Ironically, when in 1945 the League of Nations was reformed into the United Nations US Secretary of State Cordell Hull agued that the latter could be considered to be the central point in “the fulfillment of humanity’s highest aspirations” (Glennon, 16). However, already by the beginning of the 1990s these great expectations regarding the role of the UN in peace resolution and aspiration “fulfillment” started fading away. Gradually the UN governance controlled to the very degree by the Security Council had fallen victim to geopolitical states and various forces too difficult for a legalist organization to resist.
By the end of atrocious and bloody century, the majority of geopolitical powers utilizing military pressure did not consider the legitimacy of force and responsibility before global community. The apogee of this continuous process was when US president George Bush challenged the UN to take action against Iraq saying “We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions” and adding that the US would intervene alone even without UN cooperation. In two weeks the UN authorized resolution according to which the military intervention against Baghdad was implicitly granted.
From this critical point of view, the United Nations lost its effectiveness, being transformed from peacekeeping, ambitious and legalist organization into a military and geopolitical tool in the hands of powerful states and alliances. Simultaneously, the purpose of UN Security Council and its effectiveness is now widely questioned, though in terms of conflict resolution on the international arena it remains to be a policy maker with considerable political power.
The relief coming after the Cold War, and increased activity of world’s superpowers resulted in sharp rise of the UN Security Council resolutions, over 600 during the 1990s. Practically, the intensity of international cooperation automatically led to more frequent use of coercive economic sanctions, and controversies and negative consequences. In April 1991, the Council adopted Resolution 687, which maintained economic sanctions as a constraint over Iraqi regime and as a guarantee to Iraq’s compliance with the cease-fire resolution (Durch, 27).
Logically, these constrains adopted in the process of international conflict resolution led to standstill of Iraq’s economy and humanitarian crisis. Immediately following the Council’s Resolution 687, the Permanent Five partial or comprehensive economic sanctions against Yugoslavia, Libya, Somalia, Haiti, Liberia, and Angola, which has been historically known as the sanction decade.
From the practical standpoint, the sanctions offered the chance for effectiveness of the Council on the arena of international conflicts, particularly they empowered the Council to enforce international legal norms without the use of military force. The UN General Assembly’s Informal Open-Ended Working Group on “An Agenda for Peace” declared in 1996 that “an effectively implemented regime of collective Security Council sanctions can operate as a useful international policy tool in a graduated response to threats to international peace and security” (United Nations, 1996).
Two years after, Secretary-General Kofi Annan asserted in his Africa report of 1998 that “sanctions, as preventive or punitive measures, have the potential to encourage political dialogue, while the application of rigorous economic and political sanctions can diminish the capacity of the protagonists to sustain a prolonged fight” (Annan, 25). However, those declarations about adequacy and value of the Council’s sanctions and use of peacemaking forces have been made in the light of controversy which surrounded the policy following humanitarian and economic crises in numerous countries.
For instance, according to Gordon, regulating measures in the form of economic sanctions in Iraq and Haiti created a fatigue among Security Council members, generating outright condemnation of sanctions by some diplomats, scholars, and activists (Gordon, 124-125). The controversy in Council’s regulation lays also in facts that the most powerful states, especially the Permanent Five (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States), are inclined to use the sanctions enterprise to fulfill their particular foreign policy goals, which not always match the goals of the broader United Nations community.
Furthermore, the Council’s sanctions are oftentimes used as an alternative and sometimes as a prelude to war. While one part of the UN community considers the sanctions of the Security Council as a peaceful means of coercion or as a powerful means of persuasion, another views them as methods comprising a middle ground between doing nothing and authorizing the use of military force. If assessed critically, sanctions represent extreme measures that can result in some cases in severe consequences similar those during wartime.
Simultaneously, sanctions cannot be perceived as a “soft” political tool of persuasion, and they surely do not correspond the reality of economic and humanitarian devastation following them immediately. In 2000-2001 the United Nations Security Council faced a crossroads in sanctions policy. In a number of cases of threats to peace and deteriorating regional security, the Council responded creatively and appropriately at the design stage of sanctions, only to experience a lack of sanctions effectiveness because of inadequacies in implementation and monitoring on the ground.
In some settings, such as Angola and West Africa, the partial security advances that occurred were the result primarily of changes on the battlefield. Sanctions made some contribution to limiting access to wealth and weapons, but UN measures generally underperformed because of inadequate enforcement. In other cases, such as the continuing differences over sanctions policy regarding Iraq and the inability of sanctions to change regime behavior in Afghanistan, the security issues at stake were framed and dealt with by members of the Permanent Five working for the most part outside the aegis of the UN.
The Security Council has adopted significant refinements in sanctions policy in recent years. Most notable have been steps toward improving sanctions design, applying more targeted measures, strengthening monitoring and enforcement, and prioritizing humanitarian concerns. Yet these advances have been compromised by competing political agendas among the Permanent Five, inadequate compliance by member states, and a lack of institutionalized UN monitoring and enforcement capacity.
Although the Security Council has made some progress in advancing the art and science of economic statecraft, comprehensive sanctions reform has been elusive. The dominant trend in UN policymaking has been the shift away from general trade sanctions toward more targeted and selective measures. Since 1994, all UN sanctions have been targeted. Financial sanctions, travel bans, arms embargoes, and commodity boycotts have replaced general trade embargoes as the preferred instruments of UN policy.
The sweeping counterterrorism measures adopted in SCR 1373 (2001) continued this trend, imposing targeted financial, travel, and other restrictions on terrorists and those who support them. In each of the categories of selective sanctions – finance, travel, arms, and commodities – the Security Council has introduced important innovations. In the area of financial sanctions, the Council has moved beyond freezing the assets of governments to locking down the accounts of designated entities and individuals as well.
In the cases of Iraq, Libya, and Yugoslavia, financial sanctions were imposed only on government assets. Beginning with the sanctions against the military junta in Haiti in 1994 and continuing through the cases of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in Angola and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Council also applied targeted financial sanctions against designated entities and individuals. The counterterrorism measures mandated in SCR 1373 were also directed against entities and individuals.
Unlike earlier times, the UN Secretariat now has developed the capacity, in cooperation with member states, to develop and publish lists of designated sanctions targets. Innovations have also occurred in UN arms embargoes. The language and technical terms employed in Security Council arms embargoes have become more precise. Arms embargo resolutions now include prohibitions not only against the supply of arms and ammunition but also against training, cooperation, and various support services, including air transportation.
This refinement of terms and broadening of items covered has helped to close loopholes and avoid ambiguities that impede enforcement. As the threats to global peace and security have changed, the purposes for which sanctions are imposed have steadily widened. During the 1990s, sanctions were imposed to reverse aggression, restore democratically elected governments, protect human rights, end wars, and bring suspected terrorists to justice. Now two additional functions have been added – sanctioning a country for violating UN -mandated sanctions and imposing worldwide financial and other sanctions against terrorism.
With the imposition of sanctions against Liberia (SCR 1343, 2001), the Council for the first time imposed mandatory measures against one country because of its defiance of sanctions against another. Recognizing Liberia’s role as the primary supply base for the RUF, the Council imposed a diamond embargo, travel sanctions, and an arms embargo against the Monrovia government. The purpose of the Liberia sanctions was to exert full pressure on a state secondarily involved in norm violation.
It was an important step toward broadening the scope of sanctions and strengthening their enforcement. The desire to avoid humanitarian suffering among vulnerable and innocent populations has become a dominant feature of Security Council policymaking. The Security Council has sought to reduce unintended impacts within targeted regimes and among third parties in neighboring states. As sanctions analysts have noted, the effect of sanctions on neighboring states and trading partners of the targeted regime can be severe.
The motivation to minimize adverse impacts has prompted a number of innovations in Security Council policymaking. Humanitarian assessments and impact missions have now become a regular feature of UN sanctions. It was a reform long sought by humanitarian agencies and independent researchers, ourselves included. Assessment reports conducted prior to sanctions imposition or during the early stages of a sanctions regime offer a means for the Security Council to anticipate and prevent potential humanitarian problems and to arrest unanticipated adverse impacts in a timely manner.
The continuing relevance of sanctions – whether to suppress terrorist networks in the wake of the 11 September attacks, to bring closure to the UN mission in Iraq, or to end the scourge of war in sub-Saharan Africa – highlights the importance of the UN Security Council developing consensus on needed policy improvements. In the positive trends with the Permanent Five that developed through practice and the recommendations that appeared in various UN reports, new opportunities have emerged for the Security Council to institutionalize the process of sanctions reform.
The task before the Council is to set in place a series of strictures and automatic mechanisms that will sharpen the bite of sanctions and enhance their effectiveness as tools for fostering international security. The lessons of history may be relevant here. In the early 1930s, the League of Nations, faced with Japanese aggression in Manchuria and Italian aggression in Ethiopia, chose not to employ the power it possessed to impose sanctions against these blatant violations of the league’s charter.
This decision emasculated the league and led to increasing cynicism and declining participation by member states. It was the beginning of the end of the league as a force for ensuring peace and security. Without being overly dramatic, an analogy may be appropriate for the United Nations: the very fate of the UN Security Council as an effective body of the world most global organization may hinge on its ability to use sanctions as instruments for peace and security.
This challenge is especially evident in the case of Iraq, where the organization has invested so much time and effort and where its reputation is so much at stake. It also applies to the global campaign against terrorism, where the United Nations with the Council stands as the indispensable agency for mobilizing worldwide participation in the struggle to suppress the financing and organization of terrorist networks.