Arab League threatens sanctions on Syria (video)
The Arab League has given Syria an ultimatum: end the violence, or face sanctions. But can sanctions sway a government already under heavy pressure?
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The Associated Press reports that China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, implied that China could support a UN resolution. “It depends on whether these actions will help to resolve the tensions in Syria and facilitate the resolution of disputes through political dialogue,” he said.
Syria has been suffering economically for months already – the International Monetary Fund projected that its economy will shrink by at least 2 percent this year and foreign reserves are dwindling, according to Foreign Policy. But the economic pain so far appears to have failed to bring about behavioral changes from the regime, or obvious defections from members of the business community – one of Assad's remaining blocs of support.
In his article about the economic climate, Foreign Policy's Stephen Starr paints a picture of Damascus businessmen and workers who are suffering severely and are close to losing their livelihoods, but are still too cowed by the government to call for an end to Assad's crackdown so that business can return to normal.
… The facts on the ground are irrefutable. The International Monetary Fund projected in September that Syria's economy will shrink by about 2 percent this year. Tourism, worth about 12 percent of GDP, has ceased completely. Employees in the huge and overburdened state sector have been asked by the authorities to "donate" 500 Syrian pounds (about $10) from their monthly salaries to help boost state funds. Deposits in Syria's private banks declined as much as 18 percent in third quarter of this year, according to figures released by the Damascus Securities Exchange, despite high interest rates meant to shore up bank coffers.
It is clearly fear of the country's security apparatus that concentrates the minds of many businessmen. "There is too much fear for any business leader to turn against the government," [said Yehia, the vice president and executive director of a major aluminum manufacturer.] "The security can get to whoever they want -- it doesn't matter how big the businesspeople are. There are no boundaries. It [turning against the regime] is just not going to ever happen."
Syria expert Joshua Landis writes that international leaders know that sanctions won't bring down the Syrian government and that there are other motivations at play: it is less "politically expensive" than military action and, if economic sanctions starve Syria to the point of a humanitarian crisis, the climate will be more amenable to an eventual intervention.
It is doubtful that sanctions alone will cause regime change in Syria. Economic deprivation and reduced government spending does not usually lead to regime change. It is hard to think of a Middle Eastern government that has been brought down by sanctions. Some of the countries that have faced sanctions for decades are Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan. Of course Gaza has faced severe sanctions in an effort to bring down the Hamas government with very little success. What sanctions do very effectively is make people poor and hungry.
Starving Syrians is not the intention of US and European policy makers who imposed the sanctions. They continue to insist that Assad will step down due to sanctions. But what Arab leader has ever stepped down as a result of having his country sanctioned? As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”