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Assessing the Efficacy of Sanctions for Non-proliferation

Anförande vid The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference, Washington DC, USA

Let me just start by saying how much I always appreciate the opportunity to engage with the Carnegie Endowment - be it here in Washington, at your offices in Moscow or Brussels, or through the reports you produce and make available online.

Those of us trying to be in the business of policy implementation are very much dependent on all of you in the business of policy analysis and policy shaping.

The issues of this conference should be among those uppermost in the minds of policy-makers of our time - to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons, and pave the way for gradually moving towards a world in which nuclear weapons become less and less relevant and ultimately can disappear.

But the immediate question for this session is to what extent sanctions can be an appropriate policy instrument in this regard.

And I guess I have been invited to make a few comments, since I'm known to be among those less convinced of the general usefulness of sanctions.

But let me start by making an important distinction.

There is no doubt that the different regimes that we have in place for restricting access to critical technologies have been and remain very important.

Some 40 countries have, on their own initiative, joined five export control regimes: the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Australia Group (AG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) and the Zangger Committee (ZC).

Sweden is a country that once had an advanced nuclear weapons programme and also built up an impressive civilian nuclear industry, and we have taken these restrictions extremely seriously over the years.

But when we are discussing sanctions here, we refer primarily to sanctions as an instrument of punishment in order to achieve a certain change in policy in the country under sanctions.

Economic sanctions are certainly nothing new. They've been around more or less forever as an instrument in the struggle between states.

You can think of the continental blockade imposed by the Royal Navy in order to try to defeat the ambitions of Napoleon. I don't know what effect it had - in the end it was Waterloo that brought about the final resolution.

And in more modern times, we have often seen what can be massive sanctions put in place to try to unseat regimes or change their policies.

The West tried to bring down the new Bolshevik regime in Russia with sanctions. The League of Nations tried to punish Mussolini for his aggression in Ethiopia.

And - slightly more recently - the United States has had so-called crippling sanctions in place against the regime in Havana for more than half a century.

The academic debate on the effectiveness of sanctions has tried to identify cases that have been slightly more successful than these.

Few cases are absolutely clear-cut, and I believe it's fair to say that the success cases are not overwhelming in number.

In terms of meeting non-proliferation goals, the very strict sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the Gulf War are in a category of their own, both because of their severity and because they were imposed by the UN Security Council.

The Iraq experience led to a new international debate on the usefulness of sanctions, driven by concern over the purely humanitarian effects of the sanctions.

As so often before in cases like these, we saw the middle classes thrown down into poverty and driven into exile, while the regime continued to build its palaces.

And this led to a new emphasis in the international debate on so-called targeted measures or smart sanctions.

There was an Interlaken process, a Bonn-Berlin process and a Stockholm process trying to identify better options.

For better or worse, we are now in a new cycle of sanctions against different regimes.

I see it very clearly in the monthly meetings of our EU Foreign Affairs Council. There is hardly a meeting without new, strengthened or revised sanctions.

In 2010 we took 22 decisions on sanctions. In 2011 the figure was 69. And we have continued to increase the numbers.

There is no doubt that sanctions are and should be part of our toolbox. Preferably and primarily decided upon by the Security Council - for reasons of legality as well as efficiency.

But sanctions can only work if they are part of an overall policy where the different instruments are clearly geared towards specified objectives.

Sanctions can be part of such a policy. But sanctions must never be a substitute for a policy. Sometimes I fear that this rather fundamental distinction is lost.

In my view, economic sanctions are more likely to influence the policy choices of the recipient during two phases of a clash of wills.

The first is when they are under discussion, before an actual decision has been taken.

It is often said that the agreement between Iran, Turkey and Brazil in the spring of 2010 - the Teheran Declaration - was meant to avert the imposition of sanctions by the Security Council.

If that was the case, it is a good illustration of my point.

The second phase where sanctions are more likely to influence policy is when there is a clear and credible prospect of lifting them.

The intervening period - when a gradual increase in the "pain level" should cause the recipient regime to change course - is more problematic, and the record of history rather discouraging.

Gradually, regimes and economies adjust even to sanctions.

New structures emerge. There are those profiting from the isolation and the decline. Often more or less part of the regime.

And more often than not, the regimes are directing the anger of the population against the foreign evils.

I know of no case where economic despair caused by sanctions has caused a nation to rise up and topple an unpopular regime.

Once sanctions have been imposed, there is a risk of a self-perpetuating logic in which the targeted country tends to dig its heels deeper into the ground, while the side pressing for change issues impatient calls for broadening and strengthening the 'resultless' sanctions, in wave after wave, until they 'really bite'.

It is against this backdrop that I sometimes question the tendency to turn to sanctions as the first line of defence in every crisis and I argue that sanctions are probably most effective at two very specific points in a dispute, as I have just mentioned.

Iran is a case we have to look at very carefully.

A recent report by the National Iranian American Council argued that international sanctions have had severe effects on the Iranian economy, but have failed to fundamentally affect the government's nuclear policy.

If this is the case, we can choose between two policy options.

One is to further reinforce, strengthen and tighten sanctions in the hope that they at some point will more or less break the back of the regime.

It could happen. But it could take a very long time - and in the meantime other things could happen that will take us into completely different directions.

The other is to be precise and credible in a policy of lifting sanctions as part of a diplomatic offer. The historical evidence gives better chances to this approach.

That being said, I am acutely aware of the political fact that it is far easier to impose sanctions than to start to lift them.

And that once sanctions are imposed, there is the risk of sinking down in the quagmire of endless sanctions without either effect or purpose.

As far as I know, Fidel Castro is still around, and his brother is running the country. Without sanctions, I very much doubt that at least the latter would have been the case.

North Korea is a much more difficult case than Iran.

We are faced with a regime that, through its policies of self-sufficiency, is de facto imposing sanctions on itself.

If it truly closes down the Kaesong industrial park, it does itself more damage than I believe any additional international sanctions - except for China denying them energy - would do.

Here, the role of sanctions in our overall policy mix would by necessity be far more limited.

If we look back at the more than half a century that has passed since Almogordo, the record of non- proliferation is mixed.

Yes, more states now have nuclear weapons. But, yes, far fewer have acquired them than was feared some decades ago.

If you look back, the role of sanctions in this has been fairly limited.

Israel acquired nuclear weapons in spite of stern international efforts by most nations, notably the US, to deny them the possibility.

India and Pakistan did the same and afterwards faced different sanctions regimes for a while.

And for the different nations that at one point or another in their respective cycles of development decided not to acquire nuclear weapons, I believe other factors were in most cases more important.

Among these nations - mine among them - factors of security were probably pre-eminent. The realisation that nuclear weapons were unlikely to bring increased security, and that in fact the opposite was far more likely.

So, my own conclusions are very cautious.

The broader non-proliferation agenda - the NPT, the CTBT, the IAEA safeguards system, and the rest of the international regimes - is what really counts to meet the threat of further proliferation of nuclear weapons. Sanctions are and should be part of our arsenal of instruments.

But they should be carefully considered.

If so, they might be part of a carefully balanced policy to achieve certain objectives. They could be part of policy.

But they should never be allowed to be a substitute for policy.

Thank you.

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