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On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions, With Examples from the Case of Rhodesia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2011


It may seem preposterous to write about the effects of the economic sanctions currently in effect against Rhodesia since the process is not yet completed: we do not know how it will all end, and primary source material of a crucial nature is not yet available. But the purpose of this article is more in the direction of a general theory, using the case of Rhodesia as a source of examples and illustrations. The material on Rhodesia included here consists of some secondary sources, such as books and articles, and some primary sources, such as documents and other printed material; but the basic sources are mainly personal observation and a number of informal interviews with Rhodesian citizens (mostly businessmen) and with citizens of other African countries (mostly politicians), all dating from January 1966, about two months after UDI.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1967

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1 Using the term “Rhodesia” rather than “Southern Rhodesia” or “Zimbabwe” has no political implications; this usage is simply shorter and more frequently found.

2 UDI is used as the common abbreviation for the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Smith government on November 11, 1965.

3 A study of this kind is presently under way at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, under the direction of Fredrik Hoffmann.

4 There are, of course, many works available giving various accounts of the background of UDI. Scandinavian readers will find Holger, Benettsson, Problemet Rhodesia (Stockholm 1966)Google Scholar elucidative. Very valuable information, as well as attempts at analysis, can be found in two papers by Peter, Wallensteen, Den rhodesiska självständighetsfrågan efter december 1962, mimeographed (Uppsala 1965)Google Scholar and Aspekter på Rhodesiakrisen efter självständighetsförklaringen, mimeographed (Uppsala 1966). Non-Scandinavian readers will find Philip, Mason, The Birth of a Dilemma (London 1958)Google Scholar, Patrick, Keatley, The Politics of Partnership (London 1963)Google Scholar, and Nathan, Shamuyarira, Crisis in Rhodesia (London 1965)Google Scholar, valuable. However, apart from Wallensteen, Aspekter, these publications do not deal with the sanctions. A recent and relevant work on sanctions is Ronald Segal, ed., Sanctions Against South Africa (London 1964), presenting the papers and the recommendations of the International Conference on Economic Sanctions Against South Africa, London, April 14–17, 1964. For Scandinavian readers,Kaj, Björk, Sydafrika och vi (Jönköping 1965)Google Scholar, gives some of the arguments in connection with sanctions against South Africa.

5 For a general discussion of the problem of compliance, see Galtung, , “On the Meaning of Nonviolence,” Journal of Peace Research, No. 3 (1965), 228–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 The best treatment of this theme is probably found in Bjørn, Christiansen, Attitudes to Foreign Affairs as a Function of Personality (Oslo 1959)Google Scholar.

7 Many of these sanctions are mentioned in the relevant Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations:

“The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions and may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.”

These provisions, of course, also apply to the United Nations itself. According to information given by Mr. David Owen to the meeting of the Technical Assistance Committee on November 24, 1965, the United Nations withdrew its experts from Rhodesia almost immediately after adoption of the Security Council resolution condemning developments there.

To give some impression of how the measures suggested in Article 41 of the Charter have in fact been used by the member nations, we have used the UN Press Services Reference Paper No. 4 (March 23, 1966) to study how the sanctions employed by four major groupings among the sixty nations that had reported to the Security Council were distributed.

The table should be read with utmost caution since it is based on a press release, not on primary sources, and since one does not know to what extent the UN asked for information. However, the differences are nevertheless quite remarkable. The focus is on sanctions of the verbal, expressive type (such as nonrecognition) and on economic sanctions, with the socialist countries specializing in the former and Commonwealth and African countries in the latter. Telecommunication and travel sanctions have been remarkably underutilized, as have diplomatic sanctions. In December 1965, twenty nations had consulates general or high commissions in Salisbury. Only six of these—Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the United States—were affected as of March 25, 1966. The table seems to indicate that the more remote a nation is from Rhodesia, the more it uses nonrecognition; the closer the nation is, the more it uses economic sanctions. On the other hand, the less the trade with Rhodesia, the more complete the boycott; here the nations that are big traders have the most difficulties.

Also, there are very important exceptions to the relatively comprehensive sanctions called for by the UN in die resolution of November 20, 1966, in which the Security Council (with France abstaining) called upon “all states not to recognize this illegal authority and not to entertain any diplomatic or other relations with this illegal authority.” Thus the information given by the Commonwealth Relations Office on January 31, 1966, is interesting in showing the loopholes in the sanctions system. Briefly stated, they are as follows, using the calculations made by Wallensteen (Aspekter, 29–32):

1. Zambia (export sanctions 30% effective)

2. South Africa (export sanctions 0% effective)

3. West Germany (export sanctions 70% effective)

4. Malawi (export sanctions 0% effective)

5. U.S. (export sanctions 45% effective)

6. Congo (L) (export sanctions 0% effective)

7. Portuguese territories (export sanctions 0% effective)

8. France (export sanctions 60% effective)

The loopholes have a clear structure. First of all, there are Rhodesia's ideological allies, South Africa and Portugal, who have a vested interest. They can hardly afford to have Rhodesia lose, since this might encourage similar processes directed against themselves. Second, there are Rhodesia's African neighbors, Zambia, Malawi, and the Congo, who are evidently more concerned with the impact of sanctions on their own vulnerable economies than with the use of sanctions as weapons against an ideological enemy. Third, there are the three biggest Western powers (the United Kingdom excepted): the United States, West Germany, and France, all with their vested interests. The diversity of motives for not making sanctions complete is impressive. Such diversity is a factor on which a skilful government in a receiving nation can base policies designed to demoralize the sending nation.

8 For an excellent study, see 1Louis, B. Sohn, “Responses to Violation: A General Survey,” in Richard, A. Falk and Richard, J. Barnet, eds., Security in Disarmament (Princeton 1965), 178203Google Scholar.

9 The basic facts about the structure of the Rhodesian economy seen from this point of view can be found in the survey reported in a Supplement to the Standard Bank Review (November 19, 1965), according to which a boycott of the major product for export, tobacco, should affect Rhodesia more than the United Kingdom if the latter were to stop importing it from Rhodesia.

10 Bruce M. Russett and others (New Haven 1964). The data are from Table 46.

11 Concentration in International Trade (Amsterdam 1962)Google Scholar, esp. chap. 2.

12 Ibid., 22.

13 An excellent account of how South Africa was able to get around the Indian boycott launched against it in July 1946 by means of trade via third parties is given in K. N. Raj, “Sanctions and the Indian Experience,” in Segal, Sanctions Against South Africa, 197–203.

14 This must, by and large, have been a major theory behind many efforts in recent history to bomb an adversary into submission. For an interpretative analysis of the effects of bombing in World War II on the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, see Galtung, “On the Effects of Bombing Civilians” (forthcoming). The line of argument is very much as for the effects of economic sanctions in the present article.

15 See the Official Report for these two days. For another and very similar example of a theory as to how sanctions might work, let us quote from die article “Can Smidi be brought down?” Peace News (November 19, 1965), 1Google Scholar, 4. Six factors are mentioned: white supporters will desert Smith (1) “as the economic life of the country becomes more unmanageable”; (2) because of the staunch attitude of the governor and the; symbolism of some people's indication of their support for him; (3) because of the blank spaces in the newspapers, indicating censorship; (4) because of “unrest among members of the civil service, police and army”; (5) because of “unrest among the African population”; and (6) because of “South Africa's refusal to deal in Rhodesian currency.” This list shows a clear overestimation of the organizational power of the African population and an equally clear overestimation of the force and legitimacy of British symbols far from home. Moreover, there is always the question of how many people really worry about censorship, particularly when it is directed against opinions and writers they dislike themselves.

16 This control of access to Rhodesia dates from November 1965 when “Great Britain established a general requirement for visas for travel to Rhodesia, and stated, on this occasion, that die sole legal authorities outside Great Britain having the right to issue such visas are the British embassies and consulates.” Later on, sanctions were added to this rule: “The British authorities . . . reserve the right to refuse entry into Great Britain to persons who have sought visas for entry into Rhodesia from the representatives of Ian Smith's regime” (quoted from Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Circular No. 27, March 11, 1966).

17 Aspekter, 25–26.

18 Wilson's thinking about how Rhodesia should be made to comply can be interestingly contrasted with the thinking of one Conservative M.P., Mr. G. Lloyd, who “suggested that Britain should look back and consider what might have been done and how much money could have been spent in the past to bring Rhodesia to a position today where it was felt independence could be granted. Britain could then get the Commonwealth together and raise, say, £200 million to bring Rhodesia to such a position by possibly 1980. Of this, possibly £50 million could be spent on education, £50 million on boosting the economy, £50 million on communications and £50million on other projects” (the Salisbury correspondent in The Star [Johannesburg], January 12, 1966, 21). Although this suggestion reflects the paternalist position of “education for maturity,” it also reflects the approach of the positive reward, provided there is a way of tying the transfer of £200 million to the steps toward majority rule.

19 Thus, there were stories in the press about the Masais, who are able to keep fit and healthy because they walk to work (hunting) over long distances every day.

20 A good account of the effects of air raids on Britain is found in Titmuss, R. M., ”Argument of Strain,” in Eric, and Mary, Josephson, eds., Man Alone (New York 1962), 505–15.Google Scholar

21 After UDI, shops in Salisbury displayed posters with drawings of Rhodesians in uniform, with rather determined faces, tightening their belts. The general idea was that of serving the country again, of “the men being called up,” something of the prewar atmosphere described by Doris Lessing in her novel A Proper Marriage.

22 Thus, the idea of the prime minister bicycling to his office might appeal to many. (Incidentally, the photograph of Smith on a bicycle that figured in many newspapers implied no permanent change in his means of transportation.) But just as important might be the idea of symbolizing “everything normal”; the receiving nation can make political gains on this as well as on conspicuous sacrifice.

23 According to observers, the opposition in the white Rhodesian population amounts to around 20,000 and consists mainly of the press, the bankers, the industrialists, the lawyers, the teachers, and people in their primary circles. We know of no solid data to support this contention.

24 One very simple reason is that the ownership of farms is usually hereditary, which ties farmers to the territory for generations ahead. A professional's job is not hereditary; he can afford to be nonnationalist or even antinationalist since his position will not similarly affect his offspring.

25 Of course, the list of people belonging to the opposition according to observers (footnote 23) is impressive, and these people could be most dangerous to the regime. However, they have lost much of their prestige simply from being less functional than the farmers, who will always have the important task of keeping the population alive during a period of crisis. Thus, our argument is in terms of transfer of legitimacy due to a dislocation of the center of gravity in being functional to the community at large. The result may be more legitimacy to sectors favoring more apartheid.

26 Thus, in South Africa, the technology of extracting oil from coal is already quite advanced. According to the Times Review of Industry (December 1963), about ten percent of the country's needs are taken care of that way (the state-owned plant SASOL produces about forty million gallons of gasoline annually).

27 According to the report on the fuel situation in Rhodesia circulated to member states by the UN Secretary-General, the oil expert Walter J. Levy states that “oil shortages are already the cause, and will increasingly be so, of the major and most overt upset in the Rhodesian economy and society.” The statement is interesting since it is not phrased in absolute terms; all it says is that the oil embargo causes more economic difficulties than the other embargoes. And Levy also adds, “. . . If the question were one of survival the availability of oil, in itself, would certainly not be the decisive consideration during the next few months.” This sounds reasonable, since only twenty-seven percent of the energy needs are covered by means of oil, whereas sixty-three percent are met by coal from the Wankie coal belt and ten percent of the needs are covered by hydroelectric power from the Kariba Dam. Since the Wankie coal belt is in Rhodesia and “to blow up the Kariba Dam would mean to flood Beira” (according to a Rhodesian informant), this means that about three-quarters of the energy needs are under control. And where oil is concerned, the railroads have been switching from diesel engines back to steam engines and the forty-three percent of the oil that went into ordinary gasoline for cars covers a substantial fraction of luxury consumption. It is worse with the ten percent that was used for airplanes, but this is hardly too difficult to replace (figures from “The Bite on Business,” The Sunday Times, November 14, 1965). But when Mr. Levy, the oil expert, goes on to say that by the middle of 1966 the Rhodesian economy would be significantly affected and “that, on such a basis, there would be pressure on the regime, and the oil embargo could be of even greater political and psychological import than the immediate economic impact,” then one wonders on what kind of data such conclusions are based (quotations from UN Weekly News Summary, Press Release WS/231, March 4, 1966, 3–4). According to the Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg), February 16, 1966, about 150,000 liters of gasoline go into Rhodesia by car from South Africa and Mozambique every day, which is close to the normal consumption of about 300,000 liters. According to the New York Times (international edition, April 16–17, 1966, 1), the amount had risen to 50,000 gallons from South Africa alone by mid-April, but then the minimum daily consumption was estimated at 150,000 gallons a day.

28 Such theories, understandably, have also been very popular in Rhodesia. Thus, in a letter to the editor of the Rhodesia Herald, November 25, 1965, one writer asserts (rightly or not) that the food situation was better in Germany in 1918 than in 1917, that the Versailles Treaty led to the German experiments with rockets with their well-known consequences, that the reparations Germany had to pay to Serbia (such as trams for Belgrade) gave Germany a bridgehead on the economic market in that country because of the necessity for repairs, and so on-in short, stories of how sanctions may backfire and lead to unanticipated consequences. Stories of the same kind also cropped up in our interviews.

29 ”Pluralistic ignorance” is what obtains when there is confusion about where the majority stands. In Rhodesia, even under the mildly authoritarian conditions reigning there now, it would be difficult for an opposition that happened to be in the majority to know that this was the case, since there is no adequate way of expressing such attitudes, and hence no incentive for action due to the feeling of being supported and strongly so.

30 For the first presentation of this theory, see Festinger, L., A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Evanston 1957)Google Scholar, particularly chap. 1.

31 This was in January 1966.

32 See letter to the editor, New York Times, January 28, 1966.

33 This Association was originally formed with the three goals of promoting tourism to Rhodesia, of encouraging the purchase of Rhodesian goods, and of acting as a pressure group by writing letters to the press, and so on.

34 The Proclamation of Independence, signed on “this eleventh day of November in the Year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five” may sound quaint: ”Now Therefore, We the Government of Rhodesia, in humble submission to Almighty God who controls the destinies of nations, conscious that the people of Rhodesia have always shown unswerving loyalty and devotion to Her Majesty the Queen and earnestly praying that we and the people of Rhodesia will not be hindered in our determination to continue exercising our undoubted right to demonstrate the same loyalty and devotion, and seeking to promote the common good so that the dignity and freedom of all men may be assured, DO, BY THIS PROCLAMATION, adopt, enact and give to the people of Rhodesia the Constitution annexed hereto. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.”

There is style to that proclamation, and its expressive adequacy was fully appreciated by our informants. The same applies to the little document entitled Rhodesia's Finest Hour, showing the Smith government impeccably lined up for the signature ceremony, with the Queen's image watching them. We quote from Smith's speech: “Let there be no doubt that we in this country stand second to none in our loyalty to the Queen and whatever else other countries may have done or may yet do, it is our intention that the Union Jack will continue to fly in Rhodesia and the National Anthem continue to be sung. . . . We Rhodesians have rejected the doctrine of appeasement and surrender. The decision which we have taken today is a refusal by Rhodesians to sell their birth-right, and even if we were to surrender, does anyone believe that Rhodesia would be the last target of the Communists and the Afro-Asian bloc?”

35 Expression of such theories was very frequently found in Salisbury as well as London. Possibly the theories are quite valid-but then they are also valid in all other countries. Ghost-writers and -thinkers are found everywhere.

36 This is particularly true if one can even afford to use these resources to help others when one is in distress oneself. A typical example of the Smith government's strategy in this respect was demonstrated in connection with the cyclone in Mozambique at the beginning of January 1966: Smith sent a widely publicized cable to the Governor- General of Mozambique offering all kinds of assistance-at a period when Rhodesia itself was in a difficult situation (Rhodesia Ministry of Information, Press Statement 29/66, January 10, 1966).

37 Quoted in the Rhodesia Herald, February 11, 1966.

38 Let us pursue this parallel a little further. A basic point in sanction theory is immediacy; whether the sanctions take the form of reward or of punishment, they should ideally follow the actions to be rewarded or punished so closely that a clear connection is established. If there is a considerable delay, the learning effect may be considerably reduced. However, a characteristic of the international system is its long reaction-time, because of the generally weak level of integration and because of delays caused at the intranational level.

The case of Norwegian trade with Rhodesia may be suggestive in this respect. In this case, “all imports to and exports from Southern Rhodesia, except consignments contracted before November 27, 1965, have been banned.” What then happened to Norwegian trade with Rhodesia can be seen from Table II.

The figures are for exports and imports combined. Thus, there was a quick increase in trade after UDI (mainly in imports from Rhodesia). Then there are some fluctuations in the cumulative pattern until the decrease became stabilized during the summer of 1966. In total trade statistics for 1966, a considerable decrease relative to 1965 will appear. But the pattern is similar to rewarding a child for its mischievous behavior at breakfast, punishing it in the afternoon and the evening, and then announcing that the total day was worse for the child than the preceding day. (Trade statistics are from Månedsstatisikk over utenrikshandelen, Statistisk Sentralbyrå, Oslo.)

39 This is a major perspective in the well-known content analyses of German actions and reactions before the outbreak of World War I made by R. C. North and his colleagues.

40 See footnote 5.

41 Thus, Norwegians would be most surprised and indignant if they heard that the Lapps had been influential enough to marshal nations into a boycott of Norway because of discriminatory practices. They would be less surprised, perhaps, but equally indignant if certain attitudes expressed at the UNCTAD conferences about Norwegian shipping policies crystallized into boycott actions.

42 Shipping is of course also a “crop,” putting a nation like Norway in the same position as many developing, raw-material-exporting countries where vulnerability is concerned.

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