The world has become collateral damage of Western sanctions
- Russia may have started a criminal war, but the United States and its allies have internationalised its devastations by weaponising the global economy, with the world’s poor paying the heaviest price
The horrors inflicted on local populations by US-led Western sanctions are well-documented. From Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan under the Taliban to Venezuela and Iran, it’s always the most vulnerable who suffer the worst fate. But at least the fallout of such collective punishments is usually confined to the country targeted. With the West’s unprecedented economic war on Russia, the global economy itself has been weaponised. Consequently, the fallout is now devastating the most exposed economies, and the weakest and most disadvantaged populations around the world. That is the direct result of the West internationalising the conflict in Ukraine, which ought to have been contained locally, such as the wars in Yemen and Afghanistan.
Russia may have started a criminal war, but the West has globalised its devastations. Is it any wonder the global south has refused to join the ever-expanding Western sanctions? They have suffered enough and will face even more hardships. Let’s not ask them to commit suicide just on the righteous say-so of Washington and Brussels. The cruel irony is that the “rouble rubble” promised by the West with its extraordinary sanctions has not materialised, with the Russian currency now back to pre-war levels.
War, sanctions and the global food crisis
Stagflation – economic stagnation and inflation – had already reared its ugly head before the Russian invasion. The West’s economic war has only exacerbated it. Likewise, hunger and even famine are again threatening large swathes of the African continent.
“Food prices were already high before, and the war is driving food prices even higher,” a new World Bank brief finds.
“The impact of the war in Ukraine adds risk to global food security, with food prices likely to remain high for the foreseeable future and expected to push millions of additional people into acute food insecurity.”
As of May 19, 2022, the Agricultural Price Index was up 42 per cent compared to January 2021. Maize and wheat prices were 55 per cent and 91 per cent higher, respectively, compared to January 2021.
The bank’s data also shows that between January 2022 and April 2022, 92.9 per cent of low-income countries, 84.2 per cent of lower middle-income countries, and 78 per cent of upper middle-income countries witnessed inflation levels above 5 per cent, with many experiencing double-digit inflation.
Hundreds of sanction measures have affected food and fertilisers, raw materials and fuels because of the war in Ukraine, which “has altered global patterns of trade, production, and consumption in ways that will keep prices at historically high levels through the end of 2024 exacerbating food insecurity and inflation”, the World Bank says.
At least 83 countries have reported people running out of food or reducing their food consumption due to rising costs. If you find your food and gas bills shooting up, imagine what that means for people who are much poorer than you in other parts of the world.
Many poor and food-insecure countries are major wheat buyers from Russia and Ukraine, which together supplied 90 per cent of Somalia’s imports, 80 per cent of those of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and about 40 per cent of both Yemen and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the financial blockade on Russia has directly hurt the economies of its smaller and more vulnerable Central Asian neighbours Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. For example, difficulties in sending remittances from Russia cause serious hardship to their families back home.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey and the World Bank have respectively described the worsening global food crisis as “apocalyptic” and a “human catastrophe”.
Last year, 193 million people in 53 countries were deemed to be facing a “food crisis or worse”. With the Ukraine war and US-led sanctions, 83 million more – or 43 per cent – will join them by the end of this year.
Why new US-led sanctions are worse than old ones
The US has unilaterally imposed more sanctions since 1950 than any other country, defined as measures that have no support under international law. However, its sanctions regimes have accelerated, sometimes indiscriminately, in recent years.
That’s according to a new study by Jomo Kwame Sundaram, an economist and former United Nations assistant secretary general for economic development, and Anis Chowdhury, former director of the macroeconomic policy & development division and statistics division under the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (the UN-Escap).
“During 1950-2016, ‘comprehensive’ trade sanctions have cut bilateral trade between sanctioning countries and their victims by 77 per cent on average,” the pair write.
“The US has imposed more sanctions regimes, and for longer periods, than any other country. Unilateral imposition of sanctions has accelerated over the past 15 years. During 1990-2005, the US imposed about a third of sanctions regimes around the world, with the European Union (EU) also significant. The US has increased using sanctions since 2016, imposing them on more than 1,000 entities or individuals yearly, on average, from 2016 to 2020 – nearly 80 per cent more than in 2008-2015.”
They argue that economic sanctions are the modern equivalent of ancient sieges, aiming to starve populations into submission.
Between 1982 and 2011, US sanctions pushed up poverty levels in targeted countries by an average of 3.8 percentage points than countries at comparable economic development. At least 69 countries exposed to sanctions experienced lowered infant weight and increased the likelihood of death before the age of three. Unilateral sanctions often breach the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for obvious reasons.
In other words, the US and sometimes its allies have actively imposed poverty, not to say death and destruction, on targeted populations and countries. This has usually been the price of defying Uncle Sam.
But, by weaponising the global economy, US-led sanctions have internationalised not only the devastation on the targeted Russians, but also the world’s poorest populations and most vulnerable societies.