Sanctions are 'more deadly than warfare': sanctions are having a debilitating effect on the Zimbabwean economy, writes Dr Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (the central bank). "Economic sanctions unless carefully targeted have the capacity to kill more people than armed warfare," he says.

Author:Gono, Gideon
Position:ZIMBABWE: Sponsored supplement

Sanctions in Zimbabwe and indeed any other country are a declaration of war on sovereign states and result in a barbaric siege against weak countries, targeting the vulnerable groups and civilians at large.


The economic warfare against poor defenceless countries often results in the cancellation of lifeline projects, humanitarian assistance and infrastructural development support which further impoverishes the already impoverished.

Notably, the aggravating impact of the weapon of economic sanctions and mass destruction has manifested in deteriorating standards of living, with per capita incomes in poor nations a mockery compared to levels in those countries perpetrating sanctions.

Sanctions declared or undeclared, regrettably, continue to claim the lives of millions of children through the denial of medical equipment, drugs and food. A considered view on the use of this lethal weapon of economic warfare is that sanctions are equivalent to massive military action against poor societies. Regrettably, the weapon of economic sanctions continues to be unleashed upon innocent populations, and this must be resisted at all costs.

Sanctions have played an important role in foreign policy since the beginning of the 20th century as an alternative to diplomatic persuasion, covert action, political coercion, and military force, which appear unattractive.

The US has adopted economic coercion for about 70 instances to settle foreign policy disputes. On the other hand, the UK, France, the former Soviet Union and the Arab League also utilised sanctions on numerous occasions. Empirical literature unanimously exposes the following undesirable effects of sanctions on the vulnerable groups of society: High death toll due to inadequate health facilities; high incidents of school dropouts; high unemployment as factories close; low volumes of international trade; and acute shortage of basic commodities leading to high prices, malnourishment and deaths.


As Tom Gjelten, in his Crimes of War Project (1999-2006), has shown, children die because hospitals cannot get medicines. Factories close and unemployment soars because manufacturers cannot import inputs required to export finished products. Basic foodstuffs are so expensive that the average family cannot afford them.

In the same vein, a report by the British House of Commons Select Committee on Development has highlighted the fact that economic sanctions, "unless carefully targeted", have the capacity to kill more people than armed warfare.

Governments, particularly in Western countries, international financial institutions and the UN have traditionally applied sanctions against certain countries to achieve desired political and economic outcomes.

Sanctions entail restrictions upon international trade and finance that one country imposes on another for political reasons. Sanctions can be imposed in the form of arms embargoes, imposition of trade and financial restrictions, interruption of relations by air and sea, and diplomatic isolation.

Sanctions are basically measures applied in response to perceived wrongdoing by a state, such as an act of aggression against another state or human rights violation from the perspectives of international conventions. In recent years, the coverage of sanctions has widened to include other elements that are not directly linked to trade and commerce such as culture and sports.

Economic sanctions are usually the most important of all sanctions imposed on a nation. They imply the deliberate government-inspired withdrawal, or threat of withdrawal, of trade and financial relations, including technical cooperation.

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, highlighted that "sanctions remain a blunt instrument which hurt large numbers of people who are not their primary targets".

Trade sanctions limit the target country's exports or restrict its imports. Trade barriers such as embargoes and quantitative restrictions are thus imposed on a country.

Financial sanctions impede financial flows such as aid, short and long term loans. Both trade and financial sanctions are aimed at reducing foreign exchange flows to a country. Financial sanctions, thus, interrupt commercial and trade finance through reduction of both government and private sector loans.

In addition, sanctions impose a risk premium on a country's offshore lines of credit, and eventually scare away alternative creditors as they anticipate a credit squeeze in the future.

Thus, without the imposition of explicit trade sanctions, financial sanctions, especially involving trade finance, interrupt trade and ultimately constrain an economy's foreign currency-generating capacity and economic activity in general.

Sanctions are meant to coerce target governments or individuals...

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