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Marking the 50th anniversary of UN sanctions, this work examines the evolution of sanctions from a primary instrument of economic warfare to a tool of prevention and protection against global conflicts and human rights abuses. The rise of sanctions as a versatile and frequently used tool to confront the challenges of armed conflicts, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, is rooted in centuries of trial and error of coercive diplomacy. The authors examine the history of UN sanctions and their potential for confronting emerging and future threats, including: cyberterrorism and information warfare, environmental crimes, and corruption.

This work begins with a historical overview of sanctions and the development of the United Nations system. It then explores the consequences of the superpowers' Cold War stalemate, the role of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the subsequent transformation from a blunt, comprehensive approach to smart and fairer sanctions. By calibrating its embargoes, asset freezes and travel bans, the UN developed a set of tools to confront the new category of risk actors: armed non-state actors and militias, global terrorists, arms merchants and conflict minerals, and cyberwarriors.

Section II analyzes all thirty UN sanctions regimes adopted over the past fifty years. These narratives explore the contemporaneous political and security context that led to the introduction of specific sanctions measures and enforcement efforts, often spearheaded for good or ill by the permanent five members of the Security Council.

Finally, Section III offers a qualitative analysis of the UN sanctions system to identify possible areas for improvements to the current Security Council structure dominated by the five veto-wielding victors of World War II.

This work will be of interest to researchers and practitioners in criminal justice, particularly with an interest in security, as well as related fields such as international relations and political science.



Evolution of UN Sanctions System


Chapter 1. An American Interlude: Sanctions Reinvented

The conflation of UN sanctions, unilateral sanctions, and tools of national economic warfare is an unfortunate but perhaps inevitable side effect of the versatility of these mechanisms and their potential for abuse. These composites both strengthen but also weaken the integrity of the UN sanction system. They are the latest iteration of centuries of experiments with coercive policies, embargoes in support of national, international, or religious coalitions’ objectives; and the United States’ unilateral economic warfare system is its most direct progenitor. Clumsily applied first by the rebels in their fight for independence, sanctions were refined and tested during the American Civil War until during WW1 the rather obscure law, the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) was created and effectively applied against the US’s WW1 enemies. During the preparations for WW2, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt needed an invisible form of warfare against Imperial Japan , the Act became the vehicle for blocking commodities. This period was also the genesis of the Office of Foreign Funds Control (FFC) within the US Treasury that delivered the tools for blocking the assets of individuals and companies, the forerunners of the UN ’s targeted sanctions. The US’s aggressive application of the commodity boycott against Japan also serves as the modern day example of how sanctions, when misused, can lead straight to war.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 2. Creating the Security Council and Its Sanctions System

The creation of the United Nations and its sanctions system gave the US government the opportunity to rid the world of vestiges of the balance of power system, project lofty American ideals, and build pragmatic, new institutions and organizations such as the UN. Importantly, US President Roosevelt had begun his quest with the idealistic aspiration of creating a world of united, peaceful nations free of fear. That precondition was carried forward, even while the USA and many other countries soon revealed a profound dichotomy of values. The Americans projected a future of collective security under the UN with sanctions and the military might of powerful states maintaining international peace and security. But the secretive hand of the US business elite in the drafting of the new world order and the allocation of veto decisions to the four (and later five) winners of WW2 foreshadowed hard-nosed imperialism shrouded in multilateral rhetoric.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 3. Designing and Applying Chapter VII

The seamless transition from WW2 to the Cold War turned Roosevelt ’s vision of the policing of world peace by the four most powerful or populous nations—the US, UK, Soviet  Union and China —into an illusion. Their philosophical and political disagreements were not only the biggest obstacle to an effective management of international peace and security; they proselytized their ideas across the globe and sowed war and violence among smaller nations. The Cold War clouded every issue that required the Security Council’s attention and intervention. With France as a belated addition to the “Policemen”, the club of permanent members, the Western alliance now mustered three veto -wielding powers over the Soviet-Union and China, which seldom synchronized their votes. Instead of employing UN sanctions as instruments of peace the permanent three (P3 ), France, the UK, and the US, operating with majority votes, regularly opposed Russia , forcing its veto rather than seeking compromises to resolve bloody conflicts. Sanctions policy-making was fraught with political inhibitors associated with the permanent five (P5 ), of which the Soviet Union’s overuse of the veto was the most highly discussed but by no means the only one. This dissonance left the Security Council paralyzed and its sanctions system incapable of playing its peace and security-preserving role. Misuse of the sanctions tool continued even in the face of the most dangerous threats to international peace and security—the extraordinary buildup of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The dysfunction of the Security Council became a token in the big power policy chess game when the West convinced the General Assembly to adopt the Uniting for Peace Resolution, for no other purpose than to score political points against dissenters.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 4. NAM

The P5 ’s default of their self-assigned peace-preservation mandate, the exclusion of much of the world’s population from the Security Council, and the growth of newly independent states fueled the need for change. The establishment of the NAM, uniting countries that share a distinct historic and cultural legacy, created a third global political block. Its political agenda seemed to offer an opportunity to divert the UN and the Security Council from the mutually destructive trajectories of NATO and the Warsaw Pact . NAM ’s formation was the logical effect of decolonization and so should have been their aspirations for global governance and conflict resolution. The Republic of China , a member of the original NAM , complicated the “non-alligned” integrity of the movement as China aspired to replace Taiwan as a P5 member state. That internal conflict complicated and delayed the election of NAM member states to the Security Council, and diminished their influence at a level commensurate with the group’s share of countries and of global population. While the NAM eventually gained entry to the Security Council thanks to India’s leadership, and over time became its most numerous voting block, wavering political cohesion diminished its impact on Security Council decisions. Nevertheless, the emergence of the NAM proved to be the decisive factor in eventually activating the UN sanctions system.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 5. From Comprehensive to Smart and Fairer Sanctions

The Cold War was not yet settled when its legacy intruded on the struggle for control over the Security Council's policies, and sanctions. Whereas enhancement of humanitarian values in sanctions practices is touted by many as the major achievement of the post-Cold War period, we posit that, P5 dominance resulted in a rash of old-style economic warfare practices concealed as UN sanctions. The unacceptable humanitarian impacts on civilian populations, unlike during the civilizational struggles of the Cold War, could no longer be excused as unavoidable collateral damage. The evolution of UN sanctions from comprehensive to targeted measures was, however, at least as urgently necessitated by the fundamental paradigm shifts caused by the emergence of a new class of non-government threat actors. The existing UN sanctions practices that were designed as state-to-state coercive policy mechanisms were useless tools against these new opponents. Although these threat actors were usually the remnants of the P5 ’s Cold War allies, and their new conflicts merely eruptions of neglected post-colonial issues or continuations of Cold War proxy contests, they could now all be turned over to UN mitigation.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 6. Backlash Against the Backlash

Going forward after the reforms and adjustments of the 1990s, it was a reasonable expectation that humanitarian concerns would feature prominently across all UN sanctions regimes. Yet again, superpower prerogatives asserted themselves over UN sanctions when the attacks of 11 September 2001 threatened hard US national security interests. The attacks served as the impetus for a multi-pronged counter offensive with full-spectrum militarization as the centerpiece of national and international counterterrorism responses. UN counterterrorism sanctions were used to delegitimize radicalized Islam and its adherents, and to establish target lists of hard security threat actors to be disposed of with military force, or soft security targets for legal prosecution. With the wholesale abandonment of minimal standards of fair and clear procedures, the backlash against UN counterterrorism sanctions was inevitable. The new round of reforms exposed European P5 member states to the quandary of how to promote counterterrorism measures while at the same time championing due process standards vigorously defended by the EU High Courts. Effectively, the fight for due process against unlawful counterterrorism sanctions practices spearheaded by the P5 was the first time elected member states of the Security Council and their allies in the General Assembly issued a resounding rebuke of big power overreach.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 7. UN Sanctions Measures

Against the background of intense political struggles between P5 and other UN member states, UN sanctions measures gradually evolved. With the major shift from comprehensive to targeted sanctions measures occurring in the mid 1990s, broad economic bans could now be refined to include individual financial and travel restrictions, as well as targeting of very specific commodities. Important new opportunities also opened in connection with embargoes on conventional and unconventional arms because specific facilitators of sanctions violations such as financiers, transporters, or intermediaries for customs brokering could be targeted as well. However, perhaps the most important innovation in the UN sanctions system came with very specific and elaborate exemptions for arms embargoes, assets freeze, and travel bans. These were motivated by humanitarian concerns and the need for sanctions to be perceived as a proportionate tool of coercion rather than punishment. These were also intended to serve as a powerful legitimizing device for all those who still doubted the fairness of the UN sanctions system.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 8. Commodity Sanctions

Commodity sanctions take a special place in the UN ’s coercive policy arsenal. They are part of almost every UN sanctions regime and have been subject to the most extensive reforms. Yet, their underlying utility has never been analyzed and thus, more often than not, they are deployed either as holdovers of past economic warfare practices, or to serve extraneous interests. Infamous as the ill-fated oil for food effort in the unrealistic and excessive Iraq sanctions, as part of the comprehensive regime against Haiti , and more recently in Libya and the DPRK , sanctions on the extraction and trade of raw materials regularly overshoot their political purpose. Recently, new forms of commodity sanctions that operationalize certification systems and corporate responsibility schemes are on the rise. As such, they serve not only the interests of advocacy groups; they also promote business interests as marketing tools for accessing global commodity markets. Such extraneous purposes serve the cause of international peace and security as little as does their deployment as a tool of economic warfare.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 9. Emerging Threats and Sanctions: Abuses of Digital and Information Technologies

Our research demonstrates that active abuse of cyberspace by virtually all groups of sanctions violators across many UN sanctions regimes has grown over the past almost 20 years. For almost as long, UN sanctions monitoring experts have formulated concrete examples and recommendations for how to address these expanding problems. The Security Council chose not to respond for much of this time, and when it finally did, in response to cyber space abuses by ISIL, it still did not answer with a comprehensive cyber sanctions policy. While more security in cyberspace is clearly in the public and private sectors' interest, leading governments equally clearly prefer their many secret intelligence programs that have come to light over the past years through leaks and other indiscretions. Fear of terrorism serves governments well in justifying countermeasures that undermine privacy rights in the name of enhancing public security. Procrastinating on adopting comprehensive sanctions solutions against cyber threats is likely connected with their preference for gaining control over advanced information technologies in order to weaponize them before multilateral agreements create restrictions.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Narratives of UN Sanctions Cases


Chapter 10. Earliest Comprehensive Sanctions: Southern Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa

The very first attempt to mobilize UN sanctions on behalf of the humanitarian norm of racial equality revealed the Security Council’s tenuous commitment to the UN’s core principals. Intended to act as the primary regulatory mechanism through which the veto -wielding powers were to guarantee peace and security, the Security Council never lived up to this promise. Big power politics overshadowed or shunted aside the very legitimate demands of the majority of the world’s populations and newly independent states. The Council, as had become apparent during its first full decade of existence, secured the winners of WW2 and their victors’ spoils mostly by strengthening and cementing their privileged positions. The logical consequence of this broken promise should have been to either radically reform the Security Council to deleverage the real sources of global hostilities or for those states that were betrayed, to abandon the Security Council altogether. Instead of choosing between these two options, the P5 preferred of course, and succeeded, to maintain the illusion of the Security Council’s peace-promoting role. Consequently, the proposed sanctions against Apartheid South Africa or Southern Rhodesia ’s racist leadership never amounted to more than lip service. Equally consequential was how the failed attempt by many less powerful countries to make use of the Security Council sanctions system discouraged their continued participation in the Security Council’s conflict-resolution efforts.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 11. Humanitarian Collateral Costs: From Iraq to Yugoslavia to Haiti

After the end of the Cold War , Western nations had a unique historic opportunity to remake the UN sanctions system and to prove that whatever policies had not worked so far, were due to the Soviet Union’s intransigence and obstruction of Security Council decisions. It was their chance to demonstrate that the human welfare pillars of the UN were not mere rhetoric but a political aspiration that these victorious Western states were now going to turn into a political reality with their new sanctions regimes. Our research shows, however, that no such considerations dominated the thinking of the post-Cold War sanctions politicians. If any change took place in conflict zones that leading member states perceived to be hard security threats—meaning Iraq , Yugoslavia, and to a lesser degree in Haiti —it was by moving backwards, towards harsher economic warfare rather than towards more calibrated and temporary sanctions measures. Sanctions decision makers were so convinced of their righteous intentions that unlike the poorly implemented early sanctions regime against South Africa and Southern Rhodesia , they now inflicted inadvertently mass collateral fatalities.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 12. The Spread of Terrorism: Libya I, Sudan I, Afghanistan/Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL, Lebanon

The confrontation with terrorism is an asymmetric global war, involving many different forms of intervention, including an ever-evolving multilateral network of counterterrorism organizations, instruments, and mechanisms. In essence it is a militarized-intelligence response that leverages UN sanctions as a tool of economic warfare . Terrorism is considered a class of violence separate from that committed by other insurgents, and deserving of far more robust investments in treasure and blood. Terrorists are deemed to be ineligible for considerations of extenuating historic causes and wrongs as routinely afforded to other risk actors and perpetrators of political violence , even when they have inflicted far bloodier casualties. Usually imposed in response to particularly brutal terrorist assaults, counterterrorism sanctions remain suspended between punitive-retributive and coercive-reformative policies rather than offering a distinct and peaceful alternative to the unilaterally driven, global war on extremist political violence. In particular the Al Qaida / ISIL regime is not positioned to leverage coercive policy purposes, measures are not short-term or temporary and the interventions are not designed to reconcile conflict parties, with the possible exception of the Taliban regime. UN sanctions contribute to the sprawling, generational warfare feeding and fueling the global jihad that Osama bin Laden , other Al Qaida and ISIL leaders, and their Shura Council envisioned all along.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 13. Asymmetric Enemies in Somalia, Cambodia, Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Liberia I–III, Congo (Zaire), Ivory Coast, Sudan II, Libya, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, Yemen, South Sudan

Without exception, post-colonial or Cold War legacies are the principal risk actors of the 15 sanctions regimes analyzed in this chapter. Another characteristic of these sanctions cases is that they rarely rank sufficiently high on the national security threat radars of major powers to warrant their full commitment. Instead they are fed into the UN and its sanctions system, where they linger, sometimes for decades, because of lack of adequate political will, or they are resolved when the Security Council accepts to do the bidding of the big powers. Usually, that means that when big powers call on the UN sanctions system to confront asymmetric threat actors, rules are fudged, and conflict-resolution becomes packages of UN and other sanctions comingled with the use of unilateral force (Côte d’Ivôire, Somalia , or Yemen). In other cases such as the early phases of Somalia, part of the DRC regime, and Sudan/Darfur , it can be shown how major powers simply lose interest in staying engaged in conflict-resolution, as long as casualties are “tolerable,” and nothing infringes on the national security priorities of powerful nations. Such unprincipled applications of UN sanctions may satisfy the policy objectives of major powers, but are seldom effective for the victimized populations, and do unnecessary damage to the UN ’s global standing.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Chapter 14. Back to the Future: The Non-Proliferation Cases of Iran, North Korea and R2P Sanctions on Libya

UN sanctions implementation practices have advanced as a result of various reforms, but but are currently applied mostly on failed or failing states and asymmetric opponents. Once targeted on well-organized, sophisticated governments or very affluent groups and entities, UN sanctions culture is insufficiently resilient to prevail against far more formidable violators of international norms. The required escalating sophistication of the sanctions regimes on Iran , North Korea, or Qaddafi ’s Libya stretch the technical capacities of many states and frustrate policy-makers around the world. They also require political will and unity of purpose whereas time and again, disunity among the powerful states undermines their effectiveness. Our research and analysis for each of the following case studies show that at their inception sanctions were thwarted and turned into wedge issues by self-interested big power politics. With the international community barely able to muster a semblance of political of cooperation on sanctions and often divided on other options including mediation - the Iran case being the notable exception -  neither the Libya nor DPRK regime offers any reason for optimism.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister

Analysis, Conclusions and Recommendation


Chapter 15. Analysis and Conclusions

This concluding chapter critiques the imprecision with which practitioners and policy makers apply UN sanctions. It also analyzes UN sanctions cases in relation to their stated objectives, the surrounding political environment, and where relevant, the impact of the use of force. A fact of sanctions is that they do not work in isolation and as with any tool, sanctions have limits. However, the simultaneous use of UN sanctions and military force authorized under Article 42 of the UN Charter radically alters the equation. Building on the preceding chapters of the book, this chapter analyzes each UN sanctions case to qualify and quantify its fulfillment of UN policy objectives. We believe that the more important insight offered in this chapter, however, is that sanctions ineffectiveness is always rooted in a lack of commitment to the tool (political will) or its outright misuse, often by the most powerful nations. They are the same states that have reserved veto rights in exchange for their historic commitment to ensure international peace and security. The past fifty years, we demonstrate here, deliver ample evidence that in many conflicts, they have not lived up to their responsibility to elevate the maintenance of international peace and security over craven and interested policies. Therefore, the international community would do well to review this historic agreement underpinning the United Nations and its collective security arrangements.
Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Shawna R. Meister


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