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Related Categories: U.S. | Anti-War
Sanctions and Double Standards
by Fabian Goldmann, Florian Zollman & Hans Blixi
Tuesday Sep 3rd, 2019 2:46 AM
Sanctions are war with other means-and not an alternative to war. The civilian population pays the price with their bodies and their lives. Export prohibitions on the most important revenues of a country cause impoverishment and suffering. That Iran has not attacked another country militarily in the last 100 years is mostly unmentioned in the media.

By Fabian Goldmann

[This article published on 8/28/2019 is translated from the German on the Internet,] Medicines have become much more expensive since the sanctions against Iran were intensified. Some drugs are not available anymore.]

Sanctions are more popular than ever but their consequences are seldom discussed. Sanctions are war with other means – and not an alternative to war, says the Islam researcher Fabian Goldmann. The civilian population pays the price with their bodies and their lives.

No shot was fired. No missiles were launched. No tanks were deployed. Nevertheless, the attack took more human lives than the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The economy of a whole country was ruined and the society condemned to being petitioners or supplicants. UNICEF later estimated the number of dead children at a half-million.

Nearly 30 years after the United Nations imposed a total economic blockade of Iraq, sanctions are more popular than ever. The US has imposed 8000 sanctions against states, businesses and individuals, 2000 in the last four years alone. Over 30 states are on the sanctions list of the European Union (EU). In the last ten years, the UN Security Council agreed on economic restrictions 150 times. In comparison, the UN only resolved economic limitations five times in the 1990s.

Every week, western politicians find supposed reasons for new sanctions: a seized tanker in the Gulf, the trade dispute with China, gas drilling of Turkey, aggressive police in Russia. Sanctions are called “proportionate instruments against human rights offenders,” it is said. They serve as “diplomatic pressure” or a “peaceful alternative to war.”

The Civilian Population Suffers Most from Sanctions

The consequences are seldom discussed. The civilian population suffers mostly under the collective punishment in both bombs and embargos. Where warships earlier blockaded enemy harbors and occupying armies starved hostile cities, decrees, ordnances and resolutions rob people of their foundations of life. Sanctions are war with other means – and are not an alternative to war.

Advocates claim to have learned something since the Iraq embargo. A broad of forms of pressure replace total economic blockades today. However, the belief that “smart sanctions” would only strike the elites of a country has hardly proven true like the notion that no civilians die in wars after the inventions of drones and cruise missiles.

Foods and Medicines are Lacking

Unlike the times of the Iraq blockade, foods and medicines hardly appear on the sanctions list. Instead exclusion from international organizations and export prohibitions on the most important revenues of a country ensure that states cannot provide the necessities of life for their population.

As in Iran, Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” led to a shortage of cancer medicines and food and not to a better nuclear deal. As in Venezuela, where over 40,000 persons have died on account of blockaded medical supplies since the oil embargo from August 2017. As in North Korea, where a famine threatens millions of people. As in Syria, where the EU sanctions policy contributed to the breaking down of the public health system and the food supply and relief organizations had to stop their work because of the sanctions.

Sanctions Often Bring About the Opposite

“We think the price was worth it.” With those words, ex-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once justified the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Sanctions often have no value even when all the dead are ignored.

Studies show less than five percent of the sanctions attained their desired goal. Much more frequently, they bring about the opposite. Dictators increase their power, repressions increase. Diplomatic channels dry up. As in Iraq, the war of bombs often follows the war of decrees and regulations.

Related Link

Stefan Talmon, “The US under Trump: Gravedigger of International Law,”


By Florian Zollmann

[This interview published in August 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Threat scenarios, obscure videos of alleged sabotage acts, tanker seizures and mutual threats fill news reports. No one wants a war in the Persian Gulf but no one seems able to stop it. In the interview, journalism researcher Florian Zollmann criticizes Iran reporting.

With an unclear background, an oil tanker burned in the Gulf of Oman at the beginning of June 2019. New incidents in the region occur almost daily.

The world seems headed for a war in the Persian Gulf since the US cancelled the nuclear agreement with Iran. What role do the media play? We spoke with journalism researcher Florian Zollmann (42), program director at Newcastle University in England and director of propaganda studies.

Supposedly no one wants a war in the Persian Gulf but no one seems able to stop it. How do you see and judge the reporting?

The threat scenarios developed by the US government are repeated in the media along with ideological assumptions. Lead media like “Spiegel” speak of a “US-Iran conflict. A world conflict implies two sides. The community of states agreed in principle over the authority of the nuclear agreement with Iran signed in 2015. The Trump administration unilaterally cancelled this agreement a year ago. According to the facts, the Trump administration could be described as the aggressor.

Are the historical backgrounds considered?

Hardly. Many Iranians remember how the US and Great Britain carried out a coup in 1953 that overthrow the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the Shah. Mossadegh had nationalized the Iranian oil industry that was run by the British Anglo-Iranian Oil company. That was an essential reason for the coup. Under the Shah, the Iranian oil industry was controlled by British and US firms. The enormous Iranian oil industry was nationalized again after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Could Iran’s refusal to integrate these resources in the global “market system” preferred by Washington and the West have anything to do with the conflict around the nuclear deal? These important facts are hardly considered by the media.

Are there two standards here?

Yes. There are only seldom references to the following aspects. Iran signed the Nuclear Test Ban treaty whose Article IV allows the use of nuclear energy for peaceful objectives. Nevertheless, extensive sanctions were imposed on Iran by the US that inflicts tremendous suffering on the Iranian population. A number of states in the region possess nuclear weapons: Israel, India and Pakistan. Unlike Iran, these countries are not publically condemned even though they refused to sign the Nuclear Test Ban treaty. There are hardly any voices in the media demanding inspections of the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) for the military nuclear programs in Israel, India and Pakistan or that these countries be subject to sanctions until they open themselves to IAEO inspections.

Many research studies show the media prefer opinions of office holders to options from civil society. Journalists give a higher news value to politicians from so-called elite nations. Uploading statements in the news from politics and the economy is relatively inexpensive for media organizations. Commercial pressure and the personnel shortages forced by cuts in editorial staffs in the last years encourage this process. Studies demonstrate journalists in the lead media interact in networks and in different ways with representatives of power structures through their common work. This leads to nearness between politics, the economy and journalism that can also influence the reporting. Of course, there are also examples of serious journalism…

Your criticism has at least echoes of the right-wing discourse on the “system media” and the “lying press.”

My criticism is based on academic theories that show the media deficiencies in reporting about politics, workers, women, ethnic minorities and migrants. As I describe, the conclusions of many studies indicate how commercial pressure, newsworthiness, editorial cuts, property structures and pressures affect the output of the media.

Let us return to the starting point. Demonizations occur in the Iran reporting. In contrast, reporting about human rights in Saudi Arabia is not on the agenda.

German politics and economy have an interest in trade relations with Iran and their opinions have a deescalating effect… Nevertheless, the reporting in the last years has demonized Iran. George W. Bush saw Iran as part of his “axis of evil.” This caricature was adopted in the media. That Iran has not attacked one country militarily in the last 100 years is mostly unmentioned in the media. The domestic political repressions should certainly be condemned. However, the situation of human rights in Saudi Arabia, one of the closest allies of the West in the region, is just as bad as Iran.

Militarily, Iran is active abroad – from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and with the militia in Iraq. Leading representatives of the government fantasize Israel’s destruction again and again. Should there be reports about that?

Such statements and Iran’s support of militias in other countries should certainly be condemned. The point is not whitewashing Iran. The point is no double standards should be applied.

At the beginning of the month, Great Britain – a country that wants to leave the European Union – seized an Iranian tanker – at US request – because EU sanctions against Syria were violated. Should Iran be subject to EU sanctions? Why was the media excitement over the confiscation of a British tanker by Iran last Friday so much greater?

I am not a legal expert and therefore cannot give any enlightening information about the legal situation. Double standards are applied here. The indignation over the seizure of a British ship by Iran appears far greater. This indignation corresponds to a long history of conscious escalation. People recall the 1964 US entrance in the Vietnam War. At that time, the US government claimed Vietnamese ships attacked the US Destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. This episode was manufactured by the US as a reason or justification for war. Previously, US Special Forces carried out covert sabotage actions against North Vietnamese installations. North Vietnam’s actions served its defense. Hardly any historians today would deny that. At that time, however, the US press supported the US entrance in the war.


by Hans Blix

Blaetter, August 2019,

At present there is a risk of a full-scale military attack by the USA on Iran. But the media and the public forget that the US has already launched another attack - on the authority of the UN Security Council and on the Charter of the United Nations. Both the media and governments routinely state that Washington has "bailed out" of Iran's Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But that is misleading.

The US "withdrew" from the Paris Climate Treaty. This was regretted by the whole world, but was still legal. China, France, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, the USA and Iran did not sign an "agreement" with an exit clause. They signed no document at all. Rather, after more than ten years of negotiation, they presented a joint detailed action plan that provided for a substantial reduction in Iran's nuclear program, a strict inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran.

It goes without saying that seven members of the United Nations cannot lift sanctions on their own which were previously decided by the Security Council and which are binding on all UN members. Therefore, these seven states submitted their plan to the Security Council so that it could first advise and support it and then take decisions that were binding on all UN members, including these seven. The binding provisions to lift UN sanctions are like a law. They do not contain passages that would allow anyone to "opt out", but recommend elaborate procedures for dealing with complaints. However, the US government has not made use of these procedures and has instead unilaterally reintroduced extensive sanctions. In other words, it did not "opt out" of an agreement, but violated a Security Council decision that is legally binding.

The US also urged all other UN members to join her in violating a decision they are obliged to respect (under Article 25 of the UN Charter). The US government also made it clear that it will use its financial system to punish companies that trade with Iran and have so far relied on the lifting of sanctions under Security Council and JCPOA resolutions. In fact, we have witnessed Washington appearing to want to replace the Security Council. And how did the world react?

In view of the Russian actions in Ukraine, much has been said in Europe and the USA about the need to respect the "rule-based international order" to which the UN Charter undoubtedly belongs. But the US government is now obviously working directly to undermine this order, which it once helped to shape as the main architect. Most other governments - including those of China, Russia and the European Union - find this shocking and have not joined the illegal imposition of sanctions. With a financial mechanism, European governments are showing their good will to protect a continuation of trade with Iran. However, given the American power in global finance, this is hardly enough to protect companies that want to continue doing business with Iran but are afraid of economic punishment from the US.

European and other governments have diplomatically asked the US to change course - but in vain. They have also approached Iran and urged it to consider possible concessions to the US. They also urged Tehran to continue to fully respect the JCPOA mandated by the Security Council, although the country is denied the intended benefits. Some European governments even appear to threaten Iran with the reintroduction of sanctions if it deviates in the slightest from the JCPOA, which the US has almost completely destroyed. This could be the case, for example, if Iran were to exceed the maximum stockpile of 300 kilograms of lightly enriched uranium.

The truth is that there is no practical need for Iran to exceed the limits. But one might wonder how meaningful such a threat from the European side is when the US has already imposed sanctions on European companies. This US "realpolitik" is a wicked irony due to Washington's simultaneous insistence that the sanctions imposed on North Korea by the Security Council should be strictly enforced by all.
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