Saturday, April 12, 2014

Alternative to War

Earlier this year, Russia decided to occupy Crimea. Since then, the international community has responded to this flagrant violation of international norms by condemning the action and imposing various sanctions on Russia. However, some have called for military intervention, leading many to wonder if sanctions are a strong enough response to such aggression.

The idea of economic sanctions being a practical, liberal alternative to war has become increasingly common. Economists, such as Gary Hufbauer and Daniel Drezner support the idea that sanctions have potential to be highly effective, while others, such as Robert Pape, consider sanctions to be fairly useless overall. Regardless of one’s personal belief over the usefulness of sanctions, nations do tend to favor sanctions as a first step in coercing or dissuading another country from objectionable behavior.

One way to determine the potential effectiveness of sanctions is by using the Conflict Expectations Model, designed by Drezner. In his book, “The Sanctions Paradox: Economic Statecraft and International Relations” Drezner explains the model in details and uses various case studies to test his hypothesis.

Low Expectation of Conflict:
High Expectation of Conflict:
Large Gap in Costs:
Significant Concessions
Moderate Concessions
Small Gap in Costs:
No Attempt at Sanctions
Minor Concessions

From this model, Drezner makes the argument that by calculating the expectation of conflict and how much the sanctions will hurt, it is possible to determine the level of success that can be achieved through the implementation of sanctions. In the instance of North Korea, sanctions have not brought about the desired results (namely the elimination of its nuclear weapons program), but this can largely be attributed to the fact that America is the main proponent of sanctions, yet has very minimal economic ties to North Korea. Using Drezner’s model, it becomes apparently that because North Korea has a high expectation of future conflict and would only incur a small gap in costs from sanctions, the most that the U.S. could reasonably hope for would be minor concessions.

However, it is important to realize that if a targeted country can secure any of the sanctioned goods from another country aside from the sender country, the sanctions will not be as effective. Therefore, sanctions are generally more successful when applied multilaterally. In the case of Russia, Drezner believes that no economic sanction will compel Russia to leave Crimea because of a lack of unity regarding the sanctions, the demanded outcome (a withdrawal from Crimea) is too high a price for Russia, and because it will take time for Russia to feel a substantial impact from the sanctions (and during that time Russia will likely try to establish the current situation as the status quo). Despite this, Drezner believes sanctions should still be leveraged against Russia as an attempt to deter it from repeating this action and because sanctions can be a factor in the solution, even if they are not a complete solution alone.

However, sanctions do not always work, and according to Robert Pape, they rarely work. Pape approaches sanctions from a very narrow perspective and only examines the stated goal of sanctions when determining how successful they were. He further asserts that in reality, it is ultimately the threat of war that often causes a change in behavior.

Nevertheless, sometimes the real policy goals or objectives are not explicitly stated and even if the success rate is fairly minimal, the chance to avoid or lessen the severity of a war by first pursuing economic coercion is worth it. Furthermore, Drezner’s analysis of economic coercion from Russia towards thirteen post-Soviet states appears to disprove the theory that military threats have a higher success rate. Drezner notes that in regards to achieving its goals, “when military power was threatened or exercised, Russia succeeded only 35.7 percent of the time; when economic statecraft was the sole coercive mechanism, the success rate was 80.0 percent.” While this is only a study of Russia vs. former-Soviet states, it does provide solid examples of multiple instances where economic coercion was more successful than military threats.

Another argument against the use of sanctions is that they create a humanitarian crisis. Broad, severe sanctions could certainly do that, but smart sanctions are a way to avoid such an undesirable result. By freezing assets, imposing visa bans, implementing arms embargoes, etc, a sender country is able to target the demographic that it wishes to hurt the most. Specifically, if the leaders of a country are most affected by sanctions, they are more likely to reconsider their decisions.

Part of adequate defense statecraft comes from understanding when it is necessary to go to war, and when it is best to pursue other options, even if they initially appear unrelated to defense or if they seem to indirectly affect military options. Economic statecraft presents a different, but valid perspective when contemplating military action. Economically, politically, and diplomatically isolating a country can have powerful ramifications that will cause the targeted country to reexamine its behavior. If sanctions help avoid a war, then lives have been saved. If it still becomes necessary to turn to armed conflict, then so be it, but it is imperative to explore all other options as well.

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