14 January 2013

The cost of Julia Gillard’s Nauru Solution

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre it costs approximately $350,000 to detain just one asylum seeker for a year on Nauru. With the application of its bizarre “no advantage” test, the Government is talking about leaving asylum seekers on Nauru for five years and more, even if they are found on Day 1 to be genuine refugees.

Good policy-making always involves not only the ethical and moral choices that are conspicuously absent here (“what is the right thing to do”), but also a sober consideration of the alternative uses of the funds. If you were to meet an asylum seeker face to face and ask yourself the question “What would be the best way for the Australian community to spend $1.75 million on this person?” would you come up with the answer, “Incarcerate him/her on Nauru for five years”?

For a fairly typical nuclear family of a couple and two children we are talking about spending $7 million over the five year period.  For my money I would rather buy them a nice house in Toorak, a car, an education for their kids, and a lifetime annuity with the funds left over.

A society which invests hundreds of millions of dollars per annum in destroying people who will ultimately become permanent residents has truly lost its way.

It gets worse when you consider that the Nauru solution, which is immune to the cuts to Government expenditure that have been applied in pursuit of a budget surplus, has been funded by savings elsewhere, such as the reduction in benefits to single mothers – a genuine lose-lose solution if ever there was one. For a government with social democratic pretensions, led by a person who claimed to be of the Left, this is truly bizarre. You couldn’t make it up.

11 January 2013

Sanctions do more harm than good

Guest post by Professor Ramesh Thakur

I have an almost pathological dislike of sanctions, so it is with great pleasure that I republish this article by my Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry colleague Professor  Ramesh Thakur, first published in

The Australian
January 4, 2012
(Access published article here)

SANCTIONS became popular as a bridge between diplomacy and force for ensuring compliance with UN demands, yet their track record in ensuring compliance is pitiful. They inflict pain on citizens while imposing questionable costs on leaders.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan acknowledged that "humanitarian and human rights policy goals cannot easily be reconciled with those of a sanctions regime". Sanctions all too often are a poor alibi for, not a sound supplement to, a good foreign policy. They are ineffective, counterproductive, harmful to the economic interests of those imposing sanctions, damaging to relations with allies, morally questionable, yet difficult to lift once imposed.

The target country can choose from a range of sellers in the international market place. Iran has progressively shifted its trade patterns from North America and Europe to Asian partners and is now exploring Latin American prospects. It is virtually impossible to secure universal participation in embargoes and difficult to police their application in participating countries. The incentive to make large profits by circumventing sanctions is more powerful than the motive for enforcing them, and a variety of means and routes exist to camouflage sanctions-busting contacts: think AWB and Saddam Hussein.

Sanctions offer an easy scapegoat for ruinous economic policies: economic pain is simply blamed on hostile and ill-intentioned foreigners. Sanctions create shortages and raise prices in conditions of scarcity. The poor suffer; the middle class, essential to building the foundations of democracy, shrinks; the ruling class extracts fatter rents from monopoly controls over the illicit trade in banned goods. Moreover, scarcity increases the dependence of the population on the distribution of necessities by the regime, giving leaders yet more leverage over their people.

Once imposed, ineffectual sanctions fall into a termination trap. Sanctions on Cuba remain in place, not because they serve any purpose, not because they are achieving their original goals, but because of the power of a domestic electoral lobby with a crucial swing vote in Florida.

Seyed Hossein Mousavian, the highest-ranking member of Iran's political elite living in the US, notes that since the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in 2006 "the number of centrifuges increased eight times. Instead of one enrichment facility, Iran now possesses two facilities. Additionally, the fact the unilateral US sanctions are not readily reversible exacerbates Iran's scepticism about Washington's real intentions behind sanctions and removes any incentives for co-operation with the West".

Support for sanctions rests in their image as a humane alternative to war. Yet they cause death and destruction through structural violence -- starvation, malnutrition, the spread of deadly diseases, curtailed access to medicines -- that can exceed the cleaner alternative of war. John Mueller and Karl Mueller argued in Foreign Affairs that sanctions caused more deaths in the 20th century than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history.

Sanctions have succeeded sometimes, including persuading Libya to give up on weapons of mass destruction. National drug regulators will ban any drug that betrays, say, a 10 per cent serious side-effect. Yet with sanctions we seem prepared to tolerate an 80 per cent failure rate, some with grave consequences.

Sanctions have failed to change policy and behaviour in Fiji (the New Year concessions are not due to sanctions), North Korea, Burma, India and Pakistan (for the 1998 nuclear tests), Iran or Cuba. China and Russia are too big to punish; Pakistan, central Asia and Turkey (for its invasion of Cyprus) are too-valuable allies to be sanctioned. Perversely, we did impose sanctions on Vietnam for ridding us of the monstrous Khmer Rouge.

Not one of the five Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty-licit nuclear powers has been sanctioned for violating Article 6 obligations to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Nor have any of the three belligerent countries for their illegal aggression against Iraq in 2003. In the 1980s, the UN imposed sanctions on Libya for the Lockerbie bombing, under US pressure, while Washington promoted the military officer responsible for shooting down a commercial Iranian aircraft.

Remarkably, no Western country has ever been subjected to any coercive action, economic or military, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Is Chapter 7, then, a tool to be used only by the West against the rest, provided they are weak and vulnerable non-allies such as Burma, neither a major power with clout like China nor an ally like Israel? And will such an equation continue to be acceptable standard operating procedure with the centre of gravity of the emerging global order shifting east and south?

Against this formidable list of non-sanctions, dubious sanctions and the failure of sanctions, the list of successful outcomes of sanctions policies is thin and patchy. France used it successfully against New Zealand in punishment for those who sunk the Rainbow Warrior being tried, convicted and imprisoned: how dare they! Sanctions advocacy relies on an ideological faith in the instrument quite disconnected from the mass of evidence since before World War II -- Italy in Abyssinia -- that point to their futility rather than utility.

The trend to smart sanctions that impose travel bans on leaders and freeze their overseas bank accounts and assets shows that we can learn. But even their success remains to be proven.

Ramesh Thakur is professor of international relations in the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, and adjunct professor in the Institute for Ethics, Governance, and Law, Griffith University

Australia strengthening sanctions against Iran

It is ironic that, as announced in this morning’s edition of The Age (see here), the world champion payer of kick-backs to Saddam Hussein now has "key responsibility" for enforcing sanctions against Iran - the "crippling sanctions” which Hillary Clinton in particular has been so keen to see from the moment she became Secretary of State.

This development causes me considerable sadness because during the early years of the Islamic Revolution and into the 1980s I was involved as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Trade, reporting to a very strong Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) Doug Anthony, in decisions that, unlike most Western countries, we would maintain diplomatic relations with Iran, would keep our Embassy open, and would keep the Trade office therein open. We maintained business as usual throughout the most turbulent years of the revolution, including during the 1979 US Embassy hostage crisis. We managed to maintain the principle that the Australian national interest was separate and distinct from anyone else's national interest, and a matter for us to decide, right up to the George W. Bush era when the Howard Government threw it all away (and in so doing reduced our usefulness to our American ally as well as ourselves).

It causes me pain also because we are participating in sanctions which

(1)  Have no valid basis: under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and the only legitimate objective for the international community is to get Iran to live up to its obligations under the Treaty (permit effective IAIA inspections), not to force them to abandon enrichment.

(2)  Will produce no useful outcome. Iran simply will not agree, for reasons of history and national interest, and some reasons specific to the history of its nuclear relations with the West – see my November 2009 post Iran position on nuclear deal no surprise which summarises the reasons why.

(3)  Accordingly the sanctions will impose poverty and misery on ordinary Iranians without producing any useful outcomes, even by the standards of those who want to force Iran to abandon the pursuit of an independent nuclear fuel cycle.

It remains the settled view of the US Intelligence Community that Iran has not as yet decided to embark on acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

These sanctions are about US politics, not international security, and indeed they are more likely to undermine international security by raising the likelihood of conflict breaking out unintentionally.  To take just one scenario, read my April 2009 post Choke point: the Strait of Hormuz.

06 January 2013

Barry Rubin and "the end of occupation"

In considering Israel’s approach at any given time to the Palestinians living under its occupation, it is always instructive to go back a few years and see what its apologists had to say about it then, and what trends in Israeli policy they discerned.

Here is the introduction to an essay by Barry Rubin, entitled Israel’s New Strategy, published in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006, pp. 111-125.


Israeli politics and policy are undergoing a revolutionary transformation -- one of the most important developments in the nation's history. As dramatic as recent events have been, equally important is the emergence of a new strategic paradigm that reverses 30 years of debate and practice and overturns some of Israelis' most basic assumptions.

Why have perceptions, politics, and strategy changed so dramatically? The shift began when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, including the dismantling of Jewish settlements in those areas. Within a few months, Sharon's Likud Party had revolted against him; Sharon had quit Likud and formed another party, Kadima; the Labor Party had chosen a populist outsider as its leader; the governing coalition had collapsed, necessitating new elections; Sharon had been physically incapacitated by a stroke and replaced by a top deputy, Ehud Olmert; and Olmert had gone on to win in the March 2006 elections. Hamas' victory in the January 2006 Palestinian elections only underscored already existing trends.

The emerging new policy is based on a broad Israeli recognition that holding on to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is simply not in Israel's interest, despite the fact that the Palestinian leadership has been uninterested in and incapable of making peace and that both Fatah and Hamas will use that land to try to launch attacks on Israel. The territories no longer serve a strategic function for Israel, given the unlikelihood of a conventional attack by Arab state armies, and Israel could better defend its citizens by creating a strong defensive line rather than by dispersing its forces. Moreover, because a comprehensive peace deal is not likely to be reached for many years, the territories are no longer of value as bargaining chips. During the long era before the Palestinians will be organized and moderate enough to make peace, Israel has to set its own strategy based on these realities.

I wonder how he would explain the events of the five and a half years that followed the publication of his essay. In similar terms to the thrust of the essay, I guess – “the Palestinians are not ready for peace”.  But evidence of “broad Israeli recognition that holding on to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is simply not in Israel's interest” remains as difficult to find now as it was in 2006.