Steer Clear: War and the Devastation of Economic Sanctions

Reuters’ satellite images show that Russia is keeping armored trucks, personnel, and other military equipment at a military training facility in Klimovo, about 20 miles from its border with Ukraine. Major media outlets have mostly spun this as a preparation by Russia to invade Ukraine and annex it, much like it did with Crimea in 2014. 

“Over 100,000 Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s eastern border, with field hospitals and fuel dumps,” The Economist reported.

The Russians do have demands, namely that Ukraine permanently be denied admittance into NATO. However, both the Russians and the Ukrainians have denied that Russia is preparing for an invasion. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin claimed that troops were being moved into the Belarus region for war games, practicing a response to foreign threats. 

The U.S. and U.K. started to withdraw diplomats from Ukraine, but Ukrainian security experts said this withdrawal was premature as Russia has not made the needed preparations for a large-scale invasion.

“The buildup of Russian troops isn’t as rapid as some claim,” Oleksiy Danilov, Ukrainian secretary of national security, told the BBC’s Ukrainian service.

On the other hand, U.S. officials also appear ready to take war measures to protect Ukraine. The Guardian reports that the U.S. has prepared to deploy 8,500 troops to Eastern Europe. President Biden said in a press conference that he would impose severe economic sanctions on Russia should it invade Ukraine and that he would “reinforce security on the eastern flank.”

White House Press secretary Jen Psaki reinforced this sentiment saying that the U.S. has “a sacred obligation to support the security of our eastern flank countries.”

The attitude revealed in Psaki and Biden’s statements has ruled much of U.S. foreign policy for the last century. U.S. officials have often assumed God has anointed them as the world’s moral policeman.

The belief is both unfounded and hypocritical. The U.S. has invaded countless countries in the last century and continues to put American lives at risk in unwinnable conflicts such as the recently and poorly concluded war in Afghanistan. 

Additionally, the power the U.S. is dealing with here has the most nuclear warheads of any country on earth, according to the Federation of American Scientists. No matter what Joe Biden and the White House team claim, Ukraine is not America’s eastern border and risking war with a nuclear-armed power is not in anyone’s interest.

Even sanctions could potentially backfire. Compliance with sanctions can harm American businesses and citizens, especially when operating or living in foreign countries that do not have the same sanctions. 

Also, sanctions have a history of causing harm to both the citizenry of a country and its environment. One prominent example of this was the sanctions placed on Iraq between 1991 and 1998. 

“Sanctions in Iraq caused the price of basic food products to greatly increase, resulted in inadequate nutrition, caused a decline of healthcare and led to the collapse of the national currency (BBC, 1998),” Charles A. Rarick wrote in a journal for the Institute of Economic Affairs.

An estimated 500,000 children under the age of five died in Iraq as a result of economic sanctions between 1991 and 1998. According to UNICEF, this amounted to a doubling of the death rate in children less than five years old. 

A study of economic sanctions imposed on Haiti between 1991 and 1994 found that the sanctions decreased the living standards of the most disadvantaged members of Haitian society. Two studies concluded that American economic sanctions reduced the level of healthcare available to Cuban citizens.

Sanctions cause the sanctioned states to take shortcuts that cause permanent damage to their environment and natural resource supply, according to a research article by Kaveh Madani from the University of Stockholm and Yale University.

“While sanctions cannot be blamed as the cause of environmental problems, their impact on the environment as an environmental degradation catalyst is undeniable,” Madani writes, “By impacting the sanctioned state’s economy and trades, sanctions can effectively limit the sanctionee’s access to technology and goods, with major implications for the sanctionee’s environmental sector.”

According to the Economist, “For years, pollsters have found that most Russians prefer that their country and Ukraine would be friendly neighbors.”

By putting stress on the Russian economy in the form of sanctions, the U.S. is more likely to cause damage to the lower tiers of Russian society than the kleptocracy formed by Putin and his allies. Essentially, by placing sanctions on Russia, the U.S. will be propping up rather than weakening the elite, who are the ones in most in favor of annexation anyway.

U.S. leaders should always be careful to avoid further escalation with Russia or any nuclear-armed power and should be wary of the far-reaching adverse effects of economic sanctions.

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