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[instrumental music] >> great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. great decisions is produced in association with the university of delaware. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by, pwc, the aarp office of international affairs, and the european commission. coming up next, and the european commission. coming up next, do sanctions work? [instrumental music] >> welcome to great decisions, where americans make tough choices on u.s. foreign policy. i'm ralph begleiter. this week we ask, "do sanctions work?" to help answer the question, we'll be joined by great decisions participants in philadelphia and by our experts, gary hufbauer, a senior fellow at the peterson institute and mark dubowitz, executive director of the foundation for defense of democracies. thank you both for being with us. >> thank you, ralph.
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>> so, let's get right to the question, do sanctions work, gary? >> well, there's a "feel good" element to sanctions and in that sense, they nearly always work. but there's a "do good" aspect, and that's what we studied in three editions of our book, "economics sanctions reconsidered," and we would say, my co-authors and i, that they "do good" in terms of changing the policies of the target government about one-third of the time. so, yes, that's not bad for diplomacy, but it's certainly not 100%. and the one-third is heavily weighted towards cases which probably no one has heard of, or very few have heard of, where the goal was pretty modest, pretty modest by uh, by the standards of the united states and sometimes even not the united states being the proponent of sanctions. where the goal is tough, that is removing a dictator in a hardened autocratic country,
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who's protected by secret police and so forth, that's, that's tough. the success rate is very low, probably less than a fifth of the time. so, that's kind of a broad assessment. um, if you're going to feel embarrassed as a president not doing anything, yes, sanctions in that sense work. they show the american public that you're, that you are taking action, as president reagan did when he briefly put sanctions against russia, after they shot down that uh, that korean plane, you may remember quite a while ago. but of course, russia didn't change, in that case, but it was certainly a feel good policy of the moment. >> and mark, i guess you feel that sanctions absolutely do work. >> well, i do, ralph. i mean, i think sanctions don't work, except in cases where they do. (laughter) in a sense, sanctions are not a silver bullet, but they may be silver shrapnel. and shrapnel can also wound a regime that's suffering a severe economic crisis,
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or a crisis of domestic legitimacy. when we're dealing with the threat of nuclear proliferation and support for terrorism, we don't have a choice between good and bad options, we've a choice between bad and worse options. and i think war is the worse option. sanctions give us a peaceful alternative and i think in conjunction with intrusive inspections and tough diplomacy, and the credible threat of military action, they have worked. and they've worked in cases like libya and iraq, they've slowed down their nuclear programs and in some cases terminated it. they've undermined the milosevic's serbia. and so they have worked, and i think a commitment to sanctions multi-lateral, strict enforcement, with international unanimity, i think can bring down not only the iranian regime, but at least can stop the iranian regime's march to a nuclear bomb. >> before we talk about iran further and we do want to do that, give me a quick definition. what do we mean when we say "sanctions?" are we talking about taxation, are we talking about trade? what kind, what are things, give us some examples of sanctions. >> well, economists tend to focus just on the economic aspect
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of sanctions, which is very important, but there is also a moral dimension to sanctions. sanctions are very useful in helping name and shame. they put the target country on the defensive, and it's a fundamental principle of strategic communications, "he who is explaining, is losing." and it helps change the narrative from an engagement with a rational regime to crippling an odious regime. so in that respect, moral sanctions can play a very useful role in focusing attention on the human rights abuses of these regimes and their threat to international security. >> gary? >> i don't disagree with everything that mark said, obviously. we agree on a lot of points, but i do want to pick up just one point he said. when president wilson brought us into the modern sanctions era back in 1919, he saw them as an alternative to war, and that's the line that mark has echoed. that's no longer seen as the right way to look at it. they should be looked at as a part of a forced escalation curve, where diplomacy,
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bring back your diplomats and so forth is the first start, and you move on up. and sanctions can be a prelude, certainly to covert action, that's very common in u.s. experience, and also to military action. that's haiti, that's panama, that's iraq. and the fact of signaling that you might go to war is actually one of the more powerful dimensions of sanctions. so you don't want to take that away, if you want to have some chance of influencing the target. >> alright, let's talk for a moment about iran now. the united states has had sanctions of one kind or another against iran since, i think, 1979 or 1980. it's been a long, long time that sanctions have been in place there. gary, do you think sanctions have forced the iranian government to do anything that it wouldn't otherwise have done? >> well, actually there have been three episodes. the first one you mentioned was to um, get back the american hostages. and that, in that case, sanctions by our evaluation were partially successful.
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we give it a pretty high score. and the second episode was to get iran from providing so much support to hezbollah, which is of course, terrorism in the middle east. and there less success. and the third episode, which now concerns us all, is against their attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, which they've been at since 1990. and unfortunately on that one, the success record as of now is very low. in fact, we've done something, which is to stop some very strategic elements from being shipped to iran, centrifuges, timers, things like that. but in terms of changing the intentions of the regime, no. >> alright mark, going to come back to you in a second, but let's take a listen to what some of our great decision viewers in philadelphia have to say. >> my gut feeling is that i think sanctions are like a disease. sanctions are very severe and quickly onset, and people respond to it very quickly and there could be a cure. if the sanctions are mild,
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just like a disease, they build up an immunity. >> they're the instrument that we most want to use, but it's a very problematic one in practical application. >> all of our world partners need to make it known to any country, including iran, that if they do develop nuclear weapons, that again, they will be held accountable for them. but i think we also have to be careful, because it's very easy for us to say, no iran, you can't have them, but yes we can. >> i think it's too little and too late, essentially. it might have worked uh, years ago and been really effective and widespread, but at this point, um, i don't think iran is going to make, is going to change one iota based on the sanctions that are in place right now. >> mark, there have been, through several administrations now, the u.s. has been trying to persuade iran not to move in the direction of building nuclear weapons. have sanctions worked in that regard? >> well, sanctions haven't worked yet,
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but i think we're in a different environment now. we have 33 countries that have signed on to crippling energy and financial sanctions against the iranian regime. we're focusing on the lifeblood of the regime, which is the energy sector, which accounts for about 75% of the iranian government budget, but 80% of export earnings. we can crush the energy sector, and in doing so, we can change the risk/reward calculus of this regime. so, it no longer sees a nuclear bomb as the guarantor of regime stability but perhaps as the catalyst of its demise. >> that's a pretty rosy picture though, but it's taken a long time and iran, by all reports, seems to have moved pretty far down the road towards building those nukes, despite the sanctions in place. >> well, i don't want to be pollyanna-ish about this. i mean, there's no doubt that this is a very, very difficult national security challenge for president obama. i think he's done a very good job of building a broad international coalition, and for the first time, i think we're seeing signs that it's having an impact on the iranian regime and the iranian economy. we're seeing gasoline sales drop by 90% in a year. we're seeing $60 billion dollars
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in energy investments frozen. we're seeing scores of international energy companies and banks and insurance companies pulling away from iran. it is having a significant impact. and at the same time, we're seeing a green movement, which though was brutally crushed last year, it's still part of the fabric of iranian society. it's in every corner of iranian society. it has gone underground, but it is still robust. and it's the only thing that has rattled this regime so far. so, by combining sanctions, economic sanctions, with moral sanctions that support the human rights movement in iran, i think we've got a better than average shot. >> gary, picking up on your earlier metaphor, are sanctions against iran the "do good" kind or the "feel good" kind? >> well, they're firstly and foremost "feel good," they might "doood" but i want to um, qualify what mark has said. the way they might do good is if we deprive the regime of enough resources that the ahmadinejad regime feels the same position as sadam felt after several years of sanctions, which is that he, saddam,
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had to chose between his secret police and his army and his military program, and he chose the secret police and army, and threw in some more palaces on top of that. we're a long way from that in the case of iran. they, they're resources would have to be cut very substantially from where we are now, even after this latest installment, and unfortunately, we don't have nearly the, the kind of universal support in iran that we had in iraq. and notably, we lack china and russia and a few other countries who are big buyers. and this, this is a real problem. now, i'm not saying that sanctions aren't the best thing that we can do now out of a poor hand, but i think it is pollyanna-ish to think that the sanctions under the present circumstances, in the present configuration, are going to change iran's nuclear intentions. >> mark, what about the support of other countries? >>resting because i mean we talk about "will sanctions work"
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but compared to what else? i mean, i'm not sure what else gary is recommending, if he's recommending military strikes against iranian regime, you'll probably find a lot of people in washington, particularly on the right, who would support that. what i'm suggesting is we need to give crippling sanctions a chance. we have 33 countries that represent a billion consumers, that include energy superpowers like canada and australia, and we fundamentally can put chinese and russian companies to a choice between a huge international market or a much smaller iranian market. but it's going to take political will and it's going to take this administration sanctioning those violators. i agree whole-heartedly with gary, if we don't sanction the majors, major and egregious violators of sanctions, this will not work and we will face two terrible alternatives: either a nuclear armed iran or military strikes to forestall that possibility. >> alright, let's take a look at another country that in many ways bears resemblance to what we've just been talking about, north korea. before you do, let's listen to our viewers in philadelphia, at the great decisions group, and see what they say about it. >> this is a desperately poor,
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insular regime that appears to be pretty much isolated already, so if you're going to try to use any of those conventional means of naming and shaming, recognize that there is no shame at work here. >> i recently came back from a trip to north korea with the counsel. i think in terms of north korea, and this is of course based on what i saw, which is what they want me to see, um, i think that you really come to understand the idea of ah, the importance, i would say, if we're considering sanctions on the luxury sanctions, um, targeted more ideally. because i, i think going with my gut, i do tend to think that the other sanctions that we do have in place are hurting the people more than anything. um, and i think north korea tends to be aware of that. >> i do not think sanctions have worked in north korea, and i think it's time to feed them. i think if you flood the country with food and give, feed the people,
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and tell them where the food is coming from, i think that will bring about regime change faster than continued sanctions. >> we can use the sanctions as a way to kind of control north korea. i think, you know, the fear's there, but as long as we're putting something forth to show that we care, we want to keep the peace, i think that's the way we've got to go. >> i do think that china is an important partner because of, you know, their economic power, and if, when the u.s. sanctions are in place, you know, china can easily provide north korea with all of their resources. >> now if china stopped supporting jong, i, from what i know, the regime would collapse and that might be a problem, would be a problem for china because all those people there would uh, probably come across the border and they don't want that. >> arguably in the case of north korea, sanctions have been in place a long time, and the north koreans, at least again on the basis of what we know, have in fact developed at least some kind of nuclear weapons. were they, were the sanctions a failure
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in north korea, gary? >> unfortunately, they have been and this is the longest running case in modern history. they've been in place since 1950. of course, the goals ha cnged and the anti-nuclear goal is fairly recent, really just from the 1990's... >> we've learned that in respect to the iranian situation, right? >> that's right, and by that time, you know, the goal changed, and, and anti-nuclear is our principle goal of the moment. and we've been back and forth with korea between engagement and sanctions. the clinton administration engagement, the bush administration also tried a period of engagement and then we've tried sanctions. unfortunately, this has not changed north korea's intentions. now, north korea is the most repressive country in the world today, well beyond cuba or iran or other horrible countries you might think about. and it's a medieval country. they're willing to sacrifice. they have sacrificed one million people to starvation
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during this period of time. so this is a regime which is hardened. and it sees a nuclear option as its passport to international recognition and also regime survival. unfortunately, we have not persuaded the chinese to go along with us in effective sanctions against uh, north korea, and that's their main lifeline. >> mark, what's your view of the sanctions against north korea? have they been successful in any way? >> well, clearly they didn't stop north korea's nuclear bomb. i think they've certainly helped from a moral dimension. they've certainly created the perception that north korea is a pariah state. they've contained north korea in influence. i mean, they've cut down dramatically on the ability of north korea to export arms and ballistic missile and nuclear elements. so, that has certainly cut revenue to the regime. u.s. unilateral sanctions have worked by going after bank uh, in macau, we've cut their funding. so, we've, we've
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contained them, and we've certainly created the impression that this is a country that is brutally repressive. but it's very different from iran. i mean, this is the hermit kingdom. iran actually, and iranian officials, care about their reputation. they imagine themselves as leaders of a great power. and so, naming and shaming does work, and we've seen evidence of that. there's been a huge international uproar recently over a sentence handed down against a 43-year-old mother of two to be stoned for alleged infidelity. because of the international outcry, that sentence, as far as we know, has been commuted. it shows that these iranian officials can be named and shamed in a way that as gary said, the hermit kingdom is not interested in. >> what about from the point of view of americans, though, who look at the two sanction cases, north korea and iran? uh, maybe an imperfect analogy, but, in the iran situation, many americans look at it and say, if they get a nuclear weapon, they'll be able to threaten some of our other friends in the region, jordan, ept, israel, saudi arabia, just to name a few there.
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in the case of north korea, i don't think americans think so much about what might happen to japan, or to other friendly countries in asia if north korea developed a deployable longer-range missile. why do american's see those two things differently? anybody want to tackle that? >> well... >> well... (laughing) go ahead. >> you're, you're right, and i think americans underrate north korea because north korea has medium range ballistic missiles and they may be developing long-range ballistic missiles. that means los angeles, san francisco, seattle, and definitely means honolulu. so, it's not only japan which is threatened. and also, you know, degrees of irrationality are hard to measure when you're in this particular space, but, but, conceivably north korea has a more irrational set of leaders than iran, or less interested in survival. so, you really have to think about that. i suppose that the reason we focus much more on iran than on north korea is that oil is at stake,
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and obviously israel has been, has been seriously threatened by iran over a period of years. >> mark, what's your observation about the "why americans weigh these two things differently?" >> i mean, i, i agree with gary. i also think the difference is that iran has a revolutionary ideology, that it seeks to export to hundreds of millions of potential adherents. whereas north korea has an ideology, a stalinist ideology, which has shown to be completely bankrupt. there's no one in the arab/muslim world that is seeking to become another north korea. so, i think americans instinctively understand that iran represents a grave threat as a potential great power that could undercut american influence in the middle east and elsewhere. >> we haven't talked about cuba yet and i want to do that. let's ask our group in, our great decisions group in philadelphia about sanctions in, against cuba. >> of course, they have not worked in cuba over this long period of time. and today uh, cuba is not
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a military threat, it's not a terrorism threat, and they are certainly not going to convert the world to hard-line communism. >> i have some background in communism country and understand what the communist system is. and um, in answering the question about sanctions in cuba, i can definitely say that um, it's the communist system collapse that sort of made cuba now not a threat to anybody in the world, and not necessarily sanctions. >> a 50-year-old embargo has proven to be quite inefficient and it's only hurt the innocent people of cuba. the world is there now, and that includes china, that includes venezuela, some rogue nations we don't want there. and the united states, the greatest symbol of democracy and freedom and opportunity, just 90 miles away, uh, we're not there,
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and we should be. and we'd have the most positive influence on our neighbors 90 miles from our shores. >> in the case of cuba, it could be said that sanctions have been in place since 1959, and the fidel castro government, while the government has actually changed, fidel is still there. the nature of the government is pretty much the same today as it was then. couldn't it be said, mark, that sanctions against cuba have been a total failure? >> i don't think so, ralph. i think they've been a partial success. i mean, we forget that decades ago, we considered cuba to be on the sort of vanguard of, of soviet encroachment in the americas. today, cuba is a sad country. they represent an insignificant security threat to the united states. i think sanctions helped to isolate cuba. it helped to establish the status of cuba as a pariah county. >> one of the things you both mentioned, in several of your, of parts of our conversation here today, is the question of whether the u.s. can build an international, a credible international coalition. and i want to get you both to talk about why has it, why is it so difficult for the united states to get
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a credible coalition against iran? one that is in unanimity willing to impose the kind of economic and political sanctions? >> oh, this, this goes back to military historians ah, a hundred years ago. von moltke said it all, it is very difficult to keep an alliance together when the allies have different objectives. and if you take any of these cas, the countries involved have very different objectives. we know what the objective of china is, it's to have oil supplies from a diversified panel of countries, of which iran is one. in the case of libya, we know what the objective of italy was, it was to be on fairly friendly terms with libya and keep the oil flowing and keep some business going. and on and on, because countries have very different interests. therefore, the reagan administration was unable to marshal the western european allies in the middle of the cold war
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to stop that pipeline uh, from russia to supply gas to western europe. different interests. >> mark? >> well, i mean, the combination of crippling sanctions and intrusive inspections and the threat of military force convinced saddam hussein to give up his nuclear weapons. we learned that too late, but it actually worked. and i think the coalition that president obama is building now is broad. we'll have to find out how deep. and the question is, when the chinese and russians violate these sanctions, as they will, what is going to be the response of the obama administration? will it just impos symbolic sanctions against the swiss? or will it, or will it impose sanctions against the chinese? it's done so in the past and it needs to do so again. chinese companies have subsidiaries that are traded on the new york stock exchange, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. under current sanctions law, we can actually deny them the right to own those assets. >> but the united states have had sanctions against china also for many years, and i think the results there have been pretty mixed. would you argue that they've been a success at improving religious tolerance in china and improving human rights
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practices in china? >> well, listen, china has transformed dramatically since the days of mao. i mean, i think we're looking for that kind of transformation in iran. if we had iran acting the way china does today, it think we would all celebrate. the fact is that the iranians are marching forward with a nuclear bomb. they're a significant threat and i think the chinese and russians understand that. the coalition, it is a raid against iran today, is much broader, and i think ultimately much deeper than the coalition we've seen against iran in the past. >> gary, a final word on china maybe. >> (chuckles) i don't think we want to get into a conflict with china over iran. we have a lot of issues with china, economic, north korea, iran, all the neighbors in southeast asia, and to put iran at the center and to really heavily sanction china because of its continued drawing of oil from iran is really taking one element of our foreign policy, escalating it above all else,
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and i don't think that would make sense for the obama administration. >> gary hufbauer of the peterson institute for international economics, and mark dubowitz of the foundation for defense of democracies, thank you both for being with us on great decisions. >> thanks, ralph. >> thank you as well for joining us on great decisions and a special thanks to our group in philadelphia. if you'd like to join a great decisions group in your area, visit we'll see you next week, i'm ralph begleiter. >> to order a dvd of this series, visit of this series, visit or call 1-800-playpbs. [instrumental music] >> great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. great decisions is produced in association with the university of delaware. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by pwc, the aarp office of international affairs, and the european commission.
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>> even between the two iraq wars, we had what we thought were strong sanctions and i've heard people say, a million people died in iraq as a result of those sanctions, which were falling apart at the end. >> it should be by now very crystal clear to americans that what happens on the field of international relations with america, really effects what happens domestically. we're in the process of putting $70 billion into the iraqi and afgani infrastructure, well right now, there's no plans to put any dollars into the american infrastructure. so, what happens abroad, is crucial to what ability we have to do the things we have to do the things we want to do at home. closed captions by captionlink
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