Sanctions are not a gentler alternative to conflict
With the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, the dollar became the world’s reserve currency, used for the vast majority of international trade, and sanctions in turn became an instrument of first resort for the propagation of American power. For a disobedient country, exclusion from the international financial system meant economic death, and the corpses piled up. The Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, as well as Vietnam and China, were all severely affected by sanctions during the Cold War.
The morgue grew even more crowded after 1989, which inaugurated what experts call “the sanctions decade,” in which a newly toothless UNSC signed off on America’s pursuit of “rogue nations.” Iraq was an early victim. UNSC Resolution 661, passed in August 1990, shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait, banned all UN member states from trading with Saddam Hussein’s regime, with some exceptions for medicine and food. The move was intended to force him to withdraw from Kuwait, but that required an American-led invasion. Yet sanctions remained in place for another thirteen years, backed by an ever-changing set of justifications.