Select Committee on Economic Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 89 - 99)



  Q89  Chairman: Good afternoon and welcome to our Select Committee. It is kind of you to come and answer some of our questions and to give us the benefit of your wisdom. I am very happy to get on with the questions. Is there anything you want to say at the beginning?

  Mr Singleton: No. I am happy for you to fire away.

  Q90  Chairman: If I can start with a question on whether you think the UK policy on sanctions generally is clear and coherent. Is there the appropriate degree of policy co-ordination with the EU and the US? Are there any changes that could be made to make our policy more effective? And if you can give us any examples to back up what you are saying, so much the better.

  Mr Singleton: I think the British approach, the UK approach, to sanctions does seem to be coherent, but I think there is a more fundamental issue and it is whether sanctions in general have been effective over the last century, or whether actually they have failed to achieve what they have tried to do. In fact, between 1914 and 1990, economic sanctions were imposed 116 times by the world as a whole, by individual countries. In 66 per cent of those cases, they totally failed to achieve their stated objectives and of those that remained outside that 66 per cent, the sanctions were only partly successful in most of the rest. Since 1973, the success ratio for economic sanctions, in fact, has dropped even further; it has fallen to 24 per cent of all cases. I think the most remarkable case of sanctions is, of course, the 1962 case of sanctions against Cuba; 43 years later, Fidel Castro is still in power, freedom of expression and association is still restricted. But the result is that Castro gets to blame the economic disaster of his rule on the Americans. American sanctions indeed have reduced investment in Cuba, hindering living standards, but of course it must be borne in mind, that actually Cuba has trading relationships with the rest of the world. It seems to me that those sanctions that the US has imposed, in fact, are rather weak. Even when you look at multilateral UN sanctions, from the UN level, they do not fare significantly better. In fact, sanctions, for example, against Iraq were widely said to have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Were they worth it? Well, I think, when you look at the effects of sanctions, they did not actually bring down Saddam Hussein, they did not get his co-operation with UN weapons inspectors, they did not, in fact, cause Saddam Hussein personally any suffering. In effect, they were sanctions on ordinary people. I would say, when you look at sanctions policy, you can run a very effective sanctions policy on one level, but actually unless it actually achieves anything there is no point in doing it. In fact, you have got to use sanctions in very limited cases, for example, when you are actually at war with someone, in which case you are squeezing that country. But if you are not going to combine it with other tools, like going to war, I do not think they are going to be very successful.

  Chairman: That is certainly a clear start anyway. There are a lot of supplementaries that arise but I think probably it is easier if we just take the questioning around and then see what comes out of it.

  Q91  Lord Sheldon: How do we estimate the success of economic sanctions? What is the basis of success? Should we have a stated objective and say, if you meet that objective you are successful and there is nothing more to it than that? Or are there some other aspects which we need to consider?

  Mr Singleton: I think you do have to state the objective. For example, in the case of Rhodesia, the sanctions were imposed in order to get rid of the Smith rule, I presume. In fact, of course, the sanctions lasted for a long period of time, from 1965 to 1979. You cannot go back and say, have the sanctions worked or not, if you do not set a coherent aim, a coherent objective. So, yes, there does need to be an objective.

  Q92  Lord Sheldon: Are there no other factors to consider, besides the objective that you have in mind, to see how the economy may be going?

  Mr Singleton: Of course, if you impose sanctions, you are going to get some level of economic contraction. I think you made a fair point. In sanctions against the Soviet Union after their invasion of Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan eventually ended the sanctions because he felt that the contraction of their economy was too little. In fact, the sanctions on grain, which America imposed, led to only a one per cent decrease in the amount of grain the Soviet Union imported, and the reason was that other countries bought the American grain and they used that grain themselves, but the grain that they were buying previously they then sold off to the Soviets. Yes, there is some relevance to having other measures.

  Q93  Lord Vallance of Tummel: In your answer to the first question, you mentioned the proportions of successes and failures, but what does the evidence say about the circumstances under which success or failure may come about, and would the answer to that question differ according to whether the sanctions were general sanctions or targeted?

  Mr Singleton: I think that sanctions which are part of a whole range of policies are more successful. I think the idea that you can just impose sanctions and expect everything to work out your way is a mistake; it has to be part of a co-ordinated policy. You have 10 things that you do and one thing is sanctions. That puts some pressure, but by itself, I think, it does not tend to make a difference.

  Q94  Lord Vallance of Tummel: The second half of the question: is there a difference between general sanctions and targeted sanctions within that context?

  Mr Singleton: I do not know the answer to that. I cannot say something with confidence on that.

  Q95  Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: I think you have covered some of this point already, from your commendably clear, opening statement, so I will miss the first bit of it. But outside wartime should the Government ever ban trade with countries controlled by oppressive regimes, or should decisions whether or not to trade with such countries be left to individuals? Secondly, to what extent should Government policy on the limitation of trade with an oppressive regime be influenced by the views of movements opposed to that regime, whether inside or outside the country?

  Mr Singleton: My preference would be that you should allow trade with oppressive regimes. The reason is that, on the whole, as oppressive countries become more connected with the global economy, as they get richer, as they build up a middle class, actually they liberate socially and politically. I am very much an optimist on China, for example. I think that the worst thing we could do was to impose sanctions against them. I think it would have been a bad thing had we stopped them being able to bid for the Olympics, for example. The fact that there are tens of thousands of Chinese students at British universities, engaging with the British way of life, I think is a positive measure. I think it is positive that we are creating jobs in China by buying products from China, and over time a middle class will emerge in China which will push and argue for greater freedoms. I think the tragedy of many well-meaning campaigns, such as people who are concerned about Burma and arguing for no trade with Burma, is that actually that might well make matters worse, by stopping those interconnections, by putting people out of jobs. South Africa is an example of where sanctions have fared rather better than most examples, but even then there are examples of terrible hardship that have been caused by withdrawal of businesses and trade in South Africa. A company like Johnson & Johnson, for example, stayed in, and their argument was, "Well, okay, there might be discrimination generally in South Africa, but when people come onto our campus, when they come and work at our company, for the only time in their life, when they are at work, they get treated equally; we don't discriminate with our workers, we encourage toleration and, at the end of the day, they have well-paid jobs and they're able to make a better life for themselves." They asked themselves, "Morally, should we pull out?" and they made the decision, and I think this was the right decision for them, that they were going to stay in.

  Q96  Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: It seems to me, and I am relatively new to all this, it is very important whether realistically those sanctions and the campaign that is going on have any chance of changing the government. I think probably I would disagree with you on South Africa, because that was an example where it did change the government, and I think then some people were not playing along. What has worried me so far, in the evidence we have heard, particularly from the Foreign Office here, is you have sanctions and, even if they have no visible effect, somehow they are a success because you have made a statement. That seems to be an absolute argument. I wonder what you think about that?

  Mr Singleton: I think often these things are statements. Also, I think, you have got to set a timeframe, when you impose sanctions, you have to say "For how many years are we going to do this?" After ten, 15 or 20 years, if you have still got the sanctions, it seems to me that probably it is the wrong approach.

  Q97  Lord Kingsdown: Are there any UK sanctions in place currently which you think should be lifted? For instance, what about our ban on the import of diamonds and timber products from Liberia? Conversely, do you think there are any cases in which the UK Government has not imposed sanctions but it should?

  Mr Singleton: I think that is a very tricky question. I would not really like to express an opinion on those cases. I think you have got to look and ask if actually they are achieving what you want them to achieve. But I think it is for someone else to answer that question, I am afraid. I might avoid it.

  Q98  Lord Sheppard of Didgemere: One of the things which seems to be used increasingly, over recent years and decades, is the freezing of assets, or even the banning of travel of individuals or organisations suspected of having a connection with terrorism. Have you got any comments on that?

  Mr Singleton: I think, in those cases, you are targeting specific people, and I think that is fine. The general overriding view that open trade and economic integration are good and help promote prosperity, help promote good behaviour, in fact, I do not think is weakened by the belief that certain individuals who are engaged in terrorism should be excluded from travel. I think that is perfectly fine. I would be very happy to support that.

  Q99  Lord Lawson of Blaby: When you were making your answer to, I think it was, the first question, you pointed out, I am sure correctly, that in the great majority of cases sanctions have failed. Of course, that implies, and certainly this would, that there are a number of cases where sanctions were successful. What conclusions do you draw from the successful cases?

  Mr Singleton: I think it is tricky, I think it is very tricky. I have not been able to find a very clear correlation. Often it seems to come down to luck, really, which is not terribly helpful. If it does involve something, it involves sanctions being part of a range of instruments, and that would suggest that if you are going to war with a country the sanctions can help cut the time that you are at war because it puts the squeeze on. I think also you do need pressure inside. I think there is some evidence that you need pressure inside a country. Matthew Parris takes the view, in one of his books, that sanctions against Rhodesia actually strengthened support for the government, from liberal, white people in Rhodesia, simply because, although they opposed what their government was doing, at the end of the day they were suffering as a result of what the British were doing and so they became more sympathetic to the leadership. I think you have got to be very careful with the internal pressures and analyse what exactly will happen to public opinion inside countries when you impose sanctions.

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