Select Committee on Economic Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  Q100  Lord Lawson of Blaby: Would you not think also that it depends on what the objective is, or how small it is? If I draw an analogy, a bombardment to capture a small village might be successful, but the same bombardment designed to win a war might not be. For example, in the sanctions field, if you had sanctions against Libya in order to get them to surrender a couple of agents, thought, rightly or wrongly, to have been responsible for the Lockerbie air disaster, that might succeed, but if you had done it to bring down Gaddafi, probably it would not have succeeded. In other words, sanctions might be useful for almost trivial ends, but at least you achieve something and show that you are doing something, whereas anything ambitious, they are highly unlikely to be successful?

  Mr Singleton: I think that is a very fair point, yes.

  Q101  Lord Skidelsky: Can I just go back to your reply to the question from Lord Vallance, when the question was the difference between general or targeted sanctions; how do targeted sanctions work? I am just interested in your view of the mechanism by which conceivably they might work. If the sanctions are designed only to harm those that support the regime, or leaders of the regime, by, say, freezing their assets, where is the incentive for any other actors to bring pressure on the regime? Surely, harm to others than the regime themselves is an essential feature of any effectiveness of sanctions, other than just as demonstration. A concrete example, how do sanctions against Mugabe and his bank accounts actually produce any pressure inside the economy, inside the society, for getting rid of him, or getting him to change his behaviour?

  Mr Singleton: It depends what you are trying to achieve. By imposing sanctions, if you make it more difficult for a dictator to govern, then you may well end up helping someone wanting to overthrow or replace that government. For example, if the dictator cannot afford to buy weapons and pay for the military, as a result of very targeted economic sanctions, that might lead to an overthrow. If all you are doing, however, is providing a little bit of inconvenience, then I think you are right, you are not going to achieve very much.

  Q102  Lord Skidelsky: Let me go on then. Can you give us any concrete examples of cases in which sanctions have had an adverse impact on businesses that were not intended to be targeted by the sanctions measures?

  Mr Singleton: In terms of general sanctions, when you impose general sanctions against a country, inevitably you hurt businesses in general, anyone who is trying to run a business. In Rhodesia, every small-business person was hurt by the sanctions.

  Q103  Lord Skidelsky: That was intended?

  Mr Singleton: Yes, but it was not effective, I think.

  Q104  Lord Skidelsky: Because they were not hurt enough?

  Mr Singleton: Because, although they were hurt, it changed their views of the outside world and it changed their views of Ian Smith. It made them more supportive of Ian Smith, because they felt that, okay, what he was doing was wrong, but "at least he is on our side," in effect.

  Q105  Lord Skidelsky: Would that view have persisted had they been hurt more?

  Mr Singleton: I am not sure necessarily that hurting people is a good way of promoting democracy and human rights around the world.

  Q106  Lord Skidelsky: With respect, why not? You are saying, if they hurt a little, that is fine, because they strengthen support for the regime; and then, logically, one would assume that if they hurt more, and the more they hurt, in a sense, they would have to change the regime, would they not?

  Mr Singleton: I have not seen any statistical analysis of that, but I think it is very difficult, because, I think, any country which imposes sanctions which do create excessive misery in another country is going to find it difficult politically to impose those sanctions.

  Q107  Lord Skidelsky: Just logically, a population will revolt before it starves to death completely?

  Mr Singleton: Yes, I think you are right.

  Q108  Chairman: The argument that general economic sanctions lead to significant humanitarian costs for the citizens of the targeted country, are there significant humanitarian costs associated with targeted sanctions, in your view?

  Mr Singleton: No, not in the same way as with general sanctions.

  Q109  Lord Sheldon: Can you give any instances where a regime has been removed, or attitudes have been changed, as a result of economic engagement, rather than sanctions, so that economic engagement might be an alternative to sanctions?

  Mr Singleton: That is a difficult one. I think what tends to happen is that when you do have economic engagement, because you create a counterbalance—a middle class becomes a counterbalance to the political elite—it changes the behaviour of the political elite in such a way that they do not feel able to rig elections, and so, in a sense, you do not really know what would have happened had there not been the economic engagement. I think it is difficult. I cannot think of an example where people have said, "Let's do economic engagement," as a tool, but there are plenty of examples where economic engagement has been allowed to happen and then you have had good government as a result.

  Q110  Lord Sheldon: You are not thinking of this as an alternative, in certain cases?

  Mr Singleton: Certainly, I would favour engagements. If you take an example of Zimbabwe, economic engagement probably is not going to make a great deal of difference, nor are sanctions; you have got to look at a different instrument. There are plenty of examples where, in a sense, neither provides the right instrument for dealing with the problem.

  Q111  Lord Layard: That is interesting. What other instruments do you have in mind?

  Mr Singleton: I think, in the case of Zimbabwe, it needs to be an African solution. It requires, I think, long-term work to encourage leadership, for example, on the part of South Africa, and through the African Union. It is something that I do not think will be solved through either sanctions or economic engagement really.

  Q112  Lord Paul: How important is it for us to understand the conventions of the regime before you start considering sanctions. How important is it to understand the compulsions of the local regimes and the extent you want to go to for sanctions, because sometimes they have some local problems which are not easily understood by outsiders?

  Mr Singleton: I think that is very important.

  Q113  Lord Vallance of Tummel: This is not exactly sanctions, but increased economic engagement, it seems to me, clearly has a very important role, say, on the Balkans, say, in Bulgaria, say, in Rumania; these were pretty repressive regimes, Turkey even. Certainly, the possible sanction—not being allowed in the EU—on increased economic engagement is obviously very important, is it not? I think I may be stretching it too far, but you can see the pressures in those sorts of countries, can you not?

  Mr Singleton: Yes. I was in Turkey a few months ago and it was interesting talking to economists there of their view of the EU. Certainly there was an overwhelming feeling that they wanted to be part of it. They felt also that their government's behaviour was changing as a result of the desperation to get in. I think, when you look at the Balkans as well, having economic engagement with Europe has been hugely beneficial there. I think we will not worry, 20 years from now, about human rights abuses in Turkey, through economic engagement.

  Q114  Lord Layard: Can I ask about Cuba? Have the nature and intensity of American sanctions changed over time, or how far do other countries comply with the sanctions that the US proposes, and what do you think has been the overall impact of sanctions against Cuba?

  Mr Singleton: Periodically, Americans tighten up, particularly because they have significant ex-Cuban residents in Florida and often they are the strongest supporters of tightening sanctions. I do not think that the effect of sanctions has been all that significant economically, because they do have trading relationships with the rest of the world they do have exports, for example, cigars, which are very successful globally. The tragedy, I think, is that Cuba is able to blame the bad bits of their economy, which is the central planning and also the human rights abuses, on the Americans, in effect. Castro is able to cling onto power because whenever people have hardship he is able to say, "Well, it's the Americans," when, in fact, it is his own leadership.

  Q115  Lord Vallance of Tummel: On Iraq, how would you judge the balance of success and failure of sanctions across the board, and, more specifically, how far do you think those sanctions met the objectives behind the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions?

  Mr Singleton: I think the sanctions between the two wars, between the Gulf War and the Iraq War, were a failure, by any measure. I do not see that actually they achieved anything useful. Probably they helped Saddam Hussein win support from his population, because, again, like in Cuba, he was able to blame foreigners for problems in his country. Whether economic engagement would have been the solution, I would not say necessarily that would be the solution, in that particular case, but thinking that somehow sanctions would help, I think it would have been better just to allow trade with Iraq and leave it at that, for those intervening years.

  Q116  Lord Vallance of Tummel: You do not think then that those sanctions achieved at least a halt to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?

  Mr Singleton: The belief that you should allow trade on most things is not the same as you should allow trade in arms, necessarily. Obviously, where you have rogue states you have got to stop certain products from being traded, but we should not stop trading everything just because of that.

  Q117  Lord Vallance of Tummel: It is not just trade, it could have been the development of WMD rather than trade in WMD, and is not there an argument that at least very strong economic sanctions across the board so crippled the economy that they could not develop that weapon?

  Mr Singleton: Perhaps. I think you have got to look at other policy instruments as well. The tragedy is, with Iraq, that clearly, if you were going to remove Saddam Hussein, it would have been better to do it significantly earlier rather than later.

  Q118  Lord Paul: Even goods like arms and weapons, etc., those states which want to buy them will have no shortage of suppliers, so how will sanctions on anything help with that?

  Mr Singleton: I think that is a good point. In most cases where there are sanctions imposed you will have a black market happening. Actually, the sorts of people that you buy weapons from are the sorts of people who will break embargoes, so I think that is a very important point.

  Q119  Chairman: There is one question which slipped by, which I hoped was going to be asked when we were talking about frozen assets. I do not know whether you can help us on that, but are there, in your view, any official mechanisms or other means available in the United Kingdom for innocent people or organisations to challenge asset freezes, and do such means as there are give adequate protection to individuals?

  Mr Singleton: That I do not know. I would be happy to find out and send a note to the Committee.

  Chairman: Thank you very much; that would be very helpful. Otherwise I think we have asked all the questions we wanted to, and we are really very grateful to you for coming along and helping us with our inquiry. Thank you very much indeed.

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