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Sanctions expert Lopez testifies before House subcommittee

Author: Arts and Letters


Economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations remain a useful and powerful diplomat tool, a University of Notre Dame sanctions expert testified Tuesday at a hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations.

The U.N. has sharpened the sanctions tool since the 1990s “oil-for-food” program targeting Iraq gave sanctions a bad reputation, according to George A. Lopez. Sanctions reforms have been significant and are ongoing, he added.

Lopez is a senior fellow at Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He based his comments on 15 years of scholarly research and consulting for the U.N. and its member nations.

He listed the circumstances under which sanctions are most effective, including:

  • The U.N. Security Council details a clear and limited number of demands in the sanctions resolution
  • The sanctions adopted by the council and its members are one component of a more multifaceted means of persuasion/coercion
  • The committee charged with oversight has an active and creative chair who travels to the sanctioned state/area
  • An internal or external expert committee monitors sanctions’ effectiveness and recommends improvements which are acted upon swiftly
  • The council has made provisions for humanitarian exceptions, as needed

Early economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq cut supplies of food and medicine to the Iraqi people. The oil-for-food program, set up to allow sales of oil if proceeds were spent on food, opened the door to corruption and has been the subject of intense investigation.

UN sanctions fail, Lopez said, when:

  • They are excessively punitive and isolate a target from continued bargaining with the Security Council or member states
  • Leaders of the targeted country or party portray the U.N. as the offending party and deflect the focus from their own behavior
  • The Security Council or its members fail to recognize partial compliance
  • Certain Security Council member countries overtake the voice and role of the council as leader of the sanctions process
  • Successful application of economic coercion on the target produces no change in political behavior or compliance

Tuesday’s hearing, titled “UN Sanctions After Oil-for-Food: Still a Viable Diplomatic Tool?” began with questioning of John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

Professor Lopez can be reached for additional comment at , or 574-631-6972.

*Contact: * Julie Titone, director of communications, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, or 574-631-8819.

Originally published by Julie Titone &Dennis Brown at on May 02, 2006.