Europe in the World
Smart sanctions - A key instrument for EU foreign policy towards Asia?23 June 2011
Clara Portela, Assistant Professor, Singapore Management University, began with a brief outline of the history of targeted sanctions. All sanctions practised by the EU as an independent actor, or by the UN Security Council since the mid 1990s are exclusively targeted sanctions. The US continues to use comprehensive trade embargoes. The two cases of EU sanctions that are relevant in an Asian context are the arms embargo against China, and the comprehensive targeted sanctions against Burma. Opinion on the Burmese sanctions is polarised. The position in favour of keeping sanctions in place is connected to the preference expressed by the leader of the opposition in Burma. The position against argues that the sanctions have been in place for 20 years and are inefficient.
Ms Portela suggested that one solution would be to imitate the mechanism that exists for dealing with Africa Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) countries. Since the 1990s, EU agreements with these countries have a conditionality clause, which allows for suspension of the agreement, including development aid and trade preferences. Suspension is triggered by violation of essential elements of the agreement, such as human rights, respect for democratic principles and rule of law.
Nadja Milanova, Lecturer, International School of Protocol and Diplomacy, said that there is no solid empirical evidence that comprehensive sanctions have a positive impact on human rights. Much of the research has been focused on comprehensive sanctions and not on smart and targeted sanctions. The symbolism of smart sanctions should not be underestimated – they are not simply a gesture of moral disapproval, and the moral dimension is not exclusive of utilitarian purpose. Sanctions are a form of coercive diplomacy with the intention of changing the behaviour of the targeted country in its foreign, security, and human rights policies. Little attention has been paid to causal mechanisms through which sanctions are supposed to lead governments to change their policies.
The effectiveness of sanctions depends on blocking alternative economic channels, requiring the cooperation of major powers, neighbouring states, and complementarity with other sanction regimes. The EU needs to use its influence on other states to ensure that targeted sanctions are not undermined and a multilateral framework agreed. Targeted sanctions are an indispensible instrument of leverage for the EU, but they cannot be the only instruments available. There need to be innovative and subtle ways of engaging countries to generate positive inducements to change. This needs good analysis to inform policy recommendations.