Sudan, US Sanctions, and the Issue of Leverage

The United States has lifted sanctions on South Sudan and has eased some sanctions on (North) Sudan, but the main sanctions on Khartoum will remain in place:

U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday extended sanctions on Sudan for another year, saying Khartoum’s policies had not yet improved enough to warrant their removal.

Obama’s order maintains several sets of U.S. sanctions imposed since 1997 which restrict U.S. trade and investment with Sudan and block the assets of the Sudanese government and certain officials.

Khartoum rejected the decision:

“The government of Sudan strongly condemns the renewal of these sanctions,” the [foreign] ministry said in a statement. “The sanctions imposed by the U.S. administration are political sanctions which were and still are aimed at damaging Sudan’s vital interests by hindering development ambitions and plans to fight poverty.”

The extension of sanctions returns us to an issue I wrote about in June, when I asked what leverage the US has over Khartoum. Sudan specialist Bec Hamilton said at the time that the potential “carrot” of normalized relations with the US was “no longer leverage since Khartoum doesn’t believe it will ever happen (and they are probably right).” Assuming Hamilton is right about the mood in Khartoum, Washington’s decision to extend sanctions likely confirms and deepens Sudan’s pessimism regarding the possibility of normalization. That pessimism, in turn, could ultimately lead the regime of President Omar al Bashir to conclude that it is not worthwhile to halt violence in the border areas or Darfur in the hope of winning acceptance from Washington. That pessimism could also push Sudan even closer to China – Beijing, after all, was Bashir’s destination on the eve of Southern independence.

Washington’s decision to extend sanctions is in keeping with existing US policy toward Sudan, but the decision will have consequences, including ones that may negatively affect the relationship even after sanctions are eventually lifted.

Read more about the sanctions here.

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13 thoughts on “Sudan, US Sanctions, and the Issue of Leverage

  1. A few (uninformed) comments

    1. The only meaningful sanctions the US can impose on Sudan are on its Oil and Gas Industry.
    2. There is no way the US can impose sanctions on the North without the South suffering.
    3. Sanctions don’t generally work against Oil and Gas driven economies and/or with economies with strong links to China. (I grew up under sanctions in Abacha’s Nigeria. Abacha was unmoved but my education suffered).
    4. The US and the West need to look beyond sanctions in exerting influence. Cuba has done very well for fifty years and Iran for thirty under sanctions.

    • Cuba has done well? Once the Soviet subsidies stopped the inefficiencies, corruption and inability to trade with its largest neighbor had an obvious toll to the point where Raoul Castro has been forced to drastically change Cuba’s economy* and the Cuban Communist Party’s grip on power is not guaranteed once the Castros are gone.

      As for oil and gas economies, often true but there may be exceptions in this case. Sudanese oil comes from South Sudan which adds another complication for everyone. Additionally the large amounts of oil being found and extracted in North and South America could give us a good deal of independence**.

      *Or at least try. Considering that he seems to be pushing a lot of it onto the military it might be more just giving more power to a different group and historically the military isn’t the best place for economic growth.
      ** Though I have to note we’ve heard that before and should be cautious about it.

      • If it took Raoul fifty years to get to this point, then the sanctions were a waste of time. As long as Fidel was in power, things pretty much remained the same.

        I don’t expect Cuban Communism to outlast the Castro brothers, but if that event occurs in 2020, it would be sixty years of an extremely unwise policy.

        (In fact, if you persist with the policy, the Chinese could make US investment redundant in ten years – they are already the largest trading partner of Latin America and are involved in Cuba’s Oil and Gas Industry).

        Oil is fungible, the price is set by a combination of a cartel (OPEC) and the market. Irrespective of where your supplies come from, both the Venezuelans, Brazilians and Canadians will insist on selling to you guys at the rates set by the market.

        (Hint: When Brazil becomes a $4 trillion dollar economy in the near future, She will be a lot less easier to push around).

        So proximity to Canada, Mexico, South America and the Gulf of Guinea offers you no cost advantages – unless you decide to invade the aforementioned nations/regions and seize their Oil and Gas supplies. Now if you couldn’t do Iraq (23 million), you can’t do Nigeria (160 million) or Brazil (200 million).

        Like most Americans, I guess you have never been on the receiving end of sanctions, so you can afford to talk glibly about them.

      • As I mentioned, Cuba’s greatest problems started after the Soviet subsidies stopped in the 1990s. Before then the poor nature of the Cuban economy made things difficult, but as long as they had the resources of a great power backing them they could put off real reform. Today Cuba simply doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring the fact that its economy is not working. Also technically the U.S has an embargo on large trade with Cuba, not sanctions. That’s why EU countries can invest in Cuba.

        On oil my point was that nations have to remember they have competitors and enemies. The U.S strategy when convincing China not to stop earlier sanctions on Iran was to guarantee the Saudis would sell them any oil that Iran stopped, something the Saudis were more than willing to do.

        Additionally Mexico and Canada are rather friendly with the U.S and the oil and gas found in all three nations with new technology could (in theory) give North America a good deal of energy independence from Eurasia. I say in theory because this is by no means definite and would require two to three decades of development first, but is still a possible outcome.

        Brazil isn’t likely to hit four trillion any time soon. It took China decades to reach its current wealth and the Chinese economy simply is not capable of continuing that performance indefinitely. Brazil has a degree of corruption as well* and far more violence than China, not to mention the problem of competing with China. In any case I really won’t mind too much if Brazil grows in power. It might convince Venezuela to try for saner policies.

        Lastly I can’t see how I was glib about sanctions. I admitted that yes, nations that export gas and oil supplies have some resistance to sanctions but that this resistance wasn’t universal among them and some nations (such as the U.S) might be able to stop worrying about outside energy supplies in the near future.

        * Even if you have some liking for Brazil as I do you have to admit that there is corruption and violence in the country. Tropa de Elite (The Elite Squad) is a decent look at some of the criminal justice problems in Brazil even if it looks more at the violence and not so much higher corruption.

      • A US strategy of engagement with Cuba would have produced better results than the bone-headed embargo.

        If the US was a normal nation, it would be satisfied with Oil and Gas reserves in the Western Hemisphere. However, you have a very powerful Oil and Gas lobby and oversized armed forces, so the desire to want to dominate the global energy supply chain is still strong.

        The Brazilian economy is already more than $2 trillion. They can easily do $4 trillion within our lifetimes (assuming you are young man like I am). Brazil may be corrupt and violent, but so is India and most of the non-Western World.

        China took only thirty years to reach almost $6 trillion – so in thirty years, I expect Brazil to easily double.

      • Engagement actually was an early U.S policy in 1959. It just quickly sunk after nationalizations in Cuba*. Things did get a bit better in the 1970s, but got frozen again in the 1980s because of Reagan and the decision of Cuba to send more than a few criminals and mental patients among the hundred thousand who were permitted to leave Cuba in 1980. Things got a bit easier again the 1990s, especially under Clinton, only to be undone by the Bush (second Bush) regime. There isn’t a way to know yet how things will be for the next decade but based on trends we can expect a warming relationship. If Cuba makes real reforms and the next generation of Cuban-Americans doesn’t care about overthrowing the Castros that warmth might even be permanent.

        As for oil, the problem isn’t the oil lobby. The problem is that the U.S consumes a large amount of energy, more than it should. Before the 21st century we didn’t the technology to efficiently extract oil in North America, or at least what oil we could extract wasn’t the total amount and wasn’t enough on its own to supply the U.S. Additionally the desire for energy security is hardly exclusive to the U.S. Most of the world quarrels over it. The question of possible oil and gas supplies is one of the major reasons for the debates over the arctic and South China Sea**.

        *Admittedly they were corrupt and not helping the Cubans but it would still infuriate any nation.
        **Control of the waters is another important aspect but possible supplies of oil and gas makes it even more tense. A lot like the hopes for major oil supplies in Algeria in the 1950s.

      • I’m not an American, but I know enough about US politics to understand that Cuban policy is driven almost exclusively by a desire to court Cuban-American votes.

        I remember the silly spectacle over Elian Gonzalez.

        I’ve spent some time in the Oil and Gas business and while fracking and secondary recovery techniques are more doable, it will take at least a generation to overcome the environmental concerns.

        Meanwhile, your most profitable businesses (with the exception of Apple and selected Silicon Valley businesses) are in the Energy business. For e.g. ExxonMobil made a 41% this year, and most of the profit wasn’t made in America.

        Money still talks and you can trace the trail of money from ExxonMobil to Washington.

      • You’re mostly correct about the Cuban-American influence on America’s Cuban policy, although there is something of a moral aspect. When we aren’t forced by economic or security concerns to work with someone we look at their human rights record more closely. With the aging of the original Cuban-American population who fled Cuba eventually they’ll be replaced with a Cuban-American population that never knew growing up in Cuba and probably won’t care so much about ending Communism. With that the main force keeping the embargo in place will be that moral aspect and bureaucratic inertia, things which can be sidestepped. Of course the U.S would rather see the Communist government forced out of power but that’s more about our pride than a real goal.

        The environmental concerns, which you mentioned, are indeed one of the stumbling points. Having moved around the U.S East Coast I actually know a few families and groups that own land rich in natural gas that can only be gotten through fracking and have seen some of the political maneuvers. The industry-wide refusal to be more transparent about the chemicals they use is probably going to cause this to be delayed more than it should be and is one of the main reasons why I’m not totally convinced the U.S will achieve energy independence*.

        On lobbies the point I was making was that the companies (usually) aren’t so interested in wars or have obsessions with the Middle East. Exxon, like many other major oil companies, has a global presence. They just care about the oil, not the government. If the U.S wants to reduce its political vulnerability to and obsession with the Middle East it needs to build up its own capacity while simultaneously decreasing consumption, the latter being a difficult task.

        On an unrelated note can I ask where you learned to speak and write English so well? From what I’ve gathered in your posts you’re from Nigeria and I don’t know much about the Nigerian education system. Is English widely taught in elementary (or primary) school?

        * I think it probable, but only if strong state and federal government actions force the companies to be more open. Otherwise local opposition could end profitable ventures because of justified fears. There’s going to be an aspect of environmental damage anyway, but it can be greatly reduced.

      • English is widely spoken and taught in Nigeria. I learned to speak and write English in Nigeria. All my education has been in Nigeria, apart from a post-graduate degree I took in England.

        Oil companies care very much about governments and politics. I live in an oil producing country and I know how much oil companies insert themselves in Nigerian and US politics. If you doubt me, read the Wikileaks account of discussions between Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson and representatives of the major Oil and Gas companies. What exactly do you think is the driving force behind the creation of Africom? Or US military manoeuvres off the Gulf of Guinea?

        Finally, if your foreign policy was so “moral”, how come you deal with China, but you don’t deal with Cuba? You deal with a society as backward and reactionary as Saudi Arabia, but not Cuba?

        Face the facts, US politicians can easily pick up votes by appealing to the Cuban diaspora in Florida – a battleground state. (The Cuban economy is small – the US can live without trading with Cuba). There is nothing “moral” about this, it is simply a very cynical, selfish ploy

      • As I said, there is a moral aspect. That’s why sometimes the U.S does press nations on human rights records. We don’t always follow it, and it’s far easier to do so with nations we don’t desperately need such as Cuba, but we do on occasion follow it. In 1960-1961 the U.S broke with Trujillo over the murder of the Mirabal sisters and the attempted murder of Venezuelan president Betancourt*, in 1979 the U.S made it clear that a massacre in Iran would not be acceptable and in 2008-2009 the Obama administration pushed Kenya to stop sending weapons to South Sudan.
        We’d rather not do business with China or Saudi Arabia, but we don’t have much choice. China is one of the major economic and military forces on the planet and not doing business with them would simply make things worse in the U.N and all over Asia. Saudi Arabia was required for the past seventy years because of its vast amounts of oil, ability to remain relatively stable in an unstable but vital part of the world and now provides a counterbalance to Iran. With the unpleasant nature of Saudi Arabia’s government I’m hoping that the growth of Turkey, changes in Syria and political contradictions in Iran (along with our own new oil resources) will eventually allow us to back away from them before they have their own revolution.

        *Though in 1965 overhyped fears of a Communist takeover led President Johnson to intervene in favor of the conservative groups in the country. In retrospect there probably wasn’t that great a danger.

    • Really? I was worried we were taking the debate off on a tangent and was considering refraining from any more comments on this.

  2. Pingback: Sudan: Khartoum’s Pessimism on Normalizing Relations with the United States | Sahel Blog

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