The Ethics of International Sanctions: The Case of Yugoslavia

Fletcher Forum of World Affairs (no. 2):107-119 (2000)
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Sanctions such as those applied by the United Nations against Yugoslavia, or rather the actions of implementing and maintaining them, at the very least implicitly purport to have moral justification. While the rhetoric used to justify sanctions is clearly moralistic, even sanctions themselves, as worded, often include phrases indicating moral implication. On May 30, 1992, United Nation Security Council Resolution 757 imposed a universal, binding blockage on all trade and all scientific, cultural and sports exchanges with Serbia and Montenegro. In addition to expressing the usual "concern' and "dismay" regarding various events, the language of this Resolution also includes, on three occasions, unmistakably moral language "deploring" failures in meeting the demands of earlier resolutions.' There is no question that sanctions have political, economic, military and trategic consequences for the sanctioned state, perhaps exactly as desired by the sanctioning party. However, the question raised in this essay is whether in addition to these consequences, sanctions also produce morally reprehensible consequences that undermine their often-cited moral justification. If so, international economic sanctions are an immoral means of achieving primarily political goals. Six morally significant consequences are: 1) The unethical, elevated susceptibility of the sanctioned to olitical (and other forms of) manipulation, 2) the inherent and unjust paternalism in the process of sanctioning, 3) the abandonment of strict moral criteria on virtually all levels of evaluation, primarily inside the sanctioned country, but also in sanctioning states best exhibited in the attitudes toward the sanctioned, 4) the general decline in moral consciousness, 5) the subsequent rise of many forms of violence within the sanctioned state in connection with the increase in lawlessness, and a general decline of expectations in all areas of life, and 6) the continual, arbitrary redefining of conditions for a final lifting of sanctions. In light of this moral phenomenology we shall argue that sanctions, lacking in moral justification, are simply a means for achieving the mentioned immoral goals. Furthermore, the argument will be that sanctions are a form of siege and, as such, an act of war, requiring the sort of justification that would be needed to justify a war.
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