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4:32 pm, March 20th, 2022 - 194 comments
Categories: boycott, China, Diplomacy, Economy, energy, Europe, exports, farming, food, Gerry Brownlee, Iran, Japan, monetary policy, Peace, Peace, Russia, same old national, trade, uk politics, Ukraine, United Nations, us politics, war - Tags:
New Zealand’s sanctions on Russia have not stopped the war in Ukraine. They may have made our parliamentarians feel better, and Tony Blinken was quick to congratulate us on falling into line with the US “high-impact sanctions.” The language is combative, but the evidence shows sanctions do not work. They can have significant blow-back effects, particularly if not combined with effective diplomacy.
There are already signs that Western sanctions will impose significant blow-back on the sanctioners. Russia has watched the way the US-led west has used sanctions to impose its own laws on other countries, and has prepared its defences. It is one of the most autarkic countries in the world, a major oil and gas producer, the main source of grain exports, has extensive rare earth materials, and is a major exporter of fertilisers.
Europe is dependent on its natural gas for heating and for industry, and the price of oil and as has risen to add to already rapidly rising inflation across the world. Russian consumers will be less impacted by sanctions than the rest of the world. We will certainly feel the effects here, as the price of fertilisers as well as petrol rises.
Not only that, there are signs that sanctions on Russia will expedite moves to replace the US dollar as the preferred payment for oil and gas. China, Iran, and India are moving to pay for these materials in their own currencies. The US’s ability to run massive deficits and pay for its bloated military are heavily dependent on the privileged status of the dollar. Reports are emerging of the Saudis moving to consider payment for oil in other currencies. That could be huge in its effects on world trade and US hegemony.
Russia has identified what it calls ‘unfriendly countries,” who have imposed sanctions against it. Apart from occupied Japan, South Korea and Micronesia, they are almost all white and colonisers, or in our case colonised. A map of the sanctioners shows that it is by no means most of the world. Writing in the Guardian, columnist David Adler considers this might be the shape of a new non-aligned world for the global south. It’s also where most of the world’s resources and people are.
Russia has so far not imposed any counter-sanctions. That will depend on events, but if imposed will be proportional and significant.
On top of the Russia-specific sanctions legislation, our government has indicated it will also consider moving to legislate for an autonomous sanctions regime. That would be a major change in New Zealand’s supposedly independent foreign policy of many years’ standing. We have always stood for a multilateral approach to such measures, and this was the main reason why we did not support the US-led “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, against John Key’s taunts that we were “missing in action.”
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken was quick to note that “For the first time, New Zealand has extended its sanctions authorities beyond its UN Security Council obligations.”
Gerry Brownlee has led the charge for the National Party, but additional support has come surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, from Simon O’Connor and Louisa Wall, New Zealand’s representatives on the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. O’Connor has promoted so-called Magnitsky sanctions, named after lawyer accountant for their main promoter, former Soviet oligarch Bill Browder. Browder’s background is here where he is described as a ‘billionaire accused of being a fraud and a liar.”
The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance is an international self-selecting informal body of individual politicians, who are not supportive of China. It is funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, known for funding colour revolution regime change operations, the National Endowment for Democracy ‘we do openly what the CIA used to do in secret,” and the Democracy Foundation of Taiwan. Both of the latter are foreign government-funded front organisations and advocates for political change. Soros and the NED were active in funding the so-called Maidan colour revolution in Kyiv in 204, which saw the ouster of the Russian-supporting President Yanukovich.
This raises the question of whether the purpose of Magnitsky sanctions would also be to give the government power to propose sanctions on China. In a recent article in the Herald advocating Magnitsky sanctions for New Zealand, O’Connor highlights his criticisms of China. This association would take us into a completely new dimension as it would mark a major shift away from Labour’s platform commitment to multilateral diplomacy. Magnitsky sanctions legislation so far has been limited to the FiveEyes countries, so this shift would be just another way of bringing us into line and effectively signalling the end of any pretension on our part to an independent foreign policy. There was no opportunity for select committee submission or wider discussion on the Russia-only sanctions legislation, and once imposed sanctions are hard to back down from. That debate is urgently needed now.
Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins has written extensively about the nugatory effect of sanctions, most recently in relation to those imposed by the United Kingdom on Iran, but also last year in relation to those imposed on Belarus. His words apply to Britain but they have some resonance here as well.
As for the crisis in Ukraine, the sanctions monitors at the American Peterson Institute for International Economics can find no sign that the severest economic aggression in modern history has yielded “the slightest evidence that Moscow will change course and ‘rehabilitate’ itself in the eyes of the west”.
The glib reply of proponents of sanctions is that they are better than war. In other words, it is taken as read that the west has an obligation to “do something” about evil regimes wherever they exist. The weapon appeals to democratic politicians as seeming tough without being violent. It offers a quick headline with no need for subsequent validation.
…while sanctions may not achieve their objective, they do exact a human price. They block the restoration of relations between disagreeing states. They deny the liberalising effect of trade and of intellectual and humanitarian exchange. Soft power is denied its potency. Worse, by being so vacuous, sanctions become almost impossible to withdraw.
Unless wonders happen, Ukraine should expose the hypocrisy of the “age of sanctions”. It has Britain traipsing round the Middle East begging for cheaper fuel, so it can pretend it is saving the planet by not drilling its own. It has had to negotiate with one regime, Iran, that it purports to detest, while pleading with another, Saudi Arabia, that it refuses to detest. All because of sanctions. Has British diplomacy ever looked more shabby?
One thing that is noticeably missing from the debate is how to we may be able to stop the war and return to peace. Western media, including our own, has gone full-blown frantic into disaster porn, and one suspects that the rush to judgment represented by the Russia bill represents more a response to blinkered and ahistorical media pressure than to any real intention to work to bring about a change to peace. Sanctions are intended as a punishment, but all too often the wrong people are punished. The supposed causal chain is that by imposing punishment on a people, their leaders will be overturned. All the evidence is that this does not happen, and all that does happen is that ordinary people are subjected to harsher living conditions.
Not only that, any chance of us considering ourselves as peace-making brokers is gone, now that we are aligned. In my opinion the most depressing idea in this sorry saga is that put forward by Gerry Brownlee calling for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. Who do we expect to call to discuss how to get to peace if there’s nobody there to answer the phone? One thing you can say about Russian diplomats headed by the incomparable Sergei Lavrov is that they are very competent. They want to bring this war to an end.