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Sanctions Are War By Other Means
by James Corbett
May 14, 2023
Were you aware that nearly one-third of the planet is under economic sanctions of one sort or another?
No? Why not? Even those who don't pay much attention to the nexus between geopolitics and economics are likely to find that to be a shocking statistic. For those who do pay attention to that nexus it's even more shocking because they know that economic sanctions are not just some abstract economic concept. Quite the contrary.
Imposing sanctions on a country is a way of waging war against that country. It's not just that economic embargoes can cripple nations' economies nor that they tend to disproportionately affect innocent civilians. No, the reality is even more stark than that: sanctions kill.
Don't believe me? Let's look at some of the examples of how sanctions have been used throughout history as a tool of warfare.
German Starvation Blockade
In The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War, Nicholas Mulder traces the modern-day use of sanctions as a weapon of warfare back to its roots. And, for those of you who have seen The WWI Conspiracy and fully appreciated my observation that "WWI was an explosion, a breaking point in history," it will not be surprising to learn that those roots go back to the so-called "Great War."
Specifically, Mulder recounts how the Great Naval Blockade of Europe by the British during the First World War and the subsequent starvation blockade of Germany after the supposed end of that war led to the development of the "economic weapon" of sanctions (or "l’arme économique," as the League of Nations came to call it) in the post-WWI era.
Don't let the specter of history lessons and economics lectures send you to sleep, though. Far from some dry, dusty account from some musty old history book, the story of how the First World War actually ended is a forgotten tale of intrigue, treachery and human misery that would be fitting fodder for many a blockbuster movie, assuming Hollywood ever made films that reflected historical reality. But since the Hollywood dream weavers don't make such movies, we'll have to turn to non-fiction to connect these historical dots.
Although generally presented as an afterthought in modern history lessons on WWI, the naval blockade of Central Europe that the British put into effect at the outbreak of fighting was in fact one of its most fearsome weapons deployed against the Germans. As the ignoble war criminal Winston Churchill openly boasted in The World Crisis: "The British blockade treated the whole of Germany as if it were a beleaguered fortress, and avowedly sought to starve the whole population—men, women and children, old and young, wounded and sound—into submission." Then, apparently thinking this a proper response to those who would object to the genocide of women and children in the pursuit of his war aims, Churchill added: "Who ever hesitated to fire on towns and villages because helpless and inoffensive non-combatants were gathered there?"
But actually the story is even more incredible than that. As Jim Macgregor and Gerry Docherty explain in their exhaustively documented tome, Prolonging the Agony: How The Anglo-American Establishment Deliberately Extended WWI by Three-and-a-Half Years, the British naval blockade of Central Europe that is mentioned (if only briefly) in the history books—the one that lasted from the outset of the fighting in August 1914 to its end in November 1918—was a sham, designed to artificially prolong the conflict for years past its natural end point. However, the blockade that took place after the supposed end of the war was very real and led to the starvation of masses of innocent civilians, just as Churchill had called for.
In reality, the First World War did not end on November 11, 1918. Instead, the signing of the armistice that supposedly ended the conflict only marked the beginning of a new era of suffering for the German people. As Docherty and Macgregor write:
Within the 35 articles which comprised the armistice, one in particular drew gasps of astonishment from the German delegation. Article 26 originally stated that: "The existing blockade conditions set up by the Allied and Associated Powers are to remain unchanged. German merchant ships found at sea remaining liable to capture." At the first meeting on 8 November, the German representatives, including Matthias Erzberger, State Secretary and President of the German delegation, were stunned. None had anticipated such a monstrous condition. U-Boats were returning to their bases, and the Allied fleets reigned supreme on the high seas, yet the naval blockade was to continue.
Although amended to state that "The Allies and the United States contemplate the provisioning of Germany during the armistice as shall be found necessary," Article 26 ended up having its intended effect: it imposed a genocidal starvation blockade on Germany that would be continued throughout the "peace" negotiations. The true purpose of those negotiations, of course, had nothing to do with peace and somewhat more to do with First Lord of the Admiralty "Sir" Eric Geddes' infamous pronouncement that England would wring out of Germany "all you can squeeze out of a lemon and a bit more" in the form of reparations, vowing to continue the pressure "until you can hear the pips squeak."
In case there is any doubt what squeezing Germany "until you can hear the pips squeak" actually looks like, The Daily Mail painted the picture in an article in March 1919 documenting the effects of the starvation blockade:
The birthrate in the great towns [of Germany] has changed places with the death rate. It is tolerably certain that more people have died among the civil population from the direct effects of the war than have died on the battlefield.
There is much more to the story, of course, and those who are interested in it are highly encouraged to read Docherty and Macgregor's book. Suffice it to say for now, though, that the German's inevitable acquiescence to the pressures of the starvation blockade culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty that virtually guaranteed the economic ruin of Germany and directly gave rise to WWII.
And, far from viewing the blockade as a disgusting and horrific war crime never to be inflicted again on any population, future empires and would-be conquerors instead took to heart the lesson that economic sanctions can in fact be remarkably effective tools of warfare.
Japan Oil Embargo
At the outbreak of WWII, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was faced with a dilemma. Understanding that the conflict represented the perfect opportunity for America to emerge as the world's unrivaled superpower, he was eager to embroil the United States in the war. The American people, however—realizing just how thoroughly they'd been had by The War Propaganda Bureau and other underhanded efforts to convince Americans to enter the First World War—were decidedly against US entry into yet another bloody European struggle.
In order to convince the American public to send their sons off to spill their blood in yet another foreign battlefield, then, a pretext was going to be needed. Something that would make it clear that, like it or not, this was a world war and that it was in America's strategic interest to fight against the Axis. A catastrophic, catalyzing event, as it were. So that's exactly what FDR and his cohorts in the Anglo-American establishment (including, of course, Winston Churchill) proceeded to bring about.
As we now know from the diligent research done by Robert B. Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, the road to Pearl Harbor began in October 1940, when Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far East desk of the US Office of Naval Intelligence, drafted an eight-point memo under the innocuous heading "Estimate of the Situation in the Pacific and Recommendations for Actions by the United States."
Far from a stuffy bureaucratic document, the memo, in Stinnett's words, "called for virtually inciting a Japanese attack on American ground, air, and naval forces in Hawaii, as well as on British and Dutch colonial outposts in the Pacific region."
Specifically, McCollum's memo advised President Roosevelt to (among other things):
"Keep the main strength of the US Fleet, now in the Pacific, in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands;"
"Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil;" and
"Completely embargo all trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire."
The intention of these moves was obvious: to squeeze Japan like the British had squeezed the Germans after WWI, this time not as retribution but as a way of forcing the Japanese to strike the ostensible first blow and justify America's entry into the war. By imposing crushing sanctions on Japan and leaving the US Fleet as a convenient target for the Japanese to strike at near Hawaii, the ignoble war planners in Roosevelt's administration intended to make Japan seem like the aggressor in the conflict. Lest there be any doubt about these motives, McCollum spells them out in black and white: "If by these means, Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better."
The paper trail on McCollum's memo conveniently ends with Navy Captain Dudley W. Knox, who endorsed the plan and forwarded it on to Walter S. Anderson, the Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence and a man with direct White House access to FDR. FDR, it seems, knew enough to keep his official endorsement away from a plan that was, in fact, a declaration of war in all but name. In any event, as Stinnett documents: "Beginning the very next day [after the submission of the memo], with FDR's involvement, McCollum's proposals were systematically put into effect," and "provoking Japan into an overt act of war [became] the principal policy that guided FDR's actions toward Japan."
Precisely how this plan was put into effect is likewise a matter of public record. For those who are unfamiliar with that story, I documented FDR's subsequent steps down the path to Pearl Harbor in my podcast on Debunking A Century of War Lies:
In late 1940, Roosevelt ordered the United States Fleet to be relocated from San Pedro to Pearl Harbor. The order incensed Admiral James Richardson, Commander-in-Chief of the US Fleet, who complained bitterly to FDR about the nonsensical decision: it left the fleet open to attack from every direction, it created a 2,000-mile-long supply chain that was vulnerable to disruption, and it packed the ships in together at Pearl Harbor, where they would be sitting ducks in the event of a bombing or torpedo raid. FDR, unable to counter these objections, went ahead with the plan and relieved Richardson of his command.
Then, in June 1941, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes wrote a memo advising FDR to embargo Japanese oil in order to goad them into war: "There might develop from the embargoing of oil to Japan such a situation as would make it, not only possible but easy, to get into this war in an effective way." Roosevelt followed through weeks later with an order seizing Japanese assets in America and effectively preventing Japan from purchasing much-needed American oil, which at that time accounted for four-fifths of Japanese oil imports.
And the rest, as they say, is history. History By The Winners, that is, also known as lies. According to the commonly accepted version of the Pearl Harbor story, the innocent Americans were attacked out of the blue by the savage Japanese in a "day that will live in infamy." This narrative, however, flies in the face of the mountains of evidence that the US government not only knew of the attack in advance but actively sought to provoke Japan into attacking, even relocating the fleet to Pearl Harbor to offer the Japanese a juicy target (while ensuring that the most important ships were not in port that fateful day, of course).
But, as propaganda, the "surprise out-of-the-blue sneak attack" story worked wonders. Overnight, FDR's problem of convincing the American public to go along with the war evaporated as hundreds of thousands of young men signed up to fight.
For the purposes of today's exploration, it's important to note a fact that is often overlooked, even by Pearl Harbor conspiracy realists: the US oil embargo on Japan was, for all intents and purposes, an act of war. FDR and his advisors knew that the Japanese, starved of the oil they so desperately needed, would have no choice but to fight back. Hence, the Anglo-American war conspirators accurately concluded that Japan's desperation would compel them to take the bait and bomb Pearl Harbor. The American public, meanwhile—falsely believing that oil embargoes and economic sanctions are mere benign instruments of foreign policy—failed to realize that it was their own military that had struck first against the Japanese.
Sanctions are weapons of warfare, and the events leading up to Pearl Harbor prove that both the Americans and the Japanese governments were keenly aware of that fact.
Iraq Child-Killing Sanctions
At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, US President George H. W. Bush infamously called on the Iraqi people "to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations."
Equally infamously, he then stood by and watched as tens of thousands of Shias in Iraq's south and tens of thousands of Kurds in the north tried to do exactly that, staging the largest uprising in the history of Saddam's regime . . . only to be brutally slaughtered by Saddam's security forces.
In a face-saving effort that was documented in surprisingly frank terms by official court stenographer Thomas Friedman in the pages of The New York Times, Bush attempted to cover up his utter inaction in the face of this predictable disaster by turning to the other weapon of warfare in Uncle Sam's toolbelt: sanctions.
The President felt that Mr. Hussein and his army were broken and no longer represented any external threat, especially since Mr. Bush contentedly assumed that his intelligence reports were correct and that all of Mr. Hussein's nuclear capabilities had been destroyed. Sooner or later, Mr. Bush argued, sanctions would force Mr. Hussein's generals to bring him down, and then Washington would have the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein.
Leaving aside the "Saddam and weapons of mass destruction" propaganda that Friedman was careful to insert in his report (propaganda that would serve Bush Jr. well in the run-up to Gulf War II a decade later), the point was not lost on anybody. Rather than contributing to the bloodshed by actually assisting the Kurds and the Shia in their uprising, Bush was doing something noble in taking the non-military, non-lethal approach of imposing strict economic sanctions on the Iraqis.
As a point of fact, the sanctions had begun in August 1990, just days after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In United Nations Security Council Resolution 661, the council directed UN member states to prevent the "import into their territories of all commodities and products originating in Iraq or Kuwait exported therefrom after the date of the present resolution." It also barred UN members from the "sale or supply by [Iraqi or Kuwaiti] nationals or from [Iraqi or Kuwaiti] territories or using their flag vessels of any commodities or products" with the exception of "supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs."
At the time, these "non-lethal" means of bringing economic pressure to bear on the Iraqi government were portrayed as the caring, enlightened, modern way to handle geopolitical disputes. Even after the sanctions did nothing whatsoever to derail the war machinations of the proto-neocons, they remained in place, eventually evolving into the UN-run Oil-for-Food Programme.
Formally launched in April 1995 under UN Security Council Resolution 986, the programme authorized member states "to permit the import of petroleum and petroleum products originating in Iraq, as a temporary measure to provide for humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people." In theory, the programme maintained an overall embargo on Iraq but allowed Hussein's government to sell a strictly limited amount of oil each month in exchange for food and vital medical supplies. In practice, however, the programme was a scam from top to bottom.
In 1998, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, resigned his position in disgust when the UN Security Council refused to allow trade with Iraq, calling the sanctions "a totally bankrupt concept" that "probably strengthens the leadership and further weakens the people of the country." The sanctions, he explained, had no effect whatsoever on the regime itself and instead were killing innocent civilians. "Four thousand to five thousand children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation," Halliday wrote.
In 2000, Halliday's successor as UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, similarly resigned his position (along with Jutta Purghart, the head of the UN World Food Programme in Iraq) to protest the "true human tragedy" that the Oil-for-Food boondoggle had created.
As a UN official, I should not be expected to be silent about that which I recognize as a true human tragedy that needs to be ended. How long [should] the civilian population, which is totally innocent in all this, be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done? The very title that I hold as a humanitarian co-ordinator suggests that I cannot be silent over that which we see here. The [Oil-for-Food] programme does not guarantee the minimum that a human being requires, which is clearly defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My support, my commitment is for the Iraqi people as a group of deprived people whose tragedy should end.
That the sanctions were an unmitigated disaster for the Iraqi people is unquestionable. Although defenders of the programme decided after the fact that the best way to defend it against the claim that it had resulted in the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was to quibble with the number, we should never forget that in the notorious 60 Minutes interview where she declared that "the price [of the sanctions] is worth it," US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright never disputed the underlying assumption that the price was the death of half a million innocent children. Let that sink in: even if the Oil-for-Food programme was directly responsible for the death of half a million children, Albright believed it to be a worthwhile endeavour.
Even within the psychopathic terms of Albright "the price is worth it" calculation, however, the programme was a total failure. After all, as von Sponeck and others pointed out, it was never more than sanctions theatre. The UN's inspections of the goods making it across Iraq's border were almost non-existent, allowing Hussein and his regime to easily bypass restrictions on their own purchases even as the innocent women, children and civilians living under his brutal regime starved to death.
The question might be asked, then: what was the actual point of the programme?
The answer to that question can be gleaned by studying the actions of characters like Rockefeller-sponsored, UN-promoting "environmentalist" Maurice Strong, who, as Quadrant Online reported in 2005, fled to China when his name surfaced during the investigations into the Oil-for-Food Programme corruption:
Investigations into the UN’s Oil-for-Food-Program found that Strong had endorsed a cheque for $988,885 made out to M. Strong — issued by a Jordanian bank. The man who gave the cheque, South Korean business man Tongsun Park, was convicted in 2006 in a US Federal court of conspiring to bribe UN officials. Strong resigned and fled to Canada and thence to China, where he has been living ever since.
To do justice to the scandal of the Oil-for-Food Programme would require many reports the size of this editorial, but the real meaning of that programme and of economic sanctions in general was best summarized by Denis Halliday, who, reflecting on the sanctions regime in a 2021 interview, concluded: "We kill people with sanctions. Sanctions are not a substitute for war—they are a form of warfare."
NOT JUST HISTORY
As I know you know, dear reader, this is most assuredly not an exhaustive list of devastating and deadly economic blockades that have been deployed on innocent civilians over the past century. To compile such a record would be the task of a much longer editorial than this one (and if you'd like to help compile that list, then by all means, please leave your examples in the comments section below).
Of course, such a list would comprise not just historical information, but also data on the many sanctions, blockades and embargoes that are in place today, many of which are having similarly disastrous effects on civilian populations across the globe. After all, as we've already established, one-third of the planet is currently under economic sanctions.
The one-third includes Iran, which has been under various forms of economic restrictions ever since the Iranians overthrew the Rockefeller/US State Department-backed Shah and his dreaded SAVAK security thugs in the Islamic Revolution.
It does not take much scratching beneath the surface to find, once again, that the sanctions on Iran have created a real economic crisis in the country but have not significantly impacted the Iranian government at all. Is that conspiracy realist James Corbett talking? No, it's US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Our sanctions on Iran have created real economic crisis in the country, and Iran is greatly suffering economically because of the sanctions . . . Has that forced a change in behavior? The answer is much less than we would ideally like.
I could go on. And on and on and on. But I trust that the point has been made: economic sanctions are not a benign instrument of coercion to be used on uncooperative regimes in times of peace. They are warfare by other means, designed to kill, and they disproportionately affect innocent civilians even as they line the pockets of corrupt officials on both sides of the blockade.
Now, do you remember the statistic with which I opened this editorial? The one asserting that nearly one-third of the planet is under economic sanctions? Well, that statistic derives from a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "The Human Consequences of Economic Sanctions."
In that study, Francisco Rodríguez, a professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, outlines how economic sanctions harm innocent people. As Rodríguez explains:
Whether sanctions hurt regular people in the target countries is a hotly debated topic, but it shouldn't be. The evidence from almost all critical examinations of economic sanctions shows that they are very damaging — and sometimes lethal — for people who happen to be living in any of the many and growing number of countries subject to such measures by the US, the EU, or other powerful actors.
As we have now seen, even a cursory overview of the history of economic sanctions provides ample evidence that they are indeed damaging and even lethal. That such a conclusion would be controversial at all is remarkable. To have gone from the world of a century ago—when the League of Nation's casually acknowledged that "l’arme économique" is indeed a weapon of devastating consequences—to the world of today—when scholars like Francisco Rodríguez have to write entire articles to convince his fellow academics of the lethality of sanctions—can only be described as a victory for the propagandists who want to use these weapons for their own twisted purposes during times of peace.
Sanctions are deadly. They do not accomplish what the politicians claim they are meant to accomplish. Even subservient deep state minions like Janet Yellen admit as much. Yet still, the sanctions continue.
From that, we can only surmise that Yellen, like Albright before her (and FDR before her and Churchill before him), has concluded that "the price is worth it" in these cases, too . . . whatever that price may be.
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