Have sanctions worked?

- February 17, 2005

On Munro Day, February 4th, Dr. Reid Morden delivered the fourth MasterMinds lecture entitled "Sanctions, War and Oil: Lessons from Iraq."

Dr. Morden is currently on exclusive assignment as Executive Director of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-For-Food Program. The Committee's interim findings were hitting the media just as Dr. Morden visited Dalhousie.

Dr. Morden - the former Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and President and CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd - was recognized by Dalhousie University in 2003 with an honorary doctorate. His undergraduate studies in history, law and political science, and his involvement in student politics while at Dalhousie, are cornerstones for his strong leadership in international relations, security and accountability.

Dr. Morden's lecture drew on his experiences with the current UN investigation, while placing it in a wider context. "This is a story largely of violence and death, so often of innocent people," said Dr. Morden at the start of his lecture. "It is also the story of an international community groping to meet the complex and ruthless challenges confronting the populations of our planet."

Turning quickly from the "occasional ripples of hope" he sees, Dr. Morden ran through a "litany of woe" in the daily list of global happenings: the Iraqi insurgency; Sudanese atrocities against civilians; Iranian ambivalence about slowing the march towards nuclear weapons acquisitions; the dangerous regime in North Korea; the emerging and current terrorist threat. "Prospects for peaceā€¦have anything but improved. In parts of Africa, you can get an AK-47 for the price of a chicken," commented Dr. Morden.

Sanctions are part of "the coercive tool kit of countries, alliances and international organizations," says Dr. Morden, invoking the "sanctions decade" that the 1990s have come to be labeled. "Have they worked?" he asks. "Sometimes, yes, sometimes, no." Yet, as he highlighted, few other viable options have emerged as a mid-point between argument and military action. Design, government support and surveillance must all be strengthened if sanctions are to have any effect. They must be more targeted and address humanitarian concerns.

What about oil? With the vast majority of proven oil reserves in the Persian Gulf and the US consuming some 7 billion barrels a year, Iraq's 115 billion barrels are at least a part of the US-Iraq equation. It was in the interest of many countries and parties that oil continue to flow through the UN's Iraq Oil for Food Program, not least the intended recipients of humanitarian imports paid for through the program. The UN Inquiry Committee has indeed discovered evidence of significant violations of the program, but these may well pale against the blind eye members of the Security Council turned towards Saddam Hussein's other activities, notably oil smuggling.

Dr. Morden concluded his lecture with a quote referencing the League of Nations in the 1930s "... the very fate of the UN as an effective global security organization may hinge on its ability to use sanctions for peace and security." Dr. Morden questioned "Will the membership respond to this latest call to action?" He closed his lecture saying, "The jury is out and, at least in one man's view, the prognosis is no better than 50-50."

The stimulated audience had questions which might have lasted for hours, but for Dr. Morden's hurried flight back to the UN.


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