Dec 6, 2009

calculating the true costs of economic sanctions

An extremely useful article for both sides of the economic sanctions resolution is "A Prologamena [sic] to Thinking About Economic Sanctions and Free Trade," by David Baldwin, found in the Fall 2003 edition of the Chicago Journal of International Law.

Baldwin's primary aim is to clear away the fallacies that have cluttered up the debate over sanctions. After discussing the inherently political nature of sanctions, he considers their cost.
The logic of choice applies to situations in which policymakers must choose how to allocate scarce resources among competing ends. In such situations policymakers must consider the opportunity costs of their actions. In such situations, choosing a low-cost policy alternative with a low probability of success may not be foolish at all if the likely cost-effectiveness of other policy alternatives is even less attractive. Making that choice may be the rational thing to do. For example, military force may have the highest probability of success with respect to getting a country to change its human rights policy or stop exporting arms. Military force, however, is likely to be more expensive than economic sanctions. In such a situation, it may be rational to choose the less effective and less costly alternative of economic sanctions rather than the more effective but more costly alternative of military force. Herbert Simon explains it as follows:
An administrative choice is incorrectly posed, then, when it is posed as a choice between possibility A, with low costs and small results, and possibility B, with high costs and large results. For A should be substituted a third possibility C, which would include A plus the alternative activities made possible by the cost difference between A and B.
This opens up a potential Negative strategy for cross-examination. Ask, "Is military force justifiable?" If the Aff says "Yes," then you can argue that the cost of sanctions is much less than that of war--and that the other goods that can be instantiated by not engaging militarily, Simon's "C" scenario above, far outweigh the benefits of that engagement--even if the sanctions ultimately fail. (If the Aff says "no," then press hard to determine what sorts of interventions--if any--are justified in response to state aggression or wholesale rights abuses, if sanctions are also off the table.)

And, as Baldwin argues, those who claim that sanctions fail often commit any of three fallacies in thinking. The first is that sanctions must be evaluated against a single objective: for instance, whether Castro is still in power. (As Baldwin notes, this was not one of the four original stated objectives of the sanctions.) The second is the fallacy that sanctions can't be successful in degrees--that it's an all-or-nothing measure of success or failure. Baldwin calls this the "fallacy of misplaced dichotomies." The third and final fallacy is the idea that symbolic actions are functionless. As Baldwin writes,
Symbolic behavior is not unique to economic sanctions. James N. Rosenau contends that foreign policy "involves a degree of manipulation of symbols that is unmatched in any other political situation." And Robert Jervis reminds us that "[a] desired image... can often be of greater use than a significant increment of military or economic power. An undesired image can involve costs for which almost no amount of the usual kinds of power can compensate and can be a handicap almost impossible to overcome."

Economic sanctions are sometimes viewed as so useless and counterproductive that they can be worse than "doing nothing." Even putting aside the rather tricky question of what it means for a nation state to "do nothing," this is misleading. As a practical matter, "doing nothing" means doing what one would have done if the event provoking consideration of sanctions had not occurred. In other words, it means carrying on "business as usual." And countries that carry on business as usual when confronted by aggression (Iraq's invasion of Kuwait), racism (apartheid in South Africa), nuclear proliferation (India and Pakistan), or other violations of international norms are likely to acquire an image as being indifferent to such behavior. If they take action to avoid the acquisition of such an image, they are not necessarily behaving in a frivolous or expressive manner.
Combine this with the evidence that economic sanctions are more effective as a deterrent, and the Negative has a multi-pronged justification for their use.


Anonymous said...

I want to run a contention saying that economic sanctions are applied unfairly and use China as a prime example. China has been condemned for its human rights violations, yet the US doesn't sanction them for fear of China calling on the US' debt and because China is a huge manufacturing center for the US. I've ransacked the Internet and can't seem to find anything. Do you guys know of any place I can look? Thanks! ~H

A said...

But then couldnt the neg say that since economic sanctions are for the benefit of the instigating country (if the value and VC correspond to that), the detriments would outweigh the 'benefits' of sanctioning China?

Koreena said...

Yeah I am not going to lie to you, that is actually not a very good argument. This resolution is morality based, and therefore you have to state why it is immoral. I wouldnt even mention FAIR at all, because no country is COMPLETELY fair. And it would be so easy to throw down evidentially.

Anonymous said...

I'm just a novice, and I'm looking to begin an argument using this and the idea of it being a better deterrent when still in the threat stage but have no clue where to start... Any pointers? Thanks!