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AUGUST 1, 1998


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US foreign policy gurus denounce sanctions as business dips

The White House and Congress have decided that, in many cases, sanctions just are not an effective way to make foreign policy, says The New York Times.

In recent months, the United States has backed off imposing sanctions on Asian countries, including India and Pakistan, so they would be free to buy American wheat, on Cuba to avoid a court fight with Canada and European allies, and on China so American business could compete in that huge market.

Both administration and congressional leaders have avoided sanctions, in large part, because of orchestrated complaints from farm organisations and business groups, including the chamber of commerce and USA Engage, a group of 676 companies who have formed a powerful coalition.

The business leaders contend that in the highly competitive global economy, now regulated by an international trade organisation, economic sanctions are effective at getting most countries to change and are actually backfiring since they hurt US business.

More than 75 countries are now subjected to or threatened by sanctions, the daily says quoting trade groups. And the trend has been growing. More than 60 laws or executive orders authorising sanctions -- about half the total since World War I -- have been enacted in the last five years. That roughly coincides with the end of the Cold War and the superpower rivalry that had been the chief avenue for conducting foreign policy.

It says now legislators and policy-makers are pulling the teeth out of existing sanctions or dropping proposed penalties, fearing that unilateral sanctions in particular are hurting American business or diplomatic interests more than the foreign countries or companies they are intended to punish.

Last month, Congress exempted food exports from sanctions automatically imposed on India and Pakistan after the two countries conducted nuclear tests in May. The exemption was made in part because the penalties would have barred American farmers from bidding on a $ 37 million wheat order from Pakistan, it adds.

Last week, a senate committee shelved a popular bill to punish foreign countries, including China, that endorsed or permitted religious persecution after business groups protested that the punishments would alienate diplomatic allies and trading partners.

The Times quotes Republican senator Chuck Hagel, who led the fight to set aside the senate's Religious Persecution Bill saying that there is a very significant re-evaluation going on regarding sanctions, as there should be.'' The administration is also recalibrating its approach.

In 1996, President Clinton signed into law bills aimed at isolating Cuba, Libya and Iran. But when the measures threatened to draw Washington into a legal challenge and trade war with Canada and European allies, the administration backed down.

''Having gone through these experiences, it made people recognise we needed a better process for the executive branch,'' said Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Stuart Eizestat.

The proliferation of sanctions has prompted the state department and the senate to form special panels to review the usefulness of sanctions. Legislation is pending in the house and senate that would require a cost-benefit analysis for any new sanctions and would end them after two years unless they are reauthorised.

Administration and congressional leaders say they are not abandoning sanctions entirely, instead, they want to use them sparingly and in a more focused way.

At the same time, these leaders recognise that in place of sanctions the US has few options and will either have to rely more on diplomacy or accept its limitations and do nothing at all.

The US has used sanctions to protest political repression in places like Myanmar, and to deny nuclear weapons technology to countries like Iran. But other penalties aim to punish countries that mislabel tuna products sold in the US or withhold foreign aid from nations whose diplomats don't pay their parking tickets.

The daily says examples in which sanctions have achieved their goal are few. In virtually all of the success stories, the United States was joined by many other countries in imposing the penalties. The international sanctions imposed against Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 have slowed, but not completely stopped, President Saddam Hussein's ability to re-build his military arsenal. And, of course, they have failed to help topple Saddam, it adds.


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