Let’s Face It: Sanctions Are Warfare by Another Name (ASSAL RAD, MARCH 19, 2024, Inkstick)

At first glance, sanctions may appear like a useful alternative to war. Proponents of sanctions will argue that they avoid putting boots on the ground, thus protecting American servicemembers, they have the power to alter the behavior of targeted states, and prevent the devastation to innocent civilians caused by conventional warfare. But a deeper analysis of sanctions shows a starkly different picture.

Though there has certainly been evidence and literature that shows the limited efficacy of sanctions and their humanitarian costs on civilians, those findings are not always accessible to the broader public and tend to have a narrower focus.

And while many may recall the horror stories of how US sanctions hurt Iraqi children and civilians in the 1990s — especially the now infamous remarks by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stating that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were “worth it” — sanctions policy is still not part of a wider political debate among the American public.

This discrepancy is due in part to the fact that sanctions are a silent killer. They do not draw the same media attention as bombs, dead bodies, and images of cities and homes turned to rubble — as we are seeing in Gaza now. To be clear, the enormous destruction and loss of life at such a rapid pace in Gaza should be the headline of every news outlet. But while sanctions can profoundly damage an entire society, the slow death they produce often goes unnoticed.