By Keith Lamb
Unilateral U.S. sanctions show hegemonic intent, causing humanitarian suffering across the Global South. The sanctions hinder true global democracy since they are not multilateral, as they coerce other states to follow them, while damaging sovereign equality by seeking systemic and economic changes within the targeted sanctioned states. On the level of international trade, sanctions damage the global economy, which the U.S. and its allies hope for.
The suffering, due to the Syrian earthquake, highlights the malady of U.S. sanctions, which target ordinary people. China, delivering aid to Syria, has criticized the sanctions and in an attempt to save face, the U.S. has lifted its “siege.” Accordingly, the U.S. knows that sanctions punish common people.
Either way, the lifting of the Syrian sanctions is merely a token gesture considering the U.S. is occupying and confiscating Syrian resources. It’s also a token gesture since U.S. sanctions are alleged to have killed more than 500,000 Iraqi children before the U.S. invasion took place.
Those who don’t like to use historical analysis will claim this is in the “distant” past but in 2019, former UN rapporteur Alfred de Zayas told the Independent that the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela were “illegal,” adding that they could be deemed, “crimes against humanity.”
The same is true for other U.S.-sanctioned states. The Nation in 2021 reported that U.S. sanctions on Iran were causing “a major humanitarian crisis.”Responsible Statecraft reported that war-torn Afghanistan had 22 million people close to starvation in 2021 due to U.S. sanctions.
These sanctions have been enforced upon states that do not comply with U.S. geopolitical demands and remain independent, with their own governing systems and cultural values. U.S. unilateral sanctions challenge sovereign equality and are a blow to global democracy, which requires every state to follow its own governing and cultural path.
When it comes to sanctions, the arrogance and flouting of international norms are immense and contradictory. For example, in 2020, after order had been restored, due to the U.S. fanning the flames of chaos in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the then Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
Likewise in the same year, Chinese officials were sanctioned by the U.S. under its “Uygur Human Rights Policy” for what it called “gross violations of human rights.” The sanctions serve as a monstrosity of U.S. hegemonic policy, when one considers that these “gross violations” have been invented in Washington and when one considers that Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, with its development, prosperity and peace, stands in stark contrast to the ruins of Afghanistan, the true victim of “gross violations of human rights.”
In the long run, U.S. sanctions damage itself and its allies. When U.S. allies dance in tune with U.S. sanctions, they damage their credibility as independent states that act for their own interests. Additionally, the sanctions on Russia are bringing untold suffering to Europeans during the cold winter and making them more dependent on U.S. energy.
In terms of trade, attempts to make European industry comply with U.S. demands, such as preventing ASML from selling its lithography machines to China, will be to their detriment. Indeed, this is also the case with U.S. tech companies, which are increasingly getting denied access to the huge and growing Chinese market.
For U.S. hegemony, its sanctions and other measures, such as confiscating assets, will be self-defeating in the long run. The West makes up the minority of the world and when they sanction the world, they end up sanctioning themselves. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns how sanctions can end up handing markets to its foreign competitors.
When one confiscates dollar holdings, as was the case with Russia and Afghanistan, the world should take note. The dollar as a tool of U.S. hegemony gets undermined as states begin to distrust it. Already, numerous states are making united efforts to create a new multipolar financial order.
Consequently, the changes taking place in the world show that the end of U.S. hegemony is drawing to a close and the U.S. would do well to integrate itself within a rising democratic multipolar order that doesn’t resort to unilateral sanctions.
On a moral basis, the U.S. cannot dictate global rules for all and it cannot compel others to follow its sanctions as it is only one member within a community of equal states where the highest organization representing these states is the UN, which, only through negotiations with all members, has the privilege to set multilateral sanctions.
Keith Lamb is a University of Oxford graduate with a Master of Science in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are China’s international relations and “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”