Murphy's Law: Embargo My Ass


May 14, 2012: Embargos (especially of weapons) and economic sanctions are popular weapons against rogue nations. Not as dangerous and costly as war, these actions sound much more impressive than they actually are. Yet despite the frequent failure of sanctions and embargos, there's an unwritten international agreement by politicians and media to maintain that all is well.

It doesn't take much effort to discover how ineffective sanctions and embargoes are. For example, in the last twelve years 26 arms embargoes did not prevent over two billion dollars' worth of weapons from getting through. Economic sanctions tended to hurt the many subjects of dictators and tyrants, rather than the few people responsible for the bad behavior in the first place. This usually allows the evil rulers under sanction to blame the nations trying to halt bad behavior for punishing innocent people with their sanctions. Meanwhile, smugglers are able to get goodies and luxury items through to the evil dictator and his associates. You can see this being played out in places like North Korea, Burma, Iran, and Cuba.

All this is caused more by a proliferation of media and the ability to report disasters in every corner of the world than by any desire to aid tyrants. Bad news is good for business if you are a publisher, and persuading countries to go to war against tyrants is even better. But most politicians have more sense than that and resort to sanctions and embargoes instead. Most politicians and news editors know this stuff doesn't work but it makes for decent headlines and gets the politicians off the hook.




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