Article by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei in the Journal of the Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Belarus “Problems of Administration” (¹3 (85), July-September 2022)
Sanctions "spree", which, unfortunately, has not only remained "topical" in the United States and in a number of states of the collective West, but, on the contrary, is rapidly gaining momentum, leads to severe humanitarian consequences, compounds negative processes on the tracks of bilateral and multilateral interstate interaction. This article reflects the author's view on the problem of the unilateral application of sanctions in recent history and attempts to share a Belarus’ objective vision of the consequences of such sanctions adventurism.
For almost two years now, "sanctions" is the main word used in the political discourse in the West when they discuss Belarus.
It was back in 1997 when the Republic of Belarus first encountered restrictive measures of the Western countries. After the 1996 referendum, the European Union froze the ratification of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Belarus, restricted political contacts, refused to support Belarus' application for membership in the Council of Europe and significantly reduced the volume of technical assistance.
Just think: even back then the EU was trying, very straightforwardly, to pressure our country so that our development would suit them and not the Belarusians.
Since then, almost every election campaign in Belarus has been accompanied by a new round of sanctions pressure from the collective West, renewal or introduction of new restrictive measures – under the guise of non-compliance with some standards. Although, it would seem, what do Western countries have to do with elections in other sovereign states?
It is worth recalling that the first sanctions were imposed practically under the conditions of world hegemony of the United States, which, together with its European partners, tried to "measure everyone with one stick" imposing "liberal democracy". One of my predecessors back in 2006 said that there were serious reasons to believe that the imposition of "democracy" was turning from temporary or incidental into a permanent component of the foreign policy of the United States, which ends up ruling those "democracies". Now we can state with confidence that this as a systemic fact.
It is no secret today that Western human rights and democracy policies have so far been based on pragmatic goals of securing, above all, economic interests – gaining access to the resources and markets of the relevant states – often disregarding the interests of these very states.
Nowadays, given the aggravation of global competition and the shaping up of a multipolar world, this is supplemented by an interest in expanding zones of influence and ensuring military and political domination in strategically important regions.
Belarus, which is on the geopolitical rift, has learned it the hard way.
Every state has legitimate foreign interests and tries to protect them. The only question is: "How"?
And the stand of the Republic of Belarus has not wavered for many years. Legitimate interests must be defended by legitimate means, in observance of the principles of international law, the UN Charter, but not by the directly opposite means: pressure, coercion, information attacks, fomenting "color revolutions" or illegal change of governments.
The merits of democracy are undeniable and universally recognized. However, Western countries should long have admitted that democracy is multifaceted, it is not a patent or a privilege of a few, it does not exist in just one "right" shape, especially not when imposed from outside. In each case, this is the result of the historical development of a particular people, with respect for its traditions, culture, way of life, political, social and economic realities and other factors.
"Revolutions", even "democratic" ones, do much more harm than good, and do not stand comparison with the gradual evolution of society, during which a deep understanding is formed in it, a "cultural archetype" is created, if you like, that a person, a citizen, along with rights has also duties, and with each of his actions must bear responsibility for his people and country, for his state.
This is clearly demonstrated by some representatives of our society, touring Europe at the expense of Western "sponsors" with one goal benefiting these sponsors: to actively call for sanctions against the Belarusian state, against their own people in order to arrest the economic and social development of their own country. And this is one of the foundations of the sovereignty and well-being. Now they are directly calling for a civil war. The notion of "civil responsibility" is incomprehensible to such people. Perhaps, they are beguiled by the mythical 3 billion euros in support of a "democratic Belarus”. I wish this sum would not turn into the thirty pieces of silver. Also, the experience of our engagement with the EU shows that they never rush to make good on their promises. To say nothing of the fact that this advertised sum is insignificant, if not ridiculous, even for the volume of the economy of Belarus, which is small by the world standards. It does not even cover half the budget of the social security fund of our population.
More than 15 years ago, the President of Belarus launched an initiative at the UN summit in September 2005 to recognize the diversity of ways for the progressive development of the world's countries as one of the principles of international relations. It was included in the World Summit Outcome Document and is in line with the goals enshrined in the UN Charter to ensure international peace and security, justice, and to create opportunities for all countries and peoples of the planet to live freely and develop freely.
In the context of today, this initiative is as relevant as ever. It is an appeal for the entire world to comprehend and accept the fact that we are all different, it is crucial to respect the choices of other peoples, regardless of their size and global clout; while the imposition, especially violent, of profoundly alien models of development is futile, as evidenced by numerous sad examples of modern history.
Recently, Western countries have been increasingly talking about the inevitability of confrontation between democracies and autocracies, about the need to establish a rules based order, with the rules long since been written in Washington, Brussels, London and other westernmost capitals. How is that not redrawing of the world along ideological lines, attempts of which are well known from the tragic history of the twentieth century? We earlier said about it that "pro-democratic totalitarianism is even more assertive than communist totalitarianism." Not only other opinions, details and nuances, but even obvious facts are rejected a priori if they do not correspond to the "right ideology". How is that not a disregard for diversity in favor of one's own superiority?
Recognition of the principle of diversity – the very foundation of democracy – by the countries actively promoting their sanctions agenda will inevitably question the current quasi-democratic and quasi-human-rights rhetoric.
Unfortunately, Western countries have not yet been ready to forego unilateral restrictive or coercive measures, despite their obvious negative consequences for the populations of the affected countries – and even for their own citizens and businesses.
History knows not a single example when unilateral sanctions, embargoes or blockades achieved the "desired" goal, while the detriment for the everyday people is obvious. Examples abound.
That is corroborated, in particular, by the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights (Alena Douhan), prepared on July 21, 2020, which concluded that unilateral coercive measures, regardless of the country to which they are applied, pose the large array of challenges to international relations, the legal order, the rule of law and the whole system of human rights, which our Western partners are so zealous about.
There is another interesting point. The Special Rapporteur notes the expanding scope of grounds, purposes, direct and indirect targets, means and mechanisms and the increasing number of unilateral coercive measures, although the legal status of specific unilateral sanctions is not always clear from the standpoint of international law. In other words, any action of any country that is not to the liking of the "powers that be" can easily become a reason for sanctions.
Sanctions have become a foreign policy mechanism against those states that are not ready to live and work according to Western models and recipes, to act in line with the interests of Washington and Brussels and, in contrast, pursue their own path of development.
Critical assessments are increasingly often surfacing in the West itself. Thus, the columnist of The Guardian Simon Jenkins (in the article "Sanctions are imposed by hypocrites and achieve nothing") called sanctions a "post-imperial fantasy" of the Great Britain and the United States, which still think "that the rest of the world shudders before their moralistic statements".
In fact, economic sanctions are a kind of liberal alternative to war.
According to Western experts, over the past five years, the U.S. government has imposed an unprecedented number of sanctions, purportedly related to human rights violations and corruption (an average of 230 rounds per calendar year).
Most of these measures, carried out in parallel with the support of the so-called beleaguered opposition, are aimed at undermining the economy of the targeted country, impoverishing the population, and overthrowing the current government. The most telling examples are Syria, where a bloody military conflict has been going on for about 10 years; Venezuela, which is in a prolonged humanitarian crisis; and, perhaps most strikingly, the decades-long economic blockade of Cuba by the United States. Currently, this strategy of the West is most aggressively and extensively implemented against Russia. Belarus is also in the crosshairs of the Western countries.
While the U.S. administration, with the active support of the UK and Canada, is using economic sanctions as part of its broader "maximum pressure" campaign on rogue states, the European Union has already all but switched to the same model in its foreign policy. The "spree" of sanctions laws for alleged human rights violations is spreading among a number of other states.
Unilateral restrictive measures, whichever shape they acquire, always inflict humanitarian consequences that are the direct opposite of their stated objectives. As a rule, they first of all affect the most vulnerable categories of the population, people who lose their jobs, suffer from armed conflicts and involuntarily join the ranks of refugees and migrants.
The sanctions confrontation is spilling over into international fora – the states imposing restrictive measures are taking advantage of their influence in international organizations in order to reinforce their effect. This includes attempts by the United States to prevent Venezuela, Iran, Cuba and Sudan from receiving funding from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Finally, some sanctions paradoxically become the "norm" over time: there are examples where unilateral sanctions regimes, unlike sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council, have no time limit. They remain in force even when all the persons and entities against whom they had been imposed are already removed from the sanctions list.
Belarus has been in the thick of it. Here again, one can’t help asking the question, the answer to which seems obvious to me: "Have the sanctions achieved their goal?"
American analyst Robert Pape studied the effectiveness of sanctions as a foreign policy tool. According to him, they have led to changes in "only 5 out of 115 attempts since 1914". Countries such as Cuba and Iran were not only able to resist the sanctions imposed by the United States, but demonstrated resilience and ability to grow economically. Belarus was also an example of the impotence of sanctions.
It is indicative that the Republic of Belarus achieved the greatest progress in democratic transformations precisely when the sanctions were lifted or suspended, when business interaction, people-to-people contacts and humanitarian cooperation were developing. We had a civilized, even if not simple, dialogue with Western experts and politicians. All that helped to set in motion public processes, launch the necessary initiatives to improve the state administration, develop partner relations of the state with the business and civil society, and ultimately worked to promote human rights and the country's progress toward that same democracy, and helped expand fruitful contacts with partners both in the West and in the East.
Regrettably, all that was destroyed overnight: the failed attempt of the "color revolution" in August 2020 created the deepest crisis of trust in Belarus' relations with the Western countries and threw our cooperation many years back. The sanctions conveyor against our country fueled by the European bureaucracy has aggravated this situation and shown their true intentions.
Many people feel that the U.S. and the West as a whole have no Belarus strategy. The only instrument of the U.S. foreign policy at this stage is sanctions and restrictions. And this cannot be productive.
This has created a paradox: the very fact of the imposition of sanctions serves as an indicator of their effectiveness. There is an obvious substitution of notions: the main goal is not achieved, while the sanctions continue to live a life of their own.
Moreover, because of the restrictions created by the countries of the West themselves these countries presently have no real grasp of the situation in Belarus. European capitals continue to live in a parallel world. Contributes to it exclusive communication with partners of their convenience – the runaway opponents of the Belarusian authorities who are not just non-constructive, but, for the most part, extremely radical. Western politicians are ready to believe in the absurdity that the Belarusians themselves beg for sanctions, want to live worse, have problems with payments, etc. Meanwhile, according to the recent opinion polls, the overwhelming majority of Belarusians – over 70 percent of respondents – perceive the sanctions of the collective West against Belarus and Russia negatively or rather negatively.
Psychologists argue that crises in the life of a person serve his development, elevating him to a new level of quality. Perhaps, to some extent, it is true for entire countries and peoples as well.
Years under Western sanctions have only hardened our fledgling state. The Belarusian economy acquired invaluable experience of how to work and develop in crisis conditions, rely on its own strength, establish partnerships with other regions of the world, and value true friends.
The situation in which Belarus finds itself today is, on the one hand, a serious challenge, a kind of endurance test. On the other hand, it is a chance and a new opportunity to revisit our approaches to foreign economic activity in order to find new "points of growth" contributing to greater resilience of the national economy, as well as to carefully assess the prospects of interaction with partners and allies in the military-political sphere, which is directly related to the protection of the country's sovereignty.
We are actively searching for new niches and areas to expand the geography of the Belarusian exports, primarily in the East.
We have where to go. We enjoy the support of our strategic allies and close partners. And most countries of the world, where the vast majority of the world's population lives, do not support sanctions or join them.
We also have resources for retaliatory measures, which we will use to protect our national interests.
Futile are attempts by the U.S. and the EU to isolate and restrain Belarus or to change its policy through sanctions.
According to Western experts, sanctions against Russia only from 2014 to February 2022 cost Europe more than 100 billion euros. And the enormous damage of the sanctions imposed after the start of the Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, which backfire against their initiators, including the United States, is hard to assess in full. Belarus is a much smaller economy, but the sanctions measures against us also have their toll, which European businesses are already paying in millions of euros and dollars of broken contracts and lost profits. Have the good people advocating the sanctions calculated these damages to businesses and economies of their countries? I think it is unlikely, because it will have no effect whatsoever on those in "warm offices" who directly make such decisions.
However, I very much want to believe that our partners' common sense will prevail. It is impossible to achieve a positive result, using destructive methods and techniques, as barbaric as during colonial times.
Belarus, in its turn, remains a predictable and responsible partner, open to mutually respectful dialogue, constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation with all foreign countries, which are ready for it and sincerely interested in it.
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