Economic and political sanctions have become a primary post-Cold-War tool to achieve US foreign policy objectives. When the costs of sanctions outweigh the benefits, it is time to reconsider that sanctions regime. When the cost is oppressing millions of people, the sanctions must be lifted. The US sanctions on Syria since 2011 have contributed to the suffering of millions of people due to 12 years of war and a recent earthquake. Even before the 2023 earthquake, 15.3 million people — more than half the population — required humanitarian assistance and protection support.
Sanctions are causing the Syrian people to go without essentials such as food, energy, and medicine. The Syrian currency has collapsed, and people are going hungry. Cleveland Peace Action calls on the Biden Administration and Congress to lift the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act (Caesar) Sanctions. Allow the Syrian people to rebuild and hundreds of thousands of refugees to return to their homes. Let them depart from the distressed refugee camps in neighboring nations.
The aim of sanctions is to punish other governments or world leaders for their behavior or policies that conflict with US policy or international law. Institution of sanctions is usually rationalized as defense of human rights or to stop proliferation of weapons or drugs, or violence against another group or nation. Sanctions are a way of avoiding a direct military confrontation. Federal law allows US presidents to implement sanctions without the authority of Congress.
Sanctions on authoritarian regimes have slim chances of success. Additionally, as the U.S. pushes nations out of its economic sphere, China is happy to oblige them. Bashar Assad is hardly affected by these sanctions, and it may even give him support politically – Syria surviving despite outside aggression. US sanctions are becoming sanctions against its own policy goals. We call on the Biden Administration to lift the sanctions on Syria.
Sanctions on the Syrian Central Bank were implemented in 2020 as part of the Caesar Sanctions implemented by the US Congress. They have stalled rebuilding efforts in Syria. UN special rapporteur, Alena Douhan, called for the sanctions to be lifted, saying “ by openly blocking the organic return of economic activity, sanctions move the starting line for recovery further beyond reach.” Regarding the effects on common Syrians, she added, “What particularly alarms me is the way the Caesar Act runs roughshod over human rights, including the Syrian people’s rights to housing, health, and an adequate standard of living and development.”
Lisa Doughten, Director of the Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilization Division of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reported recently that Syria is in a dire humanitarian condition, “ “This number, I fear, only stands to grow,” she warned. The earthquakes sent thousands of people seeking refuge in schools, mosques and neighbors’ homes, while many turned to open spaces for fear of aftershocks — living in crowded, stressful settings. Children are forced to work to support families, dropping out of school, and across Syria, over 6.9 million people are internally displaced, many of them multiple times. The scale is staggering, but so is the duration — she said, noting that 80 per cent of the population has been displaced for at least five years, forced from location to location in search of basic services and livelihood opportunities.”
Historically, sanctions have produced mixed results. Sanctions on Iraq after the Gulf War increased Iraqi compliance with disarmament resolutions calling for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and restricting Iraq’s ability to import weapons. In the former Yugoslavia, sanctions contributed to pushing Serbia to sign the Dayton agreement in August 1995. The sanctions on Iran in 2010 were designed to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons development and did succeed under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) an independent nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization reports that from 1970-1997 “unilateral US sanctions have achieved foreign policy goals in only 13 percent of the cases where they have been imposed.“ The cost to the US is estimated to be between $15 billion and $19 billion in potential exports yearly and a loss of 200,000 jobs. See also a recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.