The U.S. Should Engage Poor Nations to Aid in Sanctions


In the past few years, the focus has been on the woes of the developed world. The financial crisis was followed by persistent joblessness, and then by rising debt in Europe and the U.S. But these issues have not drawn much sympathy as we continue to look out for the world’s poorest countries.

However, as the developed world struggled, the developing world has been growing at a mighty pace. It is predicted that more than 50% of the world GDP will come from developing countries before 2020. Not only that, developed economies have become more insulated from the actions of developed nations and are growing at almost triple their pace.

What does this mean for U.S. policy? I think it provides some support for more active engagement with international institutions – we will need these newly growing countries to enforce a safe and fair global economic order, sometimes with sanctions.

The growth of developing economies is an opportunity. Their prosperity makes it more important than ever for the U.S. to gain their trust and assistance in order to help punish outlaw regimes with sanctions.

As more and more developing countries become prosperous, sanctions from the U.S. alone start to mean less and less. In fact, as developing countries make up an increasing (and soon, majority) share of global GDP, the impact of a U.S. and European-led sanction effort will become less powerful. With more flourishing economies, economic pressure will require more cooperation than in the past – even from places that we could simply neglect when their economic power was negligible.

But not only will developing economies make sanctions more important, they will make sanctions more effective since the likelihood of signing on to a sanctions regime decreases as the cost of enforcing it goes down. Richer countries are happier than poorer countries to voluntarily forgo some of their economic activity. Additionally, if trade and increasing incomes promote a similarity of interests, then this is just one more reason that other countries may be more willing to work with the U.S. in enforcing sanctions.

Economic pressure has varying degrees of effectiveness, but they sometimes work, and now is a unique time in international affairs. Many of the countries we most want to influence are fragile. They are not poor, but they could easily become poor, meaning that sanctions could be more effective than they have been in the past.

We have an opportunity to have powerful multilateral sanctions, if only we get the cooperation that they require. But cooperation does not come easy. We have to earn the goodwill of a group of countries that we've been basically disregarding for years. Are there specific measures we can take?

One thing to do would be to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. President Barack Obama recently issued an executive order making it illegal for war criminals to enter the U.S. (I guess it was legal before?). This is a positive step, but his actions are standing proxy for the most robust form of support we can pledge to international justice, which is to submit to the laws of the ICC.

This isn't the place to debate the ICC; many argue it will harm American interests. Maybe, but it will definitely boost our credibility with all of the countries that we will increasingly need to trade with and work with to enforce a just global system.

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