Last week when I criticized the Russian move to vote along with China and the US in enacting a sweeping UN trade blockade against North Korea I received some pushback from commentators who felt I did not have enough understanding for Moscow’s decision.
Well, since then America’s foreign minister, Rex Tillerson, has boasted that the measures are already killing North Koreans:
“[The fishermen] are being sent in the wintertime to fish because there are food shortages. And they are being sent out to fish with inadequate fuel to get back. So we are getting a lot of evidence that these [sanctions] are really starting to hurt.”
So food shortages in North Korea and more dead fishermen washing up on Japan’s shores are a welcome sign the US-proposed sanctions are working as intended.
Aghast the veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn penned a piece calling for economic blockades to already be seen for what they are: war crimes, terrorism, collective punishment:
It is time that the imposition of economic sanctions should be seen as the war crime, since it involves the collective punishment of millions of innocent civilians who die, sicken or are reduced to living off scraps from the garbage dumps.
There is nothing very new in this. Economic sanctions are like a medieval siege but with a modern PR apparatus attached to justify what is being done. A difference is that such sieges used to be directed at starving out a single town or city while now they are aimed at squeezing whole countries into submission.
An attraction for politicians is that sanctions can be sold to the public, though of course not to people at the receiving end, as more humane than military action.
People should be just as outraged by the impact of this sort of thing as they are by the destruction of hospitals by bombing and artillery fire. But the picture of X-ray or kidney dialysis machines lacking essential spare parts is never going to compete for impact with film of dead and wounded on the front line.
Why then has Russia gone along with the sanctions? I’ve argued before Russia does not want to go against China on this as it’s a crisis that affects the latter even more. China in turn benefits from the sanctions in the sense that they make North Korea even more dependable on Chinese subsidies (now even for basic survival), which Beijing perhaps hopes will make Pyongyang more pliable to its wishes. Additionally, China may feel that by going along at least with US-proposed sanctions it lessens the chances the Americans will carry out their threats to attack the North military.
All of this does not matter a great deal however, the basic reality of the matter is that as Tillerson has observer these sanctions are already shaping out to be another humanitarian disaster that will leave untold thousands or millions malnourished, and just like in Iraq and other places official Russia and China are to blame as well as the US.
When did it become such a trivial and mundane thing to push millions of ordinary people you’ve never met into suffering and an early grave? At least the Americans do it because they are self-absorbed imperialists who never saw a nation independent of the Empire they didn’t want to starve, bomb and invade into submission. The Russian and Chinese leaderships don’t even have that excuse.