Have You Heard of "Sanctionitis" Yet?
If harsh enough and lasting long enough, sanctions become a weapon of mass destruction
The European Commission has just decided on new sanctions against Russia, in fact the eighth round of such sanctions. This time the reason is that Russia has held referenda in the Donbas region of Ukraine. I sense we're witnessing a new disease – Sanctionitis.
It seems related to a larger, fatal disease with few treatment options, namely the 'SHMSI Syndrome', Sanctionitis + Hubris + Masochism + Self-Destructive Impulses. The patient has foggy ideas about reality and his own strength, and exaggerates ad absurdum the positive effects of his supposedly noble deeds. The pleasure of punishing others and excluding them – preferably millions of innocent people – approaches the orgiastic.
The patient also suffers from two obsessions: one about his own innocence in everything that goes wrong for the patient, and the other that concepts like negotiation, cooperation, and peace are vicious propaganda out of step with what the patient perceives as "reality."
It cannot be ruled out that the patient may be a danger to those around him. If the patient does not get help in time, the risk increases that he will eventually lead an isolated social life, suffer financial ruin and end up as a beggar.
Well, on a more serious note, I wonder how many more sanctions packages can be implemented without someone in those circles realising that the sanctions do not work. Certainly not in this way, and that their effects are increasingly self-destructive.
The US has imposed close to 10 000 sanctions around the world, a constant economic warfare. If harsh enough and lasting long enough, sanctions become a weapon of mass destruction. More people died in Iraq because of 13 years of sanctions than because of the military war.
Sanctions can be helpful if they have a precise target and a clear criteria for being lifted again. Even if Russia left Ukraine tomorrow, the sanctions would not be lifted. In Iran, Western sanctions have destroyed the middle class that could force through reforms, if any.
In Iraq more than 500 000 women and children had died. I was there myself, visited children's hospitals and talked with doctors, when then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, told the world that, 'yes, it is a high price but the US thinks it is worth it'.
All the red warning lights are flashing of a deep and wide crisis across Europe this winter, and yet the EU elites persist, because self-justifying punishment and Russophobia have replaced every rational thought.
And decisions are taken so quickly, so hastily and reflexively that there is no time for impact assessments. Did anyone calculate the long-term effect of thousands of Western companies leaving everything behind in Russia, and likely not coming back in the next few decades? Did anyone apply the common knowledge that if sanctions,and other threats are perceived as existentially threatening, they tend to galvanise both the leadership and the people?
Obviously no one in the US and the EU brainstormed on issues like these: Will the world support our policy against Russia? How will Russia's isolation from the West stimulate it to seek other cooperative structures? How important is Russia's interaction with Europe compared with other regions of the world? No, it was taken for granted that Russia would be weakened militarily in Ukraine and economically at home, and then break down.
Political decision-making in the West has increasingly lost touch with the complex global reality. It's conducted through, for instance, Madam von der Leyen's appearance in blue and yellow with Mme Zelensky sitting in the first row. It's become a facade, signalling and show, spiced with anti-intellectual, banal Twitter-like statements. It's the contemporary version of the Emperor's new blue and yellow clothes - uniform on the outside and uniform thinking, if any, on the inside.
This extremely ill-considered knee-jerk reaction to Russia's illegal and unethical, but certainly not unprovoked, war in Ukraine seems now to become rapidly more self-destructive to Europe. And not only that, it's self-isolating too.
Remember that over 80% of the world's population lives in countries that do not support NATO/EU sanctions policies and the rearmament of Ukraine. Just as those countries that face only US/Western confrontation are increasingly coming together in new forms, independent of the West, of economic, political and cultural cooperation.
Just think of China, India, Russia, Iran, Indonesia. Think of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Belt And Road Initiative (BRI), the world's largest peaceful cooperation involving some 140 countries, all non-Western.
In the 1970s we called it horizontal, collective self-reliance - replacing vertical dependence on the US empire and old European colonial relations. It points to a new multi-polar world order. It offers hope.
When honest people in Europe can no longer pay their bills or have to choose between heating or food this coming winter, you can count on them to take to the streets and protest so it can be heard and seen. There will be further electoral landslides to the Right, as recently in Sweden and Italy, social unrest and likely violent demonstrations throughout Europe.
Democracy and freedom of speech and other freedoms will be further restricted, criticism will not be tolerated for there is, officially, only one truth. It is the truth of the elites, some of them unelected like those running the EU. These elites are more in solidarity with each other than with their respective citizens.
Democracies are in great danger of becoming what they, 'simplifyingly' and 'propagandistically', accuse others of being: authoritarian.
It won't be long before people start asking: Why should we pay this price for NATO's expansion - NATO was supposed to give us security and we are now on the brink of nuclear war? Why must my family suffer because of Russia's totally counterproductive war in Ukraine in response to the expansion, and the EU countries' headless response to that invasion?
And how much am I prepared to pay on a daily basis to support and arm Ukraine, so that together we can break Russia once and for all? Who benefits? And for how long? Are we really going to put up with our children and grandchildren living, if living at all, through another decades-long cold war thanks to the cancellation of Russia as part of Europe?
Ukraine is strategically rather unimportant for the West. Yet not to NATO's infallibility and prestige, for the alliance has spent 30 years in, wooing and militarising Ukraine so that, against all promises of non-expansion, warnings of wise experts, the wrath of all Russian leaders and against the preferences of the Ukrainian people, it would become a NATO member.
Add to this the fact that over 90 percent of Western Europeans have no personal relationship whatsoever with Ukraine, its history or its peoples, have no personal Ukrainian friends and have never visited Ukraine.
Like pack animals, corporations, royalty and politicians are strutting and flagging for something they have no idea what is and a conflict they have even less of a clue about. Mainly because their only source of knowledge is the 'leading' media 24/7.
Instead of a positive vision about a better future for all, the West is united in hating Russians and cracking Russia on a fake black and white narrative. It will probably collapse before the EUrocrats, the kakistocrats, know it.
Like so much else for the West in these - uniquely dangerous - times.
Jan Oberg, PhD, is the Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, TFF, in Sweden.