Conference Report from IAI Conference on Coercive Diplomacy, Sanctions and International Law

I just received today a link to a very fine conference report of the excellent conference on coercive diplomacy, sanctions and international law in which both I and Marco Roscini participated last month at the Instituto Affari Internationali in Rome. This conference report is remarkably thorough, providing an excellent summary of the presentations, including mine beginning on pg. 24.  I’m currently revising my paper, which will be published along with the other conference papers in a volume under contract with Brill.

I again wish to thank my friends at the IAI for including me in this very successful conference. In particular, Professor Natalino Ronzitti, Nicoletta Pirozzi, and Elisabetta Farroni.

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2 Comments on “Conference Report from IAI Conference on Coercive Diplomacy, Sanctions and International Law”

  1. pugwashtest says:

    Dan, thank you for posting this report. Very interesting and enlightening discussion indeed. And I certainly share most of your points, as reflected in that document. But I found a couple of important elements missing.

    1. There is a big political and legal issue about dismantling or easing the sanctions regime, once the declared purposes are achieved or some other generally acceptable accommodation is found. For example, the famous Jackson-Vanik amendment adopted in1974 by the US Congress, which denied MFN status to the USSR and some other nations in order to make them respect the freedom of emigration, remained in force against Russia for more than 20 years after the stated purpose (freedom of emigration) was achieved, and the Soviet Union itself disintegrated. This is despite the fact that according to the same Jackson-Vanik amendment, the restrictions should “end… on the date on which the President determines that such country is no longer in violation of paragraph (1), (2), or (3)”.

    Another example – the currently unfolding dramatic final phase of P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, where the main sticking point in reality is not the number of centrifuges or the fate of Arak reactor or Fordow facility, but the order and speed and completeness of removal of “unilateral”, or “autonomous” US sanctions against Iran (and, to a lesser extent, of EU sanctions). Clearly, suspension or removal of Iran sanctions is proposition, which is not politically digestible for the AIPAC – dominated culture of many senators and congress(wo)men. But in a more narrow legal context, it is not an easy task either. Many acts establishing various elements of sanctions regime are messy in terms of reasons, putting in one bag alleged nuclear weapons ambitions, support of terrorism and human rights. This may well put in question the stated objectives of sanctions and clearly indicates that sanctions, which cannot be removed once the stated goals are achieved, are either counter-productive or malicious or both. Whatever the answer may be, a more evident conclusion for the sanctions regimes in general is that, to have any effect, sanctions should be designed in such a way so that they can be quickly removed once the stated reasons for sanctions enact ion are no longer there.

    2. The second point that I find missing in the IAI conference report, is the question of consistency versus political expediency. The report mentions several times that “countermeasures necessarily presuppose that the target State has committed an international wrong”. Putting the quality of the evidential base aside, on has to observe that unilateral sanctions, or countermeasures tend to be enacted only for some of those, committing international wrong, and not for others, found to be doing same or similar transgressions. Thus Iran was not the only country having problems with the implementation of CSA, but it was singled out; it corrected its mistakes or omissions, and it was punished further. Other countries caught in non-compliance with their CSAs were slightly reprimanded.

    Same with the Western sanctions against Russia. I am ready to recognize that the majority opinion in the West on the issue of Crimea is that annexation took place. While I disagree with that view (nor do I consider all Russian actions in Crimea legally and politically impeccable), my disagreement is not so important in the given context. Important is that the “sanctioneers” decided to punish Russia with the sanctions, while closing their eyes and even welcoming various acts of aggression occupation and, by the way, annexation, being committed by more friendly nations. This leads me to another conclusion: in the absence of agreed definition of what is “international wrong” and without the readiness to apply it consistently in all cases unilateral sanctions will always risk being arbitrary, selective and discriminatory, and, hence lose legitimacy they are perceived to have. I do not know whether these conditions are attainable – probably not, in which case we would have another argument against unilateral sanctions.

    3. The third point relates to “the need for a standard of proof in order to avoid imposing international sanctions based on disputed facts” – something which was mentioned at the conference and in its report. There have been instances when this requirement was bluntly disregarded by the West while imposing sanctions on Iran (slowly the truth is coming out that some of the “facts” have even been fabricated) as well as on Russia.

    So, my over-all conclusion would be that the so-called unilateral sanctions, as a concept and as an approach, have many more flaws than highlighted at the conference, and in most cases are quite unhelpful. This is without prejudice to the many useful results, conclusions and findings, that I have found in the IAI Conference report.

    S. Batsanov

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Dear Sergey, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. I find myself in agreement with every one of your points. I think that both unilateral and multilateral economic sanctions have increasingly become a primary tool of economic warfare by powerful Western countries, and that this phenomenon presents all of the problems that you have correctly identified, and more. This is what has prompted me to focus my work in this area on the rules of international law that limit states’ ability to lawfully impose economic sanctions, particularly on developing states. I think we are at a point in this phenomenon when the pendulum of law needs to swing towards protection of developing states from the arbitrary and politicized tools of economic warfare that are used against them by powerful states, and that cause immense suffering among the ordinary citizens of these target countries.


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