Mark raises an interesting point:
Finally, I’d put an end to the concept of economic or diplomatic sanctions as a meaningful manner of achieving most diplomatic ends (the exception being targeted sanctions solely intended to prevent hostile regimes from obtaining specific materials capable of being used for aggressive purposes).
Often left out of the discussion of interventionism vs non-interventionism is the subject of economic sanctions. For instance, many Americans have been rightfully disgusted with the invasion of Iraq under the Bush administration, but few of those same, outraged people raised much of a hue and cry against the economic violence America used against the Iraqi people. This is because it is a quiet sort of intervention, a subtle but devastating form of warfare, and while our sanctions against Iraq did nothing to stop Saddam Hussein, they did have a profound and dehumanizing impact on the Iraqi people.
Economic sanctions are often viewed as a tool of containment policies against hostile regimes, but they’d be better described with the term collective punishment. Containment against the Soviet Union, of course, included economic and military interventions, whereas containment policies against Iran and other so-called “rogue” states, are today largely economic. There is a justifiable fear that Iran will develop a nuclear bomb, but while sanctions against the proliferation of nuclear weapons make strategic sense, sanctions that weaken the civilian population of any nation should be avoided for the same reason we avoid targeting civilians militarily.
Proponents of economic sanctions argue that critics of these measures exaggerate their effect on civilians. This may be true, of course. Critics of the Iraqi sanctions cited absurdly high numbers of civilian deaths directly resulting from economic sanctions, based on controversial studies–however, more widely accepted data reveals that sanctions resulted, at least indirectly, in the unnecessary deaths of at least 106,000 children under the age of five between 1991 and 1998, and the likely number has been updated to 350,000 deaths. Not all these deaths were direct results of economic sanctions, but a combination of the ravages of the first Gulf War, contaminated drinking water, lack of quality food, inadequate breast-feeding and weaning practices, and so on and so forth, all of which are made worse by economic stagnation which is a direct result of a massive international embargo. And this in a country that had previously boasted above average living standards for the Middle East.
Economic sanctions in Germany following World War I had a direct impact on the rise of Hitler in German politics. One thing sanctions provide is enough hardship in a populace to create excellent propaganda opportunities for the State. They provide the necessary archetypes for propagandists to foment hatred against an other or villain, which both history and modernity attest to. Whether its post-WWI Germany or modern day Iran, sanctions have created the perfect nemesis in Western powers, and not completely undeservedly, while deflecting attention from their own regimes.
Now, I’ll add a caveat. I believe in protecting American jobs and American goods. But I don’t believe in trade restrictions based on punishment of a population. Implementing policies that strengthen American production and prevent devastating job loss in this country is one thing. Devising economic sanctions as a means of military and political pressure against a hostile regime is a form of collective punishment, and falls far outside the limits of fair trading policies. Preventing hostile nations from acquiring weapons they could use to attack America with is one thing. Enforcing trade embargos that have widespread, and unforeseeable effects on the population of a country is another thing entirely.
Containment policies are not always what they seem, and economic sanctions are an example of this. While containment is sometimes viewed as a non-military option, when it takes the form of economic sanctions and collective punishment, it becomes every bit as much a form of interventionism as any military war. This is true of the blockade of Gaza every bit as much as it is true of any other sanction around the world.
And the irony of it all is this: the surest way to achieve some semblance of peace in this world is through healthy trade. Note, I do not say free trade, because I don’t believe in the existence of free trade beyond the theoretical. Free is too often in the eye of the beholder. However, healthy trade really can lead to lasting peace between nations and regions, and is the primary reason we see such dormancy in European conflict. Sanctions, rather counter-intuitively, restrict trade with those very nations we need to find peaceful solutions with the most. If I’m selling you bread, and using the money you give me to buy my butter, I’m a great deal less likely to attack you. But if I withhold my bread from you, and you start to go hungry, you’re a great deal more likely to want to attack me.
Sanctions are interventionism, pure and simple.