Economic sanctions are one of the basic strategies on which the foreign policy of the United States of America is based. These sanctions, as interpreted by US legislation, fall under what has been termed “extraterritorial sanctions,” which is a strategy pursued by the United States against all countries opposed to Washington’s policies since its establishment until today.
The adoption of this strategy has increased excessively over the past few decades, taking advantage of several factors, most notably the US control over the global economy.
The so-called “OFAC Office” has assumed the role of watchdog and trustee policeman over the implementation of this strategy and the implementation of decisions and executive orders related to it.
However, these sanctions are called “unilateral coercive measures” under international law and international covenants.
For many years, Syrians have suffered from unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States, with the aim of exerting pressure on the Syrian government, for “humanitarian and democratic and freedom” reasons, as the successive American administrations claim.
In fact, these measures are not new to the Syrian people, who used to adapt to them, as successive Syrian governments used to circumvent them to secure the living of the Syrian people.
The first sanctions
The United States imposes unilateral coercive measures on Syria since 1979 when Syria was considered at that time by the US as one of the sponsors of terrorism. However, this came as a response from the US to Syria’s support to the revolution in Iran.
The package of coercive measures included a ban on the export of any goods and technology whose value exceeds 7 million dollars to Syria. The sanctions also extended to a technological ban that included all goods and equipment that contain American-made components by more than 10%.
Furthermore, the ban at that time affected technical, software and other commodities related to the oil and gas industry, in addition to a wide range of medical equipment, medicines, chemical components, electronic equipment and cars.
But the Syrian government at the time was able in the mid-eighties to devise solutions to escape from these coercive measures and circumvent them after great suffering as a result of their application, by relying on small and micro companies and small traders to secure goods and services.
The Syrian government at the time was also able to secure many goods, equipment and means of production from alternative countries, until the nineties when Syria adopted an economic reform based on self-sufficiency by establishing an alternative Syrian industry through the famous Law of investment No. 10.
Sanctions after the invasion of Iraq
After the events of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States tried to exert great pressure on the Syrian government with political files related to the Syrian government’s policies on the regional and international levels, and these pressures culminated in the imposition of the so-called Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.
The act which was adopted in late 2003 imposed a ban on:
-most exports to Syria in exception for food and medicine,
-a ban on American companies operating or investing in Syria,
-a ban on Americans travelling on Syrian planes,
-a reduction in diplomatic representation,
-restrictions on the travel of Syrian diplomats to the United States and restricting their movement within the US,
-and preventing transfers of Syrian property.
All successive American administrations have renewed these procedures, in addition to placing Syrian entities such as the Syrian Commercial Bank, and Syrians on the lists of these procedures from time to time between 2004 and 2011.
After the outbreak of the Syrian war
With the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011 a set of coercive measures and economic restrictions were imposed on government officials or those associated with the Syrian government, and against Syrian governmental and private institutions, perhaps the worst of which is that Executive Order No. 13608 which imposes a ban on a list of individuals from dealing with any good, service, or technology in the United States or related to the United States or any American person or company wherever it is found.
This list includes natural or legal persons such as ministers, businessmen and individuals associated with the government, as well as vital institutions such as the Central Bank of Syria, service and commercial institutions, banks and many factories that meet the daily needs of the Syrian people. After that, many restrictions were imposed on the oil, transportation, energy and other vital sectors.
The lists containing the names of people and entities have continued to be issued throughout the past nine years, incited and advocated by Syrian opposition groups based in Washington, which provide lists of names and entities and the reasons for their punishment to US Senators and decision-makers.
The European Union has caught up with the Americans in imposing unilateral coercive measures and imposed dozens of economic restrictions on Syria, sometimes willingly, and at other times at US demand. This was manifested crudely in the recent pressure exerted by James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria in the US administration, on the European Union to take new measures against the Syrian government in parallel with the issuance of the Caesar, which is the harshest and most brutal against the Syrian people, their future and livelihoods.
The people are the biggest affected
Speaking of the impact of these unilateral coercive measures, the Americans and their European backers, and most of the Syrian opposition pressure groups that encourage the Americans and Europeans to impose more sanctions, and which always provide them with the excuses and causes of these measures, always claim that these measures do not target the Syrian people and their livelihood and ways of life.
Rather, they claim the sanctions only target what they call “the Syrian regime” in order to exert pressure on Damascus and force it to make political concessions.
Although these sanctions provide a range of exceptions related to personal financial transfers that should not pass through the Central Bank of Syria, and exceptions related to food, medicine, medical equipment, funds and services related to humanitarian efforts, the reality is otherwise.
Ensuring the compatibility of international banks with the requirements of the unilateral coercive measures, whether American or European, has led to restricting the financial and commercial transactions of international financial institutions with everything related to Syria or any individual or Syrian institution, and this has led to extremely severe difficulties in securing the needs of the Syrian people, in terms of food, medicine, production supplies and livelihoods.
In this context, there are dozens of examples of medical and food companies boycotting everything related to Syria since the implementation of these coercive measures, although those companies were committed by contracts to supply vaccines, medicines, effective materials, materials used in the food industry, spare parts and production requirements for many years before the war.
These details made all the exceptions that the Americans and Europeans included in the regulations for their coercive measures meaningless because the origin of those measures comes in the financial and banking restrictions placed in those regulations. Therefore, lifting restrictions on the Syrian economy is not a matter of achieving political and economic gains, but rather a social and livelihood issue.
Apart from food and medicine, the Americans and Europeans had imposed strict restrictions on sensitive sectors such as electric power, sewage stations, road networks and a lot of wide social services, which pushed the government into mazes and great suffering in order to secure oil derivatives, spare parts for power stations, etc.
This necessarily led to great inflation in the prices of all manufactured materials inside Syria as a result of the high costs of importing these materials, in addition to the scarcity of heating, transportation, and electricity supplies, and the rise in their prices as well, which constituted unprecedented economic burdens for the Syrian people.
While the United States plays the role of a sea policeman and wanders patrols in the Mediterranean Sea to chase, stop and confiscate any oil tanker suspected of heading to Syria, at the same time it occupies the oil fields in northeastern Syria as it extracts and sells the Syrian oil and include its revenues in the US army budget, or distributes the revenues in the form of aid and donations to political and armed groups hostile to Syria.
During the past years, the Syrian business sector has often been able to adapt and deal with these unilateral coercive measures, just as the Syrian government has tried repeatedly to find solutions and alternatives to secure the requirements of a decent living for the Syrian people who suffer a lot from these measures,
With the continued American and Western pressures on Syria, and with the imposition of more unilateral coercive measures that culminated in the “Caesar Act”, the economic crisis on the Syrians intensified. The Caesar Act did not bring new things or new restrictions on the Syrian economy, which mainly suffers from previous sanctions. Rather, it is directed against any country, company or entity that helps the Syrian people without complying with the dictates of the American administration, and this is what we will explain in the next video.
Recently, several international, regional and local campaigns called on the international community to push for the lifting of unilateral coercive measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in order to help Syria and countries suffering from similar measures to address this pandemic and deal with its spreading.
But the Americans responded by imposing and renewing more coercive measures, on the pretext that all unilateral coercive measures excluded food and medicine, and at other times by providing assistance to deal with this disease, which are flimsy justifications that have nothing to do with the reality.
In the end, the United States exerts pressure on the Syrian government through unilateral coercive measures, because it believes these measures will weaken the government and push it to make concessions, or at least lead to the collapse of the ruling elite in Damascus in the long term, or secure a greater role in the political solution in Syria.
All the unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States outside the framework of the UN on various countries of the world during previous years, or even those sanctions imposed within the framework of the UN, have proven that they only lead to impoverishment and starvation of peoples and the collapse of societies, and they never lead to the policy change of the targeted governments, let alone their collapse.
By drawing lessons from the recent examples of Iraq and Libya, we can say that the American coercive measures justified by American legislation under the name of “sanctions outside the national borders” represent only a slow killing of the Syrian people, the people that the United States claims to defend their freedom, interests and decent life.
Script: Kasem Al-Shaghouri
Subtitles: Hibatullah Rayes Ali
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Kevork Almassian is an award-winning political commentator from Syria. He is the founder of Syriana Analysis and is known for his contribution to the literature on the Syrian war.