Economic sanctions irrelevant to Libya’s plight
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.
By Una Galani
LONDON — Economic sanctions now can only have a limited impact on Libya. Imposing travel bans and asset freezes against Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle, as well as an embargo on any arms trade with the country, may be a politically welcome gesture. But at this stage of violent unrest, the agreement by the 15-member U.N. Security Council can only remain symbolic.
Sure, economic and political sanctions reinforce the message that Gaddafi and his cronies are isolated from the international community — especially the threat of a referral of those responsible for the deadly crackdown to the International Criminal Court. But the measures do little to solve the immediate problem of ending state-sponsored violence against civilians.
The arms embargo looks irrelevant: Libya has already armed itself with the help of foreign governments around the world. But with or without the resolution, it is hard to imagine countries signing fresh arms deals with the country in the current circumstances.
As for economic sanctions, they don’t include a freeze on the assets of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund — which would open a can of worms, as it holds stakes in many European companies. And western powers don’t seem ready to stop buying oil from Libya, which would hurt Italy first. They may remember that a U.S. ban on buying Iranian oil has failed to deter the country’s nuclear ambitions. And Iraq withstood years of a near-total financial and trade embargo, before it took an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
In any case the impact of such sanctions, if any, can only be felt in the long term — so more comprehensive sanctions would have to be lifted in a hurry if a new regime replaces Gaddafi’s. This doesn’t mean nothing can be done: a no-fly zone could help protect civilians against air strikes. The idea may gain traction once foreign governments have evacuated their citizens from Libya. It would need to be reinforced by Arab governments to avoid giving rise to further anti-West sentiment in the region, already at a high level.
But as it stands, there’s nothing in the U.N. resolution that would prevent Gaddafi from boarding a plane to see his old friends in Venezuela — a country which hasn’t sat on the Security Council since 1993.