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By Global Public Square staff
The West has announced a new round of sanctions against Russia. But can America and Europe craft effective sanctions?
Sure, sanctions have already hurt the Russian economy: stock prices are down, capital is fleeing the country and the Russian ruble has taken a hit. But Vladimir Putin shows no signs of moving to the off ramp of diplomacy that President Obama has talked about. Indeed, he's retaliating against the West by basically imposing his own set of counter-sanctions, banning around $9 billion worth of food imports from the West, despite the fact that this will mean higher food prices for Russians.
And he's not changing his military strategy, which has been to encourage the Ukrainian separatists to stand firm. So, will yet another round of sanctions do the trick?
Well, here's the problem. Sanctions don't really have that great a track record. We think of sanctions as highly effective because they did bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, it seems. But those are unusually comprehensive sanctions, implemented by almost all countries. That's very rare.
According to one study, between 1945 and 2005, sanctions have only succeeded about a third of the time. Richard Haass argued in a 1997 Foreign Affairs essay that sanctions had some successes – in Bosnia, in Iraq increasing compliance with U.N. resolutions, possibly in Pakistan, a few other places.
But sometimes sanctions did more harm than good. In Haiti in the 1990's, Haass says, sanctions hurt the poorest the most, which led to a mass exodus of Haitians to Florida, thus burdening that state. He says that the arms embargo in Bosnia disproportionately hurt Muslims and contributed to their suffering.
And let's remember, unlike Iran, which faces the threat of an Israeli strike, Russia's sanctions are not coupled with the threat of force. Also, Russia is far less isolated than Iran from the global economy – several European countries are dependent on Russian energy. Russia supplies about a third of the European Union's gas, which is why E.U. sanctions have been largely toothless.
There might be one exception that really does seem effective. We’re talking about the nuclear weapon of the sanctions arsenal – cutting Russia off from SWIFT. SWIFT is a network that allows financial institutions to send and receive information in a secure manner. It's what more than 10,500 banks use to make international money transfers in more than 200 countries. And, the U.K. wants the European Union to block Russia from this network.
The consequences would be far-reaching. Not only would it affect trade and investment, but also millions of other routine financial transactions. It's exactly what the U.S. got the private network of banks to do to Iran in 2012. And it was profoundly damaging to the Iranian economy.
But despite Britain's prodding, the E.U. is reluctant to brandish this weapon. And now it's not willing to use any real weapons – Europe is basically out of the military business, and its major countries spend peanuts on defense, which might change, but not now.
Of course, having drawn a red line, Europe and the United States have to use some measures that would exact a real price, so that Russia and Putin are willing to negotiate a solution to the Ukrainian crisis. If not, the continent looks grim. It's mired in recession, facing a secessionist vote from Scotland, with anti-European populists rising in every country.
As the columnist Anne Applebaum has said, this could be the end of Europe as we know it.