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Decryption | On the usefulness of sanctions



Canada imposed more than 1,700 sanctions on foreign individuals or entities in 2022. The unprecedented use of this deterrent has certainly been boosted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the fact that it is increasingly necessary more like an essential weapon raises a question à la Yvon Deschamps: the sanctions, what does ossa give?

A tool to ostracize

In 2022, Canada imposed sanctions on Belarus, Haiti, Iran, Burma, Russia and Ukraine, totaling over 1,450 individuals and over 250 entities to date of December 9, according to figures provided by Global Affairs Canada (GAC). This is significantly more than in previous years. And the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, has signaled several times that Ottawa has not finished resorting to sanctions.

One of his predecessors, Lawrence Cannon, believes that this increase “clearly demonstrates that there is a form of efficiency, or at the very least, it is a tool that has its merit in itself”. Canada and its allies would be wrong to do without it, because “it is always a stage before considering other stages such as an invasion or a stage of no return”, which makes it possible “to ostracize a country which is a renegade”, pleads the one who was head of diplomacy under Stephen Harper between 2008 and 2011.

Effective, but circumventable

Sanctions by themselves “rarely produce dramatic results in stopping wars, but they can help slow their progress and force changes in strategy,” says Erica Moret, senior researcher at the Geneva Graduate Institute and co-founder of the Geneva International Sanctions Network. . We guess, for example, that the control of arms exports has put a spoke in the wheels of Vladimir Putin’s regime. “The fact that the Kremlin was forced to turn to North Korea to buy weapons proves it,” illustrates the expert.

In taking stock of the sanctions imposed, in particular against Russia or Iran, the political scientist Thomas Juneau comes to the conclusion that it is “in each case a good idea”. On the other hand, he warns against the overuse of this weapon, which authoritarian regimes have learned to dodge and even use to their own advantage. “In the case of the sanctions against Iran, we saw the Revolutionary Guards building a huge economic empire, thus enriching themselves in order to circumvent sanctions. They are, in a somewhat perverse sense, the winners of sanctions. And Russia is doing the exact same thing now,” says the assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.


Minister Mélanie Joly, during a press conference on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, in Bucharest, November 29, 2022

Business puzzles

Companies have to deal with sanctions regimes that are increasingly complex. “It’s a spider’s web,” says Geneviève Dufour, full professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Sherbrooke. “Imagine what the impact is for multinationals or even for SMEs whose supply chains have been determined during the design of products”, she continues, citing the example of engines manufactured by an Austrian subsidiary of the Quebec company Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) which went into the construction of Iranian drones then used by Russia against Ukraine. “Probably it went through three, four countries, and BRP never thought it was going to go away in there,” she notes.

The monitoring challenge

The Canadian government is far from being a model of transparency and efficiency in the management of its sanctions regimes, argues political scientist Thomas Juneau, a specialist in the Middle East. “In Canada, we are used to announcing sanctions, but not necessarily following up. Implementing sanctions is a lot of work! And Canada has a reputation – well deserved – of not always doing what it promises to do,” he explains.

In the United States, we give ourselves the means of our ambitions: “They have the Office of Foreign Assets Control [OFAC], a well-staffed office, investigative and enforcement branches, which Canada or the EU do not have. It’s a much bigger machine…and therefore people are more afraid of US sanctions,” says Erica Moret.

Unity is strength

It is not always easy to pass sanctions at the UN, and many countries previously chose to go it alone, the United States in particular. Over the years, Western countries have refined their approach. “There is increased cooperation between Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, which I like to call the Sanctions Quad [quatuor des sanctions] “, underlines Moret from Switzerland.

We have also refined the model, which in the past was often much too broad and penalized the population rather than the leaders or the institutions. “We witnessed a shift twenty years ago: before, we targeted a country or certain products, but now we use economic sanctions that we say are more intelligent, or targeted”, notes the professor and lawyer. Genevieve Dufour.

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