The Beginning of an End: An analysis on inefficiency of international sanctions

Last year, when first news about improvement in relations between the United States and Cuba hit the headlines, most analysts reacted by expressing doubt and surprise. However, that trend gathered more steam and after reopening of the United States embassy in Cuba, now several flights are conducted between the two countries on a daily basis while US President Barack Obama and his wife are packing up to make a trip to this mysterious island. During this trip, which has been scheduled for early spring, the US president is expected to meet and confer with his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro.

The trend, which led to such an unbelievable heat in relations between the two countries, which have a long history of many decades of political and even military hostilities, has been attributed by most analysts to unprecedented decline in leftist ideas across the globe and further strengthening of liberal democracy at the four corners of the world. A large number of analysts who are under the influence of Francis Fukuyama, consider countries like Cuba as the last symbolic trenches of opposition to the dominant ideology of the international system, noting that these trenches will finally fall one by one in order to make way for the last and most superior ideology to dominate the entire world.

Recently, a high-ranking American official was asked about the basic reason for the beginning of negotiations with Cuba, to which he answered by saying that Washington had finally reached the conclusion that sanctions imposed on Cuba would not achieve their ultimate goal, which was to bring about political system change in that country. How this remark should be interpreted in the light of the current euphoric state of the dominant liberal democracy, which is pointing a proud finger at the hoisted US flag on the Cuban soil? Is the United States really undergoing a change in its approach to past enemies? Should the United States’ decision to get along with an obstinate ideological viral such as Cuba be considered as a sign of the victory of the American way of thinking over the entire world, or is it the sign of the decline of US Democrats’ hegemonic ideas and recognition of alternative ways of thinking and living within the international system?

During a few months that have passed since Iran clinched a nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has frequently answered to this question by foreign reporters that it was intensification of sanctions and difficulties of everyday life in Iran, which enabled the two sides to reach an agreement. He has clearly noted that on the opposite of what foreign reporters think, the nuclear deal became possible after it became clear that sanctions would not lead to the West’s desirable result, that is, breaking down the Iranians’ resolve. The improvement of relations between the United States and two of its archenemies, namely Iran and Cuba, can be possibly analyzed better from this standpoint.

A cursory review of the titles of books published on the United States foreign policy during recent years will clearly show that there is a consensus among experts on international relations across the world that the United States has reached the beginning of its end. One of the most important arguments offered by proponents of this claim is meaningful reduction in the United States’ military intervention in regional crises and conflicts, which as proven by history of international relations, this situation is the prominent feature of a declining hegemonic power. The mere costs of two failed American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have practically rendered impossible any further extensive military intervention in the Middle East. On the other hand, for years now, governments opposed to US policies are being elected in a region which was once considered as the backyard of the United States, and the only step taken by the US Department of State has been to take the trouble and issue strongly-worded statements.

Of course, other factors have been effective in changing the United States’ approach to Cuba. Globalization and entering the age of communications and information in addition to reduced control of the United States on monetary, financial, foreign exchange and trade markets in the world have practically reduced the possibility of imposing complete embargo on a country to zero. The ways to access resources in the modern world are so numerous that making an effort to block all those ways would require such a high energy and cost that would make the outcome unjustifiable. On the whole, the time for paralyzing international sanctions is really over.

Obama will go to Havana, relations between the two countries will improve and international media will show off these conditions to the world as the last victory of the United States hegemonic diplomacy. However, if the people of Cuba really love their own independent way of living, their special way of thinking and acting, and more importantly, their independence, and if they have practiced being themselves and living independently in past decades, then they are certainly the main winners of the expansion in the two countries’ relations.

This article was written by Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri for Iran Review on Mar. 3, 2016. He is a Faculty Member of the University of Tehran.