All posts tagged Sanctions

UN Sanctions on Guinea-Bissau: Waiting For a Coup to Happen

Posted by / 3rd September 2014 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , , , / -

Article Thomas

In April 2012, eleven military leaders involved in the coup d´état in Guinea-Bissau were subjected to a UN travel ban. Although neatly in line with United Nations (UN) sanctions policy regarding sovereignty, in reality the sanctions were a painstakingly late reaction to the uprising of Guinea-Bissau as Africa´s first “narco-state”, which had been corroding politics and society for almost a decade. While institutions kept the Sanctions Committee hostage, the kingpins in Guinea-Bissau had plenty of time to ruin its governance structures. This analysis suggests that Guinea-Bissau only became a target of UN sanctions when it had made its way on the map as the first African “narco-state”. Unfortunately, the coup that justified UN agency to do something about it came almost a decade too late.

On the first of April 2012, just a few days before the second round of a presidential election, a military coup led by Admiral Bubo Na Chuto and Deputy Chief of Staff or the army Antonio Indjai triggered the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose travel sanctions on 11 military leaders involved in the coup.

If reversing the coup were the most important objective, the sanctions could probably be called a success. In May 2014, albeit after several delays, a new president (Jose Mario Vaz) was indeed elected in Guinea-Bissau. Also the committee recognised only one violation of the travel ban (the army chief of staff travelled to Cote d´Ivoire and Senegal on one occasion). For the moment the country enjoys relative political stability, although it still suffers from a range of structural threats such as extreme poverty and high corruption levels.

In any way, the coup d´état is largely irrelevant to the story, as the case of sanctions on Guinea-Bissau can hardly be explained as a genuine reaction to it. Guinea-Bissau has been the stage of many coups over the past decades (as have several other African states), and no one ever really bothered.

The coups of Bissau and the Rise of Africa´s first “Narco-State”

Since its Independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has been the stage of four coup d´état´s and at least 6 other attempts. However, being an insignificant West African country home to less than 2 million inhabitants and with no strategic interest to the rest of the world, it was never important enough to make international headlines.

In 1980 Joao Bernardo Vieira staged the first coup, ousting the country´s first president Luis Cabral and allowing him to rule for the next 19 years. In 1998 another coup attempt split the government forces (supported by neighbouring countries) and coup leaders, who controlled large parts of the army. After 11 months of civil conflict and thousands of deaths, president Vieira was toppled and replaced. The next president, Kumba Yala, lasted for three years before he too was overthrown in 2003 in a military coup. After some tumultuous years, ex-president Vieira made a comeback from being exiled in Portugal and manages to win the 2005 elections. In 2009 he was assassinated by renegade soldiers. None of these events however ignited the urge to install a sanctions regime.

So for the last decades the coups in Guinea-Bissau went largely unnoticed, just as in many other countries that have lived through coup d´états without being targeted by UN sanctions. As long as coup d´états do not turn into bloody civil wars those who stage them tend to stay out of trouble.

So what made the international community change its mind? Since the mid-2000s media coverage on Guinea-Bissau, although still meagre, has become dominated by the issue of drug trafficking. As a small state with weak political infrastructure, high levels of poverty and corruption, and a favourable geography, Guinea-Bissau has turned out to be a perfect place for trafficking drugs from Latin America destined for the European market. The country´s Atlantic coastline is dotted with two dozen little islands that have proven comfortable smuggling havens for Colombian, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Brazilian and Venezuelan drug cartels that smuggle cocaine into Europe.

In 2008 a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recognised Guinea-Bissau as a new hub for cocaine trafficking in West Africa. Between 2005 and 2007 a total of 33 tons of cocaine were intercepted in West Africa on route to Europe, compared to a mere 1 ton prior to 2005. With the drug trafficking increasingly penetrating into Guinean society and politics, the peace building and democratisation efforts of the UN peace-building mission in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) were largely undermined. The trafficking business negatively affected public security, respect for the rule of law, and public health (because of increased local consumption). Politics became increasingly corrupted, with politicians and military leaders being involved.

As the situation worsened in 2010 and 2011, donors retrieved and the European Union (EU) decided to stop training Guinean security forces and suspends part of its aid. The United States froze the assets of two drug-traffickers, and the UNODC and Interpol helped Guinea-Bissau set up a Transnational Crimes Unit. In the meantime the two alleged drug kingpins subjected to US asset freezes were promoted to Army Chief (Antonio Indjai) and head of the Navy (Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto). Tchuto was arrested by the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in international waters on 4 April 2012 (8 days before the coup) and is currently on trial. Indjai has also been indicted by the United States but still walks free in Bissau. On 12 April 2012, when the military toppled the interim government, Indjai was placed on the UN travel ban list along with 10 other military officials.

How institutions strangle effective sanctions policy

Guinea-Bissau´s timeline shows a variety of coup d´états and attempted coups, none of which seemed important enough to arouse real attention. When the country increasingly turned into a cocaine transfer-port and a weak state, it became clear something had to be done in order to protect the interests of those suffering from this trade. However, imposing UN sanctions on a sovereign state in reaction to smuggling activities was not a policy option. So the only option was to wait for a ´legitimate´ excuse, such as a civil war, a terrorist attack, or indeed a military coup.

Coup d´états have been an accepted imperative for UN sanctions since the early 1990s and the sanctions regime on Haiti to reinstall President Aristide, who was ousted in a military coup in 1991. In the late 1990s the UN Sanctions Committee also increased the technical and legal capacity to impose targeted sanctions on individuals. Since 1999 the UN has imposed and implemented asset freezes and travel sanctions on individuals and groups in over a dozen conflicts, with mixed success. However, when it comes to reversing coup d´états, the case of Guinea-Bissau is the first one since that of Haiti in the early 1990s.

During the coups of 1999 and 2003 and the assassination of Vieira in 2009, the UN Security Council and the Sanctions Committee had all the technical capacity and institutional consensus to interfere with the internal politics of Guinea-Bissau. However, apparently the coup d´états in an insignificant country such as Guinea-Bissau were not important enough to arouse sufficient attention in the UNSC. With the 2012 coup the UNSC finally had a legal excuse to impose sanctions on the individuals implicated in the drug trafficking. However, by then Guinea-Bissau had already become fully integrated in the drug-cartel; the damage had already been done.

The case of Guinea-Bissau shows that the reality of UN sanctions as an institution is one of restrictions and obstacles rather than one about values and norms. The sanctions were clearly a reaction to the drug trafficking that had been undermining Bissau-Guinean politics and society since 2005 or longer. However, in order to impose sanctions they first needed a coup d´état to take place. Unfortunately that coup didn´t come until 2012, when Guinea-Bissau´s transformation to “narco-state” had already been completed and had thoroughly disrupted and corrupted governance.

Would things have turned out different if the UN had imposed sanctions earlier? Perhaps not; UN travel bans are not almighty tools of political coercion. However, the case of Guinea-Bissau does show how institutionalised rules regarding sanctions policy can delay and distort effective decision-making. If those actors interested in pursuing drug-kingpins (US, EU) just transparently put forward their interests and security concerns, rather than waiting for a coup d´état to take place to justify their actions, it would be much easier for analysts to keep oversight and for actors to take timely action.



ReSeT Working Paper: Power and UN Sanctions Policy

Posted by / 24th March 2014 / Categories: Reports / Tags: , , / -

Many students of international sanctions recognize some sort of progress of sanctions as coercive tools. In this essay I attempt to look beyond the issue of economic effectiveness, and into the origins of sanctions; the sources of power that decide under which circumstances UN sanctions should be imposed and that decide which should be the objectives of UN sanctions policy. This leads us to ask another set of questions: How can UN sanctions create international security? Which threats to security should be sanctioned? Who are the usual suspects? And who is deemed fit to play the role of sheriff? In this essay I look at the history of UN sanctions policy in order to answer two questions. (1) How have sanctions changed? And (2) Why did sanctions change?

In the first part of the essay I will show that sanctions have not only become better at undermining targets economically, but that the norms and values that surround sanctions policy have also changed substantially. The power of institutions and ideas has been especially strong in determining when sanctions may be imposed. Throughout history, UN sanctions have been imposed for increasingly ambitious goals with regard to ideas such as racial equality, human security, and liberal democracy. As tools of an ever more precise machine, UN sanctions help to terminate conflicts and to protect human rights, and even to construct a sustainable liberal peace.

In the second part I will explain that the ideas behind UN sanctions policy have become so institutionalized in global governance that one would almost consider them as mere bureaucratic functions, free of power. However, the ideas that are embedded in UN sanctions policy were forwarded by someone and for something. Why did these ideas about sanctions, and not other ideas, become institutionalized? I will show that the norms and values surrounding UN sanctions are not only projections of power, but also reflections of constitutive power. The ideas that dominate contemporary UN sanctions policy were not god-sent or the product of exact science; they were created by people with histories, needs, and beliefs.

To read the whole text in pdf format, please click here.


Sanctions against Russia: How far will they go?

Posted by / 24th March 2014 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , , / -

Talk about sanctions on Russia has been tough this week. Both the United States and the European Union have been tightening screws on Russia in an attempt to reverse Russia´s annexation of Crimea. EU sanctions now include 33 highly placed individuals with close relations to Vladimir Putin and that were involved in the takeover of the Crimean peninsula after the ousting of the Ukrainian ex-president Yanukovych. The list now largely overlaps with the American list, which also includes three very close figures from Putin´s inner circle, something which the EU had not been willing to do so far. Both the EU and US have also opened doors to allow for economic sanctions against core parts of the Russian economy, such as the oil and gas industry. This would hurt Russian exports, but will surely also affect gas supplies to Europe, and potentially the global economy in general.

The efforts to bring Crimea back to the Ukraine are almost certainly in vain, but at least the sanctions send out a strong message of disapproval, and they hit Putin and the Russian political and economical elite where it hurts…or do they? What are the EU and US trying to achieve? Which sanctions have been imposed so far? And will they put their money where their mouth is?

Choose your objectives wisely

Sanctions have been imposed in the past for various reasons. They have been imposed to reverse the policies of targeted countries, be they acts of territorial aggression, coup d´état´s, or human rights abuses. But they can also be imposed simply to signal disapproval and outrage, or to deter other potential wrongdoers from breaking the law, and to deter the target at hand from going further down the road. Russia unlikely to be compelled to give up Crimea, but the US and EU sanctions can at least put the bear back in its cage.

When sanctions were instituted in the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that comprehensive economic sanctions would bring ´a type of pressure upon targets that no modern nation would be able to resist´. Territorial aggression would be reversed without the use of a single soldier. Of course reality turned out to be much different; sometimes they were poorly implemented and hopelessly ineffective. In cases such as Iraq and Haiti on the other hand, they were disproportionally harsh on innocent civilians, who starved to death as results of food shortages. Since the late 1990s the strategy thus shifted towards targeting individuals and banks, in order to disturb only the interests of those in power.

Reversing the policies of targeted countries through the sole means of individual sanctions is difficult, especially when the target is a superpower like Russia. Putin is unlikely to be sufficiently impressed by asset freezes and travel sanctions to suddenly give up Crimea, even if the sanctions target people in his inner circle like deputy prime minister Dimitry Rogozin and presidential advisors. The Ukraine has lost the peninsula and they will most likely not get it back. It seems like a shut and closed case. But can the sanctions at least serve other purposes?

In the past, sanctions have also been used simply to express disapproval or outrage about certain practices. Sanctions stand between statements and soldiers. The first two sanctions regimes imposed by the United Nations on white minority regimes in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa were hardly impressive economically, but at least they signalled a strong message of disapproval. White Africans certainly felt this pariah-status heavily on their shoulders. The European and American sanctions on Russia are likely to have a similar effect. They also stand between words and wars, to use a different alliteration. They might not change the status of Crimea, but at least Russia will feel that a large part of the (western) world disapproves of their actions.

A third and arguably the most important reason to impose sanctions is to warn other countries that certain actions don´t go unpunished. Punishing one target can deter others from behaving outside of international law or outside of international public opinion. For example, the sanctions on Iran and North Korea might not talk them out of continuing their nuclear programmes, but at least it can scare off other states. In a similar vein, generals plotting a coup d´état might think twice before taking action. In the Crimea crisis, the sanctions also signal that Russia should not try to further destabilize the Ukraine or to embark on other geopolitical adventures. NATO officials are concerned that Putin has also put his eye on Transnistria, a Russian speaking secessionist region of Moldova that borders the south-west of Ukraine.

Will the EU and US put their money where their mouth is?

So far, the European and American lists include highly placed government officials, army-sector figures, and the owners of Russia´s biggest industries. Sanctioned politicians include Russian deputy prime minister Rogozin, presidential advisors Glazyev and Surkov, Duma-chairman Slutsky, Crimean ´prime-minister´ Aksyonov, and Ukrainian ex-president Yanukovych. The asset freezes have also hit Bank Rossiya, assumed to be Putin´s bank, and Arkadi Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko, two of Russia´s most powerful businessmen.

The screws can be drawn even tighter on Russia if it doesn´t back down. So far the measures have included exclusion from the G8 talks that were supposed to be organized in Sochi this summer and a failed resolution at the UN Security Council. A next step would be to isolate Russia economically through the imposition of sanctions on oil and gas from Russia. However, Europe would certainly feel the measures of this double edged sword. Putin is already looking to the East for alternative trading partners, and China seems eager to sign a deal to buy more natural gas from Russia. The warming relationship between Russia and its eastern neighbours could also facilitate military contracts.

In the short run, a gas-embargo would definitely hurt the Russian economy though. Almost all of Russia´s natural gas go to Europe (89%), most notably Eastern Europe (24%) and Germany (24%). A sudden stop would most certainly disrupt the Russian economy, but it would also threaten global economic stability, primarily in Europe itself. Europe is equally dependent on Russia. Denmark, Norway, the UK, and the Netherlands produce some small amounts of natural gas, and they import LNG from countries such as Algeria, Quatar, and Nigeria, but the biggest supplier of gas remains Russia, especially in Eastern Europe and Germany. Would Europe be willing to go that far? It´s not likely. The Spanish have already complained that a Russian travel embargo would hurt the tourism sector. Other ´dove countries´ (Italy, Cyprus) even had trouble with the targeted sanctions on some individuals close to Putin, favouring a diplomatic solution. Hawk countries in the European such as the UK, Poland, and the Baltic states favour a tougher stand, but even they are likely to back down when it comes to economic sanctions.

For now, both the US and the EU can keep on tightening the screws on Russia by freezing the assets of more individuals and by prohibiting European and American citizens from doing business with Russian oligarchs. As long as such actions prove sufficient to keep Russia from further destabilizing the Ukraine, the western sanctions should be regarded a success. Russia chooses its battles carefully, and so should the EU and the US.

You may also be interested in reading the ReSeT Working Paper: Power and UN Sanctions by the same author.