IN two countries, Iraq and Haiti, international organizations in unprecedented moves have undertaken to influence internal affairs. The experience to date illustrates both the obstacles and cruel choices involved in such efforts.
In Iraq, the United Nations Security Council has mandated internal inspections and has restricted oil sales to those needed to pay for essential imports. In Haiti, the Organization of American States has imposed sanctions in an effort to restore a democratically elected government. Yet, despite the determination of the world community, satisfactory outcomes are far from certain.
Saddam Hussein remains in place, defying the community of nations. The capacity of an international body to deal with a ruler prepared to sacrifice his people to stay in power is clearly limited.
Haiti's rulers show little sign of caving under pressure. Like the regime in Iraq, Haitians opposed to the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have little compassion for the travails of the lower classes if their own privileges can be maintained.
Moreover, sanctions leak. In the case of island Haiti, the preservation of an embargo may be relatively easy, but to prevent contraband from slipping across the desert borders of Iraq is far more difficult. In both cases, one can assume that those in favored positions have the money to tempt sanctions-breakers looking for a fast profit.
It is not long before other interests, feeling hurt by sanctions, begin to apply pressures on major governments. According to press reports, United States companies that have been using Haiti for product assembly are urging an easing of the embargo to permit them to restart their factories. They do so on the not unreasonable rationale that large numbers of Haitians are out of work because of the sanctions. And that is symbolic of the cruelest dilemma of all.
Reports of the UN and of independent observers in Iraq testify to the hardships being imposed on the people of that country by the UN measures. In addition, the Iraqi regime is starving out Kurds within Iraq who will not come to terms with Saddam. Saddam, while steadfastly refusing to create the money to buy food for the population by selling oil under UN rules, blames the international community for the plight of his people. There can be little doubt that he is placing before the world the choice of see ing the people of Iraq suffer substantial privation or easing the penalties imposed on Baghdad after the Gulf war.
In Haiti, a wealthier class strongly opposed to the rule of President Aristide may not consciously be penalizing the population. The probability, however, is that, through their own resources, they are continuing to live well despite the embargo while the poorer citizens of the country suffer or fruitlessly seek refuge in the US.
The Haitian case, in particular, places before the US the difficult problem of determining who among the refugees is eligible for asylum. In earlier days, when the flow of refugees was less, it was easier to distinguish between those fleeing from political persecution and those seeking a better economic future. Since Vietnam the line between the two categories has grown increasingly blurred. Today that distinction is even more difficult to make among Haitians leaving a poor and unsettled land.
In another day, such suffering might have received less attention. But in 1992, television brings into the living rooms of the UN member nations dramatic scenes of starving Kurds and boat people from Port-au-Prince. Thus, pictures of deprived populations play upon the sympathy of other nations and become weapons in the battle of callous regimes to survive. The rest of the world is faced with the harsh choice between relaxing sanctions and losing the struggle with ruthless regimes or staying the course at
the expense of the lives and health of the less privileged citizens of these nations.
As to Iraq, the dilemma could be worse. If there were not at the moment an oil glut, the pressure from industrialized countries to permit Iraqi oil to reach the markets would be great. Under present circumstances, the plight of the population remains one of the few sources of leverage upon the community of nations.
If a new world order is to be created, some effective form of international pressure on rogue regimes must be established. Few members of the UN are prepared to support military action to bring about internal change in another country. Economic sanctions remain the most feasible alternative either to capitulation or to the death and destruction of war. The examples of Iraq and Haiti, however, illustrate the cost in suffering of such measures. Other nations can help alleviate suffering, but if the global community is to persevere in creating a new international order and if tyrants will not surrender, a measure of suffering is, tragically, inevitable.