Moral Principles and Flexible Sanctions  

There is generally a degree of hypocrisy about the imposition of sanctions on a country by another country or group of countries. Those who inflict sanctions assert that their target has done something terribly wrong, which will be corrected following its recognition that superior beings are setting an example of flawless moral rectitude, but it is doubtful that such perfection exists.

If the sanctioning countries were in reality superior in moral behaviour to everyone else on the planet, this might possibly excuse sanctioning in some cases; but generally the unwelcome fact emerges that imposing sanctions is usually an act of sanctimonious or spiteful humbug.

Take India and Pakistan, for example. India conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 and Pakistan followed suit “to even the score” in an ill-advised counterstroke. There was outrage in Washington.  President Clinton, notable for his high moral standards, declared that India’s tests “clearly create a dangerous new instability in their region and . . .  I have decided to impose sanctions against India.”  Then he took the same action against Pakistan.

Both countries were subjected to severe economic penalties at the instigation of Washington.  The western world, and especially Israel, which had been quietly producing nuclear weapons for years, expected sanctions to have the effect of halting the nuclear weapons programmes of both countries.

The US Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs quoted the President’s righteous indignation to the Senate by repeating that the tests “directly challenge the firm international consensus to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

But today India and Pakistan each have about 130 nuclear warheads in bombs and ballistic missiles and their nuclear weapons programmes are at full throttle.  There has been massive nuclear proliferation.  So why didn’t sanctions work?

They didn’t work because another paragon of moral rectitude, George W Bush (“we found the Weapons of Mass Destruction”), decided to remove sanctions on India and Pakistan because, as his spokesman explained, “We intend to support those who support us. We intend to work with those governments that work with us in this fight [against terrorism].”

As the great Groucho Marx once said, with a cynical eye on the world around him, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . . well, I have others.”

The latest sanctions on Russia are a prime example of malevolent spite, and are intended to make life as difficult as possible for its citizens in the hope that they will revolt and overthrow President Putin, just as sanctions on Cuba were intended to have Cubans topple President Castro, if the CIA couldn’t murder him first (they tried many times). The US has sanctioned Cuba for almost sixty years, but, as observed by the Cato Institute, “The embargo has been a failure by every measure.”

Obama tried to end the mindless, petty, spiteful anti-Cuba campaign, but the psychotic Trump got things back to normal by announcing even harsher punishments, including a ban on tourism.  That will teach these evil people to support their government.

Then there were the years of sanctions against Iraq which penalised its citizens to a criminal degree. US policy was summed up by Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who was asked if she considered the deaths of half a million Iraqi children a reasonable result of US sanctions. She replied “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”  This pitiless, utterly heartless statement was indicative of US strategy — which continues, world-wide.

But that’s what sanctions are all about.  And the latest bout of gutter vindictiveness centres on Russia. To the joy of the sabre-rattlers, and especially of NATO, so desperately seeking a reason for its continued existence, the Cold War has begun again.

But there’s a little problem for the warmongering sanctioneers  . . .

Unfortunately for US national pride, there are some things for which it has to rely on Russia, and a difficulty for Washington is that US astronauts are ferried to and from the International Space Station in Russian rockets, and that some American rockets rely on Russian engines.

So among its vicious measures to try to punish Russia the US Congress didn’t include sanctions that might be awkward for their space programmes. There were no mainstream media reports about this embarrassing tap-dancing, but one observation was that “officials at Orbital ATK [an aerospace and military equipment manufacturer] and ULA [a Lockheed-Boeing space venture] breathed sighs of relief as the US Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from sanctions targeting Iran and Russia.” The amendment to the sanctions Act exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in its Atlas V and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

And the really funny thing is that the Atlas V rocket launches US spy satellites. On 1 March, NASA reported the seventieth mission by an Atlas V, when “a final launch verification took place . . . leading to the start sequence of the RD-180 engine at the base of the Atlas V core at T-2.7 seconds.” It would be too much to expect them to admit that the RD-180 is made in Russia.

The US Senate and House of Representatives support imposition of sanctions all round the world on the most principled grounds — except when their actions would interfere with the profits of the US aerospace industry and Washington’s ability to spy on all of us from space.

Groucho Marx put it well when he said “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . . well, I have others.” He was joking, but the US Congress is deadly serious. And it’s quite possible that Pakistan is next on the humbugs’ hit-list.

Stick with China, Pakistan.

by Brian Cloughley

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