

Historically, multilateral sanctions are more successful than unilateral. Recent decisions by the U.S. to maximize implementation through expanding targeted designations and imposing crippling banking sanctions has led to greater negative impact on civilians, thus eroding international cooperation. Sanctions fail in various ways but most often when the policy goals are diffuse, unrealistic in making multiple demands, or when obsession with adding more sanctions lead sanctions to become the policy, rather than a means to policy.

Understanding the nuances of sanctions success in issue areas important to the U.S. is critical to improving their effectiveness in future U.S. policy. Regarding human rights, neither unilateral nor multilateral sanctions have ever toppled a brutal dictator. Nor have sanctions, by themselves, ever forced rights violators to desist in their worst acts. Most effective, however, are two sanctions strategies. The first lies in the standard mantra, “follow the money,” which most often applies to sanctions concerns with terrorist networks or when U.S. banking and currency markets are in jeopardy. But as organizations like the Sentry Project have demonstrated, sanctions policy actions can identify brutal rights abusers for the kleptocrats that they are, freeze their worldwide assets, and hold them to full account.

Second, as pre-atrocity indicators increase in a society, sanctions can play a significant prevention or mitigation role through asset seizures and travel bans on a range of mid-level economic and political enablers who strengthen and shield brutal dictators. These include bankers, industrialists, and police and military networks in and outside a rights abusing regime. U.S. leaders must mobilize anew the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as the strongest mechanism for action against kleptocrats and enablers.

To constrain nuclear non-proliferation, the U.S. needs a similar new awareness and agility. Sanctions cannot bludgeon a nation into giving up what it considers as its most powerful security protection. But nuclear reversal has occurred in Iran, Ukraine, South Africa, Brazil, and Libya when sanctions deny money and material critical to the development of arsenals, while new security guarantees are forged from intense problem-solving diplomacy. In addition, these agreements are accompanied by a versatile array of economic inducements from a number of nations which motivates and sustains the target renouncing nuclear development.

Creating a “whole of government” approach to U.S. sanctions

To launch a new, diplomacy-dominated sanctions era, future U.S. presidents must create a new architecture featuring a whole of government approach to ensuring sanctions success. This entails reinvigorating some agencies and redefining the roles of others to improve sanctions design and impact assessment.

Such restructuring begins with re-establishing the key role of the State Department in policy formulation and negotiation by restoring its Office of Sanctions Policy that was dissolved in 2017. A similar re-injection of sanctions expertise will be needed in the National Security Council and in the Policy Planning Staff at State. These reforms, in turn, must lead to a rebalance of power with the Treasury Department where the Secretary’s Office and the Office of Foreign Asset Control has had extensive sway over the politics of sanctions.

In this reorganization, OFAC and Treasury will still have important but different roles to play. The more than 8,000 entries on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List in Treasury results from the discovery of networks trading in prohibited materials, money laundering, and establishing shadow banks and financial institutions as sanctions evasion strategies employed by targeted governments or groups.

The next administration should de-politicize this listing procedure and keep them more narrowly defined as the international criminal activity they are. The tasks of “outlawing” actors via sanctions has convoluted the delicate diplomacy needed to produce the compliance the U.S. seeks from national leaders. Sanctions policy benefits if OFAC pursues criminal charges in the legal realm and not in the political lane.

New thinking should also be brought to the role of the Commerce Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in attaining sanctions goals from an inducement perspective. Commerce could build on its recent success in bolstering ventures in Sudan in that nation’s early post-dictatorship era. USAID can inject assistance to areas of a post-sanctions economy in most need of recovery.

The role of Congress in validating a new and vigorous sanctions plan by providing additional funding for such foreign policy priorities cannot be overlooked. So too Congress might finally pass into law a proposal offered 20 years ago by the late Senator Richard Lugar that imbeds a two year sunset clause into U.S. sanctions. To extend sanctions beyond that would require the administration to certify the national security role of the sanctions, state their current effectiveness, and document they were not harming civilians.

Finally, based on past experiences, international relief agencies and the NGO community can claim quite rightly that humanitarian sanctions are an oxymoron. Therefore, a new, nimble and sensible sanctions policy would incorporate their experiences and remedies into the definition of rules governing their travel, delivery of supplies, and additional exemptions they need for preventing and mitigating humanitarian crises. With their guidance, U.S. sanctions design, implementation, and enforcement can reduce dramatically the duration and depth of the negative impact sanctions have on innocent civilians.

However difficult the task may be for U.S. leadership to develop sanctions that “do no harm” to the general population, the time for constructing these tools has come. Such action and the policy goals it would support could end senseless and endless sanctions.

George A. Lopez

Source: Responsible State Craft.

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