“In the 20th century, economic sanctions often backfired”

The West must question the objective of the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, otherwise they could backfire, warns Nicholas Mulder, a historian at Cornell University (New York State). The book he just published, The economic weapon: the rise of sanctions as a tool of modern warfare (Yale Press University, 448 pages, untranslated), traces how, in the 20th centuryand century, Western states used blockades and embargoes to try to stop conflicts. And why these measures have often failed.

Sanctions against a country are an old instrument. When did they really become an economic weapon?

The use of the blockade against a city or a country during a conflict dates back to ancient times, and was common during the Napoleonic wars. During World War I, the populations of the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Germany were subjected to severe blockades; according to estimates, several hundred thousand people starved to death.

In 1918, the victors decided to keep this tool beyond the end of the conflict. In an already highly globalized economy, the memory of the traumatic experience of blockades in Central Europe would be a sufficiently dissuasive threat to avoid having to use armed force directly against states that disturb the international order, they thought at the time. The League of Nations [SDN]created in 1919 at the behest of the United States, it thus provided itself with this economic weapon of deterrence.

His book, however, reminds us that the restrictive measures used during the interwar period hardly worked. In a way, they even aggravated tensions. Why ?

in the 20thand century, economic sanctions have often proven to be counterproductive. In the 1930s, those aiming to stop the aggressors, notably Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, emphasized the economic interdependence of the countries. This pushed these regimes, already ideologically inclined to be highly nationalistic, to seek self-sufficiency in order to become impervious to Anglo-American pressures and launch territorial conquests to secure vital resources in raw materials. Rather than prevent World War II, the embargoes pushed these states into even more radicalized and accelerated events.

What punitive economic measures was Japan subjected to in the 1930s?

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