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Economic sanctions - return of the pirates

Tue, 8 Feb 2000

By Brian Becker and Sarah Sloan

Just imagine this scenario fifteen years ago: Masked U.S. commandos, armed with machine guns, descending down rope ladders from attack helicopters and seizing control of a Soviet vessel on the high seas. Such a scene was the thing for movie buffs, James Bond techno-spy flicks and Tom Clancy novels.

Fifteen years ago, the Pentagon would be well aware that boarding and seizing a Soviet vessel on the high seas could lead to a major world confrontation. The Soviet Union, under the leadership of the Communist Party, would likely have put the country onto a military alert, even possibly a nuclear alert, in response to such a U.S. provocation.

But the Soviet Union has now collapsed. The socialist government has been replaced by a U.S.-supported regime of bankers and emerging capitalists. Today, Russia has been reduced to a semi- colonial status and the images once relegated to fantasy spy movies have become the reality.

On Wednesday, February 2, U.S. SEAL commandos seized control of a Russian oil tanker in the Persian/Arabian Gulf. These commandos came from the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey. The machine gun toting masked U.S. commandos did indeed drop from rope ladders onto the deck of the Volga-Neft-147.

The U.S. Navy commandeered the vessel to a port in Oman and under instructions from the United States are draining the tanker of its 4,000 tons of oil and other refined petroleum products. This now pirated oil will be sold and the revenues will be used, according to U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, to pay for the costs of U.S. Navy and air force surveillance in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

What possible legal justification does the United States inveigh to seize Russian ships? The U.S. asserts that the Russian tanker was being used to transport oil from Iraq.

"The president made very clear we're going to vigorously enforce the sanctions [on Iraq]," said David Leavy, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council. "It is a top priority to us to continue to deny smuggling opportunities to the Iraqi regime."

According to U.S. officials, the U.S. Navy prevented at least five ships from other countries carrying cargo to Iraq. Since the U.S. and Britain forced the United Nations to impose economic sanctions on Iraq a decade ago, the Pentagon and British naval forces have boarded over 12,000 ships from other countries that were passing through the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

Impact of the collapse of USSR

The United States has reverted to the use of economic sanctions, as a weapon of choice, against developing countries that do not follow the political and economic dictates of the Washington and Wall Street establishment. Iraq is just one of many countries that have been subjected to this form of economic warfare.

The human consequences of sanctions are staggering. According to the United Nations own statistics, more than a million Iraqis have perished from disease, malnutrition and hunger-related illnesses since sanctions were imposed in 1990.

Sanctions could not be maintained without the presence of U.S. and British military forces. United States taxpayers cough up $50 billion per year to finance the military operations in the Persian/Arabian Gulf alone. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops, war ships, carrier groups and military aircraft are stationed in the Gulf to enforce sanctions.

The strategy of economic sanctions has existed for many years. Cuba, for instance, has been sanctioned since 1961 with an economic blockade.

But as long as the Soviet Union and the socialist governments existed as a global economic and military bloc, the impact of sanctions were significantly mitigated. If imperialism cut off trade and commerce, there was another economic system with which to trade and from which aid and assistance could be received.

Cuba, again, is a good example of how the impact of imperialist economic sanctions were offset. In spite of the U.S. blockade, Cuba's socialist government was able to provide the working class with a relatively affluent (by Latin American standards) quality of life. Workers were guaranteed a job. Housing was affordable. Health care and child care were universal and free. Cuba was isolated from the United States but integrated into the global socialist economic bloc.

New effectiveness of sanctions in the 1990s

During the years between World War II and 1990, more than two- fifths of the world's population lived in countries that had socialist governments. These countries were admittedly poorer than the handful of imperialist countries like the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. In fact, they were using the methods of socialist planning to try to catch up with the advanced capitalist countries.

In spite of its economic backwardness, not to mention its political problems, the existence of a socialist camp provided breathing space for all the developing countries. Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Syria and other countries in the Middle East had extensive diplomatic, economic and military relationships with the USSR and the other socialist governments.

Today, each of these countries--not only in the Middle East, but throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe--can be isolated by imperialism and subjected to economic strangulation coupled with CIA subversion and military attacks.

It was the existence of the socialist camp, led by the USSR, that provided a global shield under which colonized peoples could more successfully struggle for national independence and begin the process of economic development.

How ironic it is that the pro-capitalist Russian government of Vladimir Putin, that wants to demonstrate its "toughness" against Chechen guerillas, has allowed the seizure of the Russian oil tanker with only the issuance of a verbal protest.

Having embarked on its campaign to be integrated into the world capitalist economy, with its attendant IMF and World Bank loans, the new Russian government is prostrate before the piracy of U.S. imperialism.

People in the United States must build a movement against U.S. colonial-style domination over much of the earth. When the U.S. government seizes the vessels of other countries on the high seas, when it routinely bombs the Iraqi people and murders their children with economic sanctions, it acts only on behalf of U.S. oil monopolies and banks. People in the United States must counter this new colonialism by building a militant movement against imperialism.

International Action Centre.

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