Foreign Policy Blogs

Sanctions; Good Idea?

As Syria continues to boil, with reports of increased violence in Latakia, and a continued heavy military presence in Dera’a, the international community is now debating its response.

The US has been the most outspoken regarding the need for action. The Obama administration is mulling a series of targeted sanctions in response to recent outbreaks of violence. The sanctions would freeze regime assets, and put an end to any business transactions between the US and Syria. This new round of sanctions would augment a series of restrictions put in place in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination, and Syria support for Hezbollah, which had already placed limits on Syrian trade, and various financial institutions.

While I’m sure these sanctions will put a serious hurting on some individual bank accounts, there really isn’t much more the US can do sanction wise. The real goal here is to get the major EU nations to follow suit and institute serious sanctions against the Assad regime. Now THAT would get the attention of the regime. For cultural and political reasons, as well as mere proximity, Europe has been where Syria does business, not the US. France, and the EU in general, have pumped hundreds of millions of Euros into Syria via various development projects, and any sizable Syrian assets are going to be in held in European banks.

Europe is currently on the fence regarding sanctions, but strong language has been used. It seems that some nations–namely Germany–want to get serious sanctions going sooner rather than later. My guess is that France will be dragging its heels here, as they have been most successful in engaging Syria, and have the most to lose from a fallout with the regime.

The problem with sanctions is that while they do place pressure on the Syrian regime,both real and idealogical, they just aren’t that effective. The US has been sanctioning Syria for the past 7 years, with little effect. Prior to the second invasion of Iraq the US had been squeezing the country dry with sanctions, doing serious harm to the civilian population. But what other option is there?

I think Libya has taught everyone that intervention is a VERY BAD idea. Total inaction is also unacceptable. Unfortunately that probably means another round of middling sanctions will be instituted, most likely with mediocre results. As long as the regime continues to use violence against protesters, ongoing diplomatic efforts to condemn those actions and the regime by extension, such as the current debate in the UN over a resolution denouncing the Syrian regime, are worthwhile.

Sanctions can potentially help, especially if key EU nations are forceful in their use. However, in the end, all of this is going to be settled by Syrians.

This video gives me some hope on that score:

A Message From Banias



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.