Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

February Books 7) The UN Sanctions against Yugoslavia, by Rita Augestad Knudsen

This book's full title is The Comprehensive UN Sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - Aims, Impact and Legacy, published through the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and it was sent to me by the author, a tall Norwegian who I know from Kosovo.

It's a pretty good dissection of the sanctions regime in place against the FRY (Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo) from 1992 to 1995, concentrating on its actual effectiveness as a means of achieving its expressed aim, to bring the Bosnian war to an end. Knudsen is damning on this point: the fact that the war lasted for three years after the sanctions were put in place is a pretty good indicator of their success. She also finds little evidence to suggest that the sanctions played much of a role in their unspoken secondary aim - undermining Milošević's grip on power; if anything, his popularity was greatest when the sanctions regime was at its peak. While she (rightly) does not doubt the fact that Serbia, and Milošević in particular, bear the chief responsibility for the outbreak of conflict in the first place, she points out that the sanctions regime actually enabled a victim mentality among Serbs who became (and in many cases remain) convinced that the wars in Bosnia and Croatia were nothing to do with them.

I drew a couple of useful general points from this. First, that in the wider literature on sanctions, there is very little support for the "naive theory" that if you impose sanctions on a population as collective punishment for the policies of their leadership, they will react by forcing the leadership to adopt different policies (or by installing a new leadership). This was apparently demolished by Johan Galtung with regard to Rhodesia as far back as 1967. There are a few positive cases (including I suppose South Africa) but Yugoslavia is not one of them.

On the whole sanctions are really imposed to satisfy the demands of the domestic electorate among those imposing them, to make it look as if Something Is Being Done, but not Too Much. The reason for the failure of sanctions is often (and certainly in this specific case) because they become the last stop of the policy line - usually a substitute for diplomatic activity rather than an active peace-building move, and particularly pointless if not combined with credible threats of further coercive action, including the use of force.
Tags: bookblog 2009, world: serbia

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