Peter Hoskin

What difference will sanctions make?

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Slowly, haltingly, the West decides what to do about Gaddafi. The latest news is that, having broken his silence over Libya a few days ago, Barack Obama is now imposing sanctions against its despicable regime: freezing assets, blocking transactions, that sort of thing. It follows a package of sanctions, including an arms embargo, that Britain and France have proposed to the UN.

Although these sanctions are better than nothing – the West shouldn't house Gaddafi's slush funds, nor transfer weapons in his direction – they are of limited actual worth. Yesterday, the Mad Dog was parading the parapets once again, promising death for the protestors. You suspect he is unlikely to be put off by restrictions to his and his country's finances. Particularly given that, as Hussein Ibish puts it over at Foreign Policy, "economic measures take time to make their impact felt, and they will certainly not produce, and probably won't seriously accelerate, regime change."

It is striking, then, that David Cameron – coming off the back of what Steve Richards suggests (while admitting the cliché) is the "worst week of his premiership" – is not ruling out military action against Gaddafi. That may have to be the way of things. In the meantime, Libya smoulders. The death toll is now almost certainly in the thousands.

UPDATE: The former ambassador Charles Crawford has a great post on what can be done about Libya. I'm reproducing his section on sanctions here, but do read the whole thing:

"Economic Sanctions: general economic sanctions are Big, Slow and tend to empower the regime if it is secure enough. Plus the wider population suffer.

Here in Libya it might be different if you can find a way to stop the regime getting money from oil sales (while of course the oil keeps flowing, hem). Better to use the banking system somehow (how?) to do that rather than bring in the full caboodle of economic sanctions, which most countries will ignore anyway?

Probably better to go for Personalised/Targeted Sanctions, ie going after named people close to the regime (travel bans) and their ill-gotten gains. But keep a beady eye out for legal challenges - you can't just go around stripping people of their liberties and/or trampling on banking confidentiality without good cause, you know. This isn't Libya!"