Translated from Alain de Benoist’s essay in Boulevard Voltaire
As soon as a country poses a problem, there is now talk of “international sanctions”, which are more and more like American sanctions. But what exactly is the meaning and legitimacy of this policy of sanctions?
A policy of sanctions is not a policy. It is a form of warfare that uses only “peaceful” means to blur the line between war and peace. Just like a blockade, of which sanctions constitute the modern form, this war is akin to maritime warfare, still favored by the powers that rule the seas – England once, the United States today – and it is also a trade war or an economic one: the “war on trade”, formerly known as the “Guerre de course,” Commerce raiding. It is a “total” war, not only because it rejects the classic distinction between combatants and non-combatants, but also because it is most often based on a “just” theory of war, which puts the enemy on the level of a criminal or a delinquent.
The naval strategy, as we know, differs profoundly from land strategy. On land, war traditionally opposes state armies without targeting civilians, who are not treated as enemies as long as they do not take part in hostilities. The maritime war, it, is not reduced to a confrontation between seaborn enemies or even between militaries. It does not only target combatants, but also civilians. It does not distinguish, either, between the front and the rear. The notions of blockade, right of capture, booty, letters of marque, which allow seizing the private property of the enemy, are specific notions of the naval war, which strikes indiscriminately all the enemy population, all the nationals of the belligerent state without distinction of age or sex, but also any private company or neutral state that might be in relation to the enemy or help him to work around the sanctions.
Donald Trump’s sanctions against Tehran, for example, also target European powers that continue to trade with Iran, as they have no reason to join the US decision to step out of the nuclear deal that had been concluded with that country. This is one of the most characteristic features of sanctions: they do not recognize neutrality; anyone who refuses to support sanctions imposed by the sanctioner is similarly punished in turn.
We also note that “sanctions” generally result in strengthening the powers in place rather than their weakening. Would it not be wiser, if not more effective, to return to more traditional diplomacy?
The policy of sanctions, again, is not a form of diplomacy but a form of war. It comes when diplomacy has abdicated. Sanctions are intended to bring about both physical effects (scarcity, impoverishment, disorganization of the economy, inability to export or import) and psychological effects (raising discontent in the population of so that it puts pressure on its government). This strategy is based on the dual premise that people are vulnerable because they depend on the outside for their supplies and outlets and are able to influence their leaders. The first postulate is correct, the second is not. In the majority of cases, the population thus mistreated places the blame for their fate on the perpetrator of the sanctions and tends rather to become one with their government: instead of provoking the split between the leaders and the led, the sanctions tend to bring them closer. We are only witnessing a hardening of the situation.
The case of European sanctions against Russia, because of “annexation” of Crimea is interesting, knowing that Russia has then taken other sanctions against the first punishers. A logic from hell?
The US is the specialist in sanctions: against Iran, against Russia, against China, against North Korea, against Venezuela — I could go on. These sanctions often take the form of an embargo, which is also a modern equivalent of the blockade. They can be of various kinds (commercial, financial, economic, military, administrative, technological or purely symbolic) and have the most different motives. They do not necessarily imply an ideological confrontation but are, of course, consistent with US foreign policy: Russia is punished for rendering Crimea to Russia in accordance with the wishes of its inhabitants, while Israel is free to to occupy for more than thirty years the Golan Heights for the sole purpose of ensuring its security.
The Americans have today engaged, with China and Russia in particular, in an absurd spiral of sanctions and counter-sanctions which has become the main mode of relationship between former partners become rivals. The sanctions do not show any solution to the security problems of the European continent, because they are by definition deterritorialized measures. “The history of commercial powers offers typical cases of non-territorial politics,” wrote Friedrich Ratzel, pioneer of geopolitics. Globalization is itself a “maritimization”.
On November 25, 2016, Jacques Attali declared in Marianne: “I prophesied the advent of a nomadic world almost fourteen years ago, and I believe that it is finally taking shape. The thalassocratic powers take their revenge on the continental powers, and the whole stake will be for France to move toward this new universe. Commercial nomadism or continental rooting: that’s the issue, indeed.