Economic sanctions have a long and brutal history, almost as long as the history of war itself.
What they don’t have— especially in recent memory— is a history of accomplishing their ostensible goal of changing governments’ behavior.
Over the past 30-plus years, roughly beginning with the 1990 – 1991 Gulf crisis and U.S.-led war against Iraq, Washington’s imposition of harsh economic sanctions has vastly expanded. Whether imposed directly or compelled by the United Nations under U.S. pressure, sanctions are often described as an “alternative” to war — softer, less deadly, more humane.
In fact, sanctions often kill more civilians than the wars they accompany and sometimes deliberately target the most vulnerable.
At the urging of the United States, the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq within four days of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. After the short war in January – February 1991 forced Iraq’s military to withdraw from Kuwait (as the United States destroyed Iraq’s water, sewage, and power systems), the sanctions remained in place, obliterating any hope of rebuilding the shattered country. They largely prohibited the sale of oil, virtually Iraq’s only export, shredding the war-devastated country’s social fabric.