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“The American plan to divorce China economically could make the world much more dangerous”

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EWhat if this was one of Washington’s greatest foreign policy failures? This is, at least, one of the questions raised by reading the book that Agathe Demarais, director of global forecasts for the Economist Intelligence Unit, has just published on American economic sanctions (back fire, Columbia University Press, untranslated). Today, she explains, some 70 such programs in the United States target more than 9,000 companies, people and sectors almost everywhere on the planet.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Sanctions against Russia: why the country’s economy has held up better than expected

And yet, “history shows that most of the time nations resist and sanctions fail”, slice Agathe Demarais. Witness Cuba, where the Castro regime has hardly been shaken by sixty years of American embargo, or North Korea. If, more often than not, the measures taken have potentially terrible consequences on the economy and the populations, they fail to change the nature of the regimes. “A review of all American programs since the 1970s shows that only 13% of the countries targeted have changed their behavior in the direction hoped for by Washington”adds the economist.

In a book also devoted to the subject (The Economic Weapon. The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War, Yale University Press, untranslated), historian Nicholas Mulder points out that in the 20e century economic sanctions have often proved to be counterproductive. In the 1930s, those aimed at stopping the aggressors, notably Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, did not prevent the Second World War – worse, they pushed these states to develop their self-sufficiency and to become a little more radicalized Again.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers US sanctions entire Chinese semiconductor industry

And for good reason: embargoes have a chance of working only when they are imposed for a short period, with a very specific objective, by a wide circle of allied countries and this, against a State with a multi-party electoral system, where pressure from populations affected by sanctions can influence leaders. “Is the exact opposite of most American sanctions”observes Agathe Demarais, stressing that these are not very effective against autocracies. “By definition, authoritarian regimes have no intention of giving up power; in many cases, their leaders would sign their death warrant. »

Vertiginous questioning

What should we conclude about the measures taken against Moscow since the beginning of the Ukrainian invasion? Will they be more effective than those adopted in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea? Let us first emphasize that the economic difficulties that Europe is going through are in no way caused by these sanctions – they are inflicted by Russia cutting off the gas supply. The retaliatory measures gradually weaken the Russian economy, complicate the financing of the army and underline the unity of the Western camp. It is already a lot. But they will not end the war on their own.

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