AS a diplomatic tool, economic sanctions often bring hardship to a country's people, but then again, they often get results.
That's the reason the United Nations Security Council has used the controversial tactic more frequently. It is also the reason that the Council, set to review two sets of sanctions today, is expected to keep them in place on Iraq and to renew the 100-day, partial suspension of sanctions on Yugoslavia. The aim of the latter is to reward Belgrade for its August decision to bar all but humanitarian aid to Bosnian Serbs.
During the last 50 years, the Security Council has imposed trade or arms embargoes on 10 nations. In eight cases, the action was within the last five years.
Most diplomats agree that sanctions, a step midway between scolding and sending in the troops, often hurt civilians and trading partners more than the targeted government.
In a Jan. 5 report to the Security Council, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned that the use of sanctions should be reconsidered. He said a mechanism must be found to assess the effects of sanctions before they are imposed.
Sanctions have many effects. They can set back development or unite a nation. Yet many analysts say few if any alternatives exist. They point to success stories. Sanctions helped shift South Africa and the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to multiracial governments.
Many diplomats say UN sanctions on Belgrade helped spur Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic to pressure Bosnian Serbs to settle the Balkan war on UN terms.
The UN's August 1990 sanctions on Iraq are also credited with producing much of Baghdad's compliance with UN cease-fire demands. ``My impression is that sanctions have been relatively effective in keeping the Iraqi government from the armaments it undoubtedly would develop if it had the revenue,'' says David Little, a senior scholar at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.
The moral downside, he adds, is that Iraqis are not getting needed food and medicine. Iraq has steadily refused a UN offer to allow it to sell $1.6 billion in oil for covering some UN costs and for humanitarian goods, which would be distributed by the UN.
In many ways, Iraqi sanctions are a special case. A major test of the Council's unity on the subject is expected in April. The US and Britain are headed in one direction, while France, Russia, and China are headed in another. At issue is part of one UN resolution that links a lifting of Iraq's oil embargo to the elimination of all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, a job now largely completed.
ALONG-TERM monitoring system to guard against the reacquisition of such weapons began operating in October. UN officials once said the system needed at least a six-month test.
France, Russia, and China quickly latched onto that estimate and have made it clear that they will stand for little, if any, further delay. ``We believe this period should be no more than six months,'' says Russia's Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov.
After meeting in Paris last week with Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that more must be done, but that Iraq has made significant progress in meeting UN demands.
The US and Britain are much less inclined to end Iraqi sanctions soon. US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright showed the Council satellite photos this week to prove that Baghdad is keeping looted pieces of military and civilian equipment in violation of UN resolutions.
Iraq can prove its peaceful intentions, she says, only by full compliance with all UN demands, which include return of missing prisoners and stolen property, and an end to human rights abuse. Iraq's long-time refusal to formally recognize Kuwait and its boundaries, although not technically demanded in the UN arms resolution, was considered a major impediment to lifting the oil embargo by all Council members. Iraq's formal recognition of Kuwait in November was hailed by the Council as a major step forward.
But the Clinton administration is still far from satisfied that Iraq can be trusted.
France and Russia agree that Iraq should do more. Yet they do not specifically link suspension of the oil embargo to any further moves. Some Council diplomats, impatient with Washington, suspect that the US will not agree to lift any sanctions until Saddam Hussein is out of power.
``Sanctions work as long as you are not asking governments to commit suicide,'' comments Charles William Maynes, editor of Foreign Policy journal. ``If you're using sanctions to overthrow Saddam Hussein, they're not going to work.... No government, regardless of its character, is going to accept that.''