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Washington’s fixation on sanctions

The Treasury Department building in Washington.

Washington’s fixation with sanctions has little to do with their efficacy and everything to do with something else: American decline

Washington, U.S. | Xinhua | Washington has “become addicted to sanctions” like a 5-year-old child who “is addicted to candy,” a U.S. columnist has said.

“If there is one tool policymakers and lawmakers in Washington are almost always predisposed to use, it is the economic stick commonly known as sanctions,” said Daniel DePetris in an op-ed published recently by U.S. weekly news magazine Newsweek.

Recently, the United States has imposed new sanctions on individuals and entities from China, Russia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Myanmar, Bangladesh and others for “human rights violations” during the so-called “Summit for Democracy.”

For years, the United States, relying on its dominant position in the global economic and financial system, has frequently used sanctions to attack other countries in the name of “democracy and human rights,” which has seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations, and also has poisoned global economic security.


For a long time, the United States has overused its financial hegemony and technological advantages, and has continued to impose its domestic legislation all over the world under the guise of “human rights” and “national security,” by sanctioning countries it regarded as enemies or rivals, and imposing illegal unilateral long-armed jurisdiction on third parties, including its allies.

“Economic statecraft has been a vital component of U.S. diplomacy since the early days of the republic,” Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University, said in a recent article published in Foreign Affairs magazine.

During the Cold War, the United States issued rules and laws to prevent Soviet allies from accessing vital resources and technologies, Drezner said.

Over the past few years, Washington has taken a new approach to sanctions. It has adopted a series of domestic laws. Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria and more are on the U.S. blacklist.

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the number of U.S. sanctions has increased tenfold in the past 20 years. U.S. President Barack Obama imposed 2,350 sanctions in his second term, and U.S. President Donald Trump imposed 3,800 sanctions during his presidency. As of Oct. 1, 2021, the department has implemented 9,421 sanctions in force.


In early December, the so-called “Summit for Democracy” ended with endless doubts from the international community.

The fundamental purpose of democracy is to safeguard the interests of the people. However, the U.S. government, based on the mentality of “follow me or go against me,” has made great efforts on the international stage to wantonly disrupt other countries’ economies and damage people’s livelihoods by means of sanctions and bullying, without considering the interests of other peoples, which has seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations, and interfered with and disturbed the normal operation of the world economy and global industrial chain.

The U.S. regressive moves are totally different from the true democratic spirit, which makes the so-called “freedom, democracy and human rights” billed by the United States questionable.

Among the nearly 40 million people in Afghanistan, “22.8 million could face acute hunger during winter months, with 8.7 million people at emergency levels,” according to the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme.

The Afghan Taliban has repeatedly urged the United States to ease sanctions against Afghanistan and unfreeze Afghan assets, pointing out that the U.S. sanctions have caused serious damage not only to Afghan trade and commerce, but also to humanitarian assistance.

According to statistics, U.S. sanctions have cut Iran’s oil exports by more than 80 percent from 2017 to the end of 2020. Not to mention the 60-year economic embargo against Cuba, which has caused direct economic losses of over 100 billion U.S. dollars to Cuba and caused serious harm to the Cuban people. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has increased its sanctions against Iran, Syria and other countries, making their situations even worse.

During the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in September this year, leaders of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and other countries blasted the United States for its hegemonism, neo-colonialism and economic coercion in international relations.

Earlier in June, for the 29th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution, “calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba,” which conveyed the voice of the international community against U.S. hegemonism.


Although the U.S. sanctions are often under the banner of “democracy and human rights,” in essence, such means, like foreign ideological exports and foreign wars, are a tool for Washington to maintain its hegemony and serve the interests of its ruling class.

Foreign Affairs magazine said the United States has become a country “of sanctions,” having a tendency for “the use and abuse of economic coercion.”

This year alone, the United States has repeatedly wielded the stick of sanctions.

The country has threatened sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine issue, of cutting off Russia’s financial lifeline.

On the day the Taliban took over the Afghan capital city of Kabul, the U.S. government quickly froze nearly 9.5 billion dollars in national foreign exchange assets held in the United States by the Afghan central bank.

Washington has also been ruthless in imposing sanctions on its European allies on issues such as the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline.

The U.S. approach is the age-old “with us or against us” strategy, and “delivers all the consequences that a hegemon can inflict upon non-compliant states,” Chandran Nair, founder and CEO of the Global Institute for Tomorrow, said in a recent op-ed published in the South China Morning Post.

“The truth is that Washington’s fixation with sanctions has little to do with their efficacy and everything to do with something else: American decline,” said Drezner.

Two decades of war, recession, polarization, and a pandemic have dented U.S. power, Drezner said. “Frustrated U.S. presidents are left with fewer arrows in their quiver, and they are quick to reach for the easy, available tool of sanctions.”



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