The West must question the objective of the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, otherwise they could prove to be counter-productive, warns Nicholas Mulder, historian at Cornell University (State of New York). The book he has just published, The Economic Weapon : The Rise of Sanctions As a Tool of Modern War (Yale Press University, 448 pages, untranslated), retraces how, in the XXe century, Western states used blockades and embargoes to try to stop conflicts. And why these measures have often failed.
Sanctions against a country are an old instrument. When did they really become an economic weapon?
The use of the blockade against a city or a country during a conflict goes back to Antiquity, and it was regular during the Napoleonic wars. During the First World War, the populations of the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary and Germany were subjected to severe blockades – according to estimates, several hundred thousand people died of starvation.
In 1918, the victors decided to keep this tool beyond the end of the conflict. In an already highly globalized economy, the memory of the traumatic experience of blockades in Central Europe would be a sufficient deterrent threat to avoid having to use armed force directly against States disrupting the international order, they thought then. The League of Nations [SDN]created in 1919 at the instigation of the United States, was thus endowed with this economic weapon of deterrence.
Your book nevertheless reminds us that the restrictive measures brandished during the inter-war period hardly worked. In a way, they even aggravated the tensions. Why ?
In the XXe century, economic sanctions have often proven to be counterproductive. In the 1930s, those aimed at stopping the aggressors, notably Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, highlighted the economic interdependence of countries. This pushed these regimes, already ideologically inclined to be very nationalistic, to seek self-sufficiency, in order to become impervious to Anglo-American pressures and to launch territorial conquests to secure vital resources in raw materials. Rather than preventing the Second World War, the embargoes pushed these states to become even more radicalized and accelerated events.
What punitive economic measures was Japan in the 1930s subject to?
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