An Elephant on Thin Ice

At bottom, American sanctions are a bluff, effective only so far as their military might is capable of intimidating smaller, weaker nations.

And It’s a Rogue

I pick up The Washington Post the other day. It’s a good paper, or used to be. Now it seems to be astride the American war elephant. Where there were formerly sober headlines we now have insults, innuendo, threats and hyperbole. At first glance it seems to be due to an supposed imminent Russian threat to the Ukraine. But I smell a back story.

From the Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2022

In December 2021, Russia presented draft treaties to the US and NATO, demanding a complete overhaul of Europe’s security architecture. Russia stressed the principle of indivisible and equal security for all countries, as agreed by all 56 members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at Istanbul (1999) and reaffirmed at Astana (Kazakhstan, 2010). Members expressly agreed not to strengthen their security at the expense of other members’ security. The US is a signatory.

President Putin warned that if the West continued its aggressive policies (NATO’s expansion and missile deployment in eastern Europe), Russia would take ‘military-technical’ reciprocal measures. He said, “they have pushed us to a line that we can’t cross.”

The Washington Post Is Not Content

But here The Post shows signs of discontent, beginning with the headline: Xi meets Putin in show of solidarity as U.S. warns against helping Russia evade Ukraine-linked sanctions. So, President Xi of China meets Presiden Putin of Russia, two sovereign nations essentially on opposite ends of the world. The occasion is the inauguration of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. It’s a meet and greet. Why is the U.S. “warning” them. Is it a warning or a threat? It sounds more like the latter.

The rub on the part of the Americans apparently has to do with Russia parking eight divisions of troops on their own territory some 175 kilometers distant from the Ukraine border. The Post seems to find that intolerable. Both Ft. Bliss and Laughlin Air Force Base in the State of Texas sit virtually on the Mexican Border. Does The Post find that intolerable? Of course not. As for “Ukraine-linked sanctions,” what’s the U.S. have to do with Ukraine and Russia’s family feuds, and what gives them the authority to “sanction” the Russians for assembling troops in their own territory or for “showing solidarity” between the Russian and the Chinese maximum leaders. To an impartial observer all of this looks absurd. From here it looks as if the U.S. is primarily interested in tarring Russia with the same old brush, blocking the new Nordstream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany and, voilá, selling American shale gas to Europe.

President Biden Stands Alone

President Biden was not present at the Olympic Inauguration party. He preferred to stand off, ordering a mini boycott of the games ostensibly as a protest against Chinese “human rights abuses.” Meanwhile, from here the Chinese government’s treatment of their Uyghur minority looks less gruesome than that which the American homeless and prison populations suffer at the hands of their own government. Even so, the American-led worldwide media initiative likes to refer to “the “Uyhgur genocide.” They need to document themselves on “genocide.” Ask any Jew.

President Putin took advantage of the absence of the leader of the Free World to offer the Chinese President Xi Jinping a new gas pipeline direct to China. It looks like a perfect capitalistic solution between a country that has too much natural gas and another that has too little.

The Chinese-Russian joint statement at the end of the meeting was quite clear:

Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions,” the statement said, and “intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext.

The Washington Post

Have the Americans forgotten they were the ones who engineered the fall of Ukraine’s democratically elected government in 2014 and the ensuing ascent of the right-wing, free-market goverment that was in the American script? What, then, has subsequent U.S. diplomacy achieved by organizing the current Ukraine brouhaha? Either not much–Ukraine’s comedian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, himself, is trying to ease his country out of the fray–or a great deal–they have managed to drive their two most significant adversaries into a public statement of mutual military solidarity. That’s quite an achievement. Unfortunately for the Americans, it’s on the wrong side of the ledger.

The Ongoing U.S. Sanctions Issue

For many years we’ve watched the Americans place debilitating–or mortal–sanctions on countries that displease them, the most egregious being the cases of Cuba–which has plagued the lives of the Cuban people for 60 years and continues implacably–and Iraq, where the morbidity toll began with 500,000 children. A recent headline proclaims: “U.S. warns China against helping Russia dodge Ukraine-related sanctions.” On Feb. 3, State Department spokesman Ned Price warned Chinese firms that they would face “consequences” if they sought to help Russia evade potential sanctions. (Reuters) What “consequences are these? China is a first-rate economic power that happens to have the largest army and navy in the world, the fastest and trickiest hypersonic missiles and the coolest commanding heads. And they have recently been driven into the arms of the Russians. Is President Biden sure he wants to threaten them both? An overt threat is, after all, a covert challenge.

With American sanctions ripping around the world like the thunderbolts of Zeus, maybe we should look into their legitimacy. Not surprisingly the only authorizations to be found are those issued by American authorities themselves:

It turns out there are two brands of sanctions, those authorized by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which are the only ones that are granted international legality, and those issued unilaterally by individual nations. The American sanctions belong to the latter group and, therefore, enjoy no legal validity whatsoever on the world stage. They’re just posturing. Ironically, the United States, who looks upon the United Nations with disdain and has failed to join a multitude of UN initiatives, occasionally supports UN resolutions against nations it considers enemies.

Among the treaties unsigned or unratified by the United States, a few have been singled out by organizations such as Human Rights Watch (2009), as extremely important, and the United States’ reluctance to ratify them problematic. Among them are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), the Ottawa Treaty (Mine Ban Treaty), the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The United States is also one of the few countries not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. And there are at least 45 more unsigned or unratified UN treaties on the list compiled by Wikipedia.

An American Offer You Can’t Refuse

At bottom, American sanctions are a bluff, effective only so far as their military might is capable of intimidating smaller, weaker nations. The U.S. rogue elephant is effectively making the citizens of the entire world an offer they can’t refuse. How long will this familiar mafia strategy continue to function? Presumably it will last until another nation–or combination of nations–dares to challenge them, both economically and militarily. Coincidentally, I have just finished a fascinating book that deals with this very subject. Written by British academic, Martin Jacques, it is called When China Rules the World. One wonders, is the elephant edging onto thin ice already?


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