Sanctions, imperialist substitute for military power

Sanction is an old weapon. Warring parties are using the weapon since ages. Today, Lords of the World, the Empire, almost rampantly use this weapon – sanction – to further its geopolitical strategy.

Sanctions as War Anti Imperialist Perspectives on American Geo Economic Strategy

“[T]he US”, write Stuart Davis and Immanuel Ness, “has depended increasingly on economic, political and cultural hegemony as partial substitutes for military power through the application of economic sanctions.” (“Introduction: Why Are Economic Sanctions a Form of War?” in Sanctions as War Anti-Imperialist Perspectives on American Geo-Economic Strategy) Stuart, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Baruch College, the City University of New York, and Immanuel, Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York and Visiting Professor of Sociology at University of Johannesburg, elaborate US-imposed sanctions: “These sanctions generally work to punish states that did not conform to its will or pose a potential competitive threat on a regional or global basis. Furthermore, these sanctions have often been levelled at states that challenged global neoliberalism, the world economic system imposed by the US and its Western European partners.” (ibid.) They mention: “[E]conomic sanctions are […] increasingly extended to include entire populations of nations. […] the US has augmented sanctions by banning all third parties from engaging in economic activities with designated countries. As a result, economic sanctions in effect punish entire populations of nation states.” (ibid.)  Stuart and Immanuel explain, in short, the US-tact with sanction: “[T]he US and its allies have applied economic sanctions as a means to foment dissent in hopes of destabilizing leaders and governing parties (often referred to in the parlance as ‘regimes’) and often to overthrow and oust them from power and [empower] political leaders who are supportive of US policies. Often the US and its allies support NGOs as well as form oppositional organizations and political fronts to confront governments it opposes. If countries are enduring major recessions and economic collapse, these groups are instrumental in selecting opposition leaders and parties. This is a reason why economic sanctions are a vital aspect of imperialism and inter-imperialist rivalries.” This fact of sanction is evident in Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and other countries.

The book – Sanctions as War Anti-Imperialist Perspectives on American Geo-Economic Strategy – edited by Stuart Davis and Immanuel Ness “examines the cause and effects of sanctions.” It explores “the use of economic sanctions by the US as an integral part of the growing inter-imperialist rivalry, the NGOs and imperialist government organizations which sustain sanctions, the legitimation of sanctions through the media, and the devastating effects of economic sanctions.” Cuba, Venezuela and Iran are examples devastating effects of economic sanctions. Ultimately, peoples in these lands bear devastating effects of sanctions. It should be mentioned that during the last pandemic, Cuba was waging a successful fight against the dreaded pandemic. The geographically small island-country was extending, as solidarity with peoples in other countries including advanced bourgeois economies in Europe, assistance in the fight against the pandemic. These assistance included physicians and medical aid. The revolutionary country was among the first to find out and produce effective vaccines to fight out the novel corona virus. Those vaccines, in huge quantity, were handed over to other countries. At that time, such vaccines were urgently needed by millions of human beings. But, imperialism had other logic, absurd in human view; and, that was, in functional term, sanctions. This draconian sanction impeded Cuba to import medical supplies required for producing the vaccines. Even Cuba’s importing of very primary medical products like gloves facemasks, COVID-19 diagnostic kits and ventilators was obstructed. Sanctions are so scary that air cargo companies denied carrying of medical supplies to Cuba despite assuring the companies that the supplies were beyond sanctions. The companies feared they could face punitive measures for violating some article of the sanctions unknown to them. The blockade prevented Cuba from purchasing medicines from US firms. (Farooque Chowdhury, “Undaunted Cuba defies the Empire and extends hands of solidarity to continents, Countercurrents, 17/04/2020,; also, AP, “Cuba: US embargo blocks coronavirus aid shipment from Asia”, April 4, 2020; and Walkiria Juanes and Sánchez Ronald Suárez Rivas, “U.S. company buys ventilator supplier and cancels shipments to Cuba citing blockade”, Granma, April 13, 2020) US sanctions take heavy toll from Cuba while Cuba always stands by the distressed people in countries. The Cuban Health Ministry lost $160 million between April 2019 and March 2020 due to the sanctions, $60 million more than the year prior. (Farooque Chowdhury, op. cit.) Due to sanctions, Venezuela is pressed to a failure; and that is with producing oil. The country having a huge hydrocarbon reserve faces failure to produce oil. This failure is caused by the success of years of imperialist sanction imposed on the Latin American country.

At one end of using this powerful weapon – sanctions – is the people in sanctioned country that pay the price, which is not small, but devastating. The devastating effect is borne not only by a single country, but wider human comity – peoples in countries. “The editors” of the book, published in paperback in 2023 by Haymarket Books ( “consider sanctions as harming entire nations, not just those purportedly harboring weapons of mass destruction or violating human rights. Ordinary citizens, especially the working class and those most vulnerable to economic deprivation, inevitably bear the weight of the damage. Sanctions create scarcity of essential goods and services, like food, oil, medicine, and spare parts for power stations which provide electricity. By preventing trade, national currencies lose their value, leading to hyperinflation, which fuels speculation, hoarding, and protracted shortages of essential goods and services. The economic contraction produced by sanctions generates famine, disease, unemployment, poverty, and foment civil strife. In this way, as an aspect of war, they resemble medieval sieges that starved out cities to compel surrender.” Stuart and Immanuel mention in this chapter (ch. I) the hard truth: Sanctions “resemble medieval sieges that starved out cities to compel surrender”. Economic-political interests of imperialism are so cruel!

In Sanctions as War Anti-Imperialist Perspectives on American Geo-Economic Strategy, first published in 2021 by Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands, Stuart and Immanuel inform: As of January 1, 2020, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has unilaterally imposed sanctions on the following countries: Belarus, Burundi, Central African Republic, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Somalia, Serbia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. To imperialism, these countries are “criminals”, “rouge states”. But, an objective analysis of the states mentioned above will find the Empire has either clash of interests, or, geopolitical/geostrategic/geotactical competition, or, there’s the Empire’s long-term plan to subjugate the country in order to exploit the country’s either natural or strategic resources/labor or geopolitical/geostrategic/geotactical location. In addition, a number of these countries including Cuba stand as an example of alternative approach to life, to political/governing system, and to dignity and honor of a people that obviously stand on a higher plane than the exploitative/imperialist system. It’s expected that Stuart, contributing articles in journals including Communication Theory, Communication Monographs, Information, Communication, & Society, and Digital Journalism, chapters in edited collections including most recently Political Communication in the Time of covid, and Immanuel, author of numerous books and articles on labor, workers’ movements, migration, and political economy, editor of the peer-review Journal of Labor and Society, will add some more countries in the above list in the book’s next edition, as the Empire is resorting to imposing more sanctions the more it finds itself in an atmosphere increasingly charged with forces hostile to the imperialist world order. The imperialist system’s sanctions are turning into a weapon enveloping all, as it’s found, in the case of sanctions imposed against Russia. The sanctions imposed on Russia spares none, other than pet animals. The sanctions include clients of capitalist banking system, and partners in trades and commerce within the imperialist world order.      

Immanuel, his recent publications include Organizing Insurgency: Workers’ Movements in the Global South and The Oxford Handbook of Economic Imperialism, and Stuart write: “While not exhaustive, this list of countries includes the poorest countries of the world which are unable to sustain the loss of trade and essential food and medicines. In many cases, sanctions also hinder the possibility of economic resuscitation as the US imposes sanctions on third-party states which engage in trade with countries on the Treasury Department list. Concomitantly, the vast majority of countries which are targeted by the US and its allies by sanctions are endowed with petroleum and strategic minerals and natural resources for new technology and military uses.” Here’s a few hard facts of sanctions imposed by imperialism are told: “poorest countries […] unable to sustain the loss of trade and essential food and medicines”, “sanctions […] hinder the possibility of economic resuscitation”. Imperialism’s brutal face is exposed, although, today, in the Global South, there are some friends of imperialism who shamelessly identify imperialism as “friend, philosopher, guide and patron of democracy worldwide”.

The social scientists add: “All in all, economic sanctions are a weapon wielded by the most powerful, the US and its allies in Western Europe and beyond, against the poor and weak in the poorest countries of the Global South.” This fact is impossible to ignore today. But, a few shameless souls, Guaidos in countries, befriend imperialism! To these unashamed guys, there’s nothing like interests of the poor and the poorest; there’s nothing like anti-imperialism. To these lieutenants of imperialists, imperialist interests “should” prevail everywhere.

In this “Introduction” chapter, Stuart and Immanuel cover issues like, 

  • Demystifying the role of sanctions within international governance: Moving beyond orthodox international relations theory.
  • Conceptual trend 1: Sanctions’ regimes as geo-economic games within a traditional international relations approach.
  • Conceptual trend 2: Opposition to sanctions on humanitarian grounds and the problem of criticism without structural critique.
  • US sanctions and American imperialism: Overlapping economic and geopolitical concerns in the waning American century.

The near-400-page book is with three parts:

Part 1: Theorizing and Situating Economic Sanctions in International Political Economy.

Part 2: Profiles of Sanctioned Nation-States.

Part 3: Resistance to Economic Sanctions and Economic Sanctions as Resistance.

The book’s contributors include Dr. Shireen Al-Adeimi, assistant professor of language and literacy at Michigan State University’s College of Education, Tim Beal, a retired New Zealand academic who has written extensively on Asia, particularly on Northeast Asia and US imperialism, Renate Bridenthal, Emerita Professor of History, Brooklyn College, The City University of New York, Jesse Bucher, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Studying Structures of Race at Roanoke College, Gregory Elich, a Korea Policy Institute associate and a board member of the Jasenovac Research Institute.

The imperialist weapon – sanction – raises fundamental questions: “Who shall use resources for what purpose with what motive, and who is to be served – people or profiteers? The bosses shall never attend to the questions. They’ll shy away from the questions as they’re dignified gentlemen, and get busy with selling their ideas for loot. Then, people have to attend to the question – whether life or death, whether a humane world where life thrives or a world where negligence to issues critical for life and love for greed […]” stands arrogantly? (Farooque Chowdhury, op. cit.)

The book from Haymarket Books is essential for studies on sanctions, today’s geopolitics and imperialism, as it covers related aspects.

Sanctions as War, Anti-Imperialist Perspectives on American Geo-Economic Strategy

Editors: Stuart Davis & Immanuel Ness

Published in paperback in 2023 by Haymarket Books

P.O. Box 180165 Chicago, IL 60618, USA


First published in 2021 by Brill Academic Publishers,

Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands

Note: This article is 1st part of a three-part series introducing the book on sanctions.

 Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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