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Weekly Roundup: June 30, 2023


At the Blog

This week at the Blog, we wrapped up our symposium on Economic Sanctions and TWAIL, with three posts that examined the relationship between sanctions and the broader international economic order.

On Monday, Ntina Tzouvala argued that while humanitarian concerns have generally failed to bring about concrete legal limits on the use of sanctions, they have succeeded in something much more fundamental: they have legitimized the use of sanctions as a tool for undoing and re-assembling the sovereignty of a postcolonial state. Taking a closer look at the decision by the U.S. to freeze 7 billion USD of Afghanistan’s central bank assets, Tzouvala explains how the United States has justified its appropriation of the authority of another, nominally sovereign state by appealing to the humanitarian relief to Afghans. As she writes, “While roughly half of the frozen assets ($3.5 billion) are currently subject to claims by families of 9/11 victims in U.S. courts, the remaining assets were transferred to the Fund For the Afghan People account with the Bank of International Settlements (BIS),” over which the United States as an effective veto. “Humanitarian concerns have operated as an excuse for attempting to internationalize control of the monetary policy of a sovereign state and to disconnect this policy from other aspects of day-to-day governance, which are still performed by the Taliban. It is hard to see how such an arrangement is compatible with even the narrowest readings of the requirement that a political community exhibits a certain degree of independence and coherence in order to be a state under international law.”

On Wednesday, Eva Nanopoulos argued that to understand the contradictions in the legal concept of “peaceful sanctions,” we must attend to the material basis of the international legal order. Examining three key moments in the legal evolution of sanctions, Nanopoulos illustrates how changes, variations, and contradictions in the legal treatment of sanctions over time and across space were shaped by capitalist developments, imperial interests, inter-imperial rivalries, and anti-imperial resistance. For instance, reflecting on the rise of so-called “pacific blockades,” she writes, “some Western lawyers reacted with disdain: pacific blockade was ‘a contradiction in terms.’ But if the practice seemed ‘monstrous’ under a pre-twentieth-century international law comprising only ‘civilized’ nations, when it came to the West’s relationship with non-European states, objections to the idea of ‘peaceful’ sanctions quickly gave way.”

And on Thursday, Aslı Bâli concluded the symposium by examining how sanctions have primarily served as a way for Western powers to impose their preferences on weaker states. Looking back at an early debate between newly decolonized states and Western states over unequal treaties and coercion as a basis for treaty invalidation, Bâli explains how the resolution of that disagreement reflected and reinforced an international legal order that permits the use of economic coercion. As a result, over the past several decades, “the pattern of economically powerful states using material asymmetries to impose ad hoc and discretionary regimes to enforce their preferences, often clothed in the language of international norms or values, has exceeded even the dire warnings by Ghanaian statesman Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960s.” She notes, however, that with the dawn of a new multipolar age, the tides appear to be turning: “But today, as the asymmetries on which Western sanctions rely have begun to shift, the arguments in favor of such coercion are shifting too. The G-7 statements reflect the reality that economic coercion may no longer be a unidirectional practice of imposition by the Global North against states in the Global South. The return of economic coercion as a pressing agenda item for the G-7 rather than the G-77 suggests a turning of tables that also foreshadows the end of sanctions as we have known them in the post-Cold War era.”

In LPE Land

Last call: the final, final deadline for applications for our open Deputy Director position is this coming Wednesday, July 5, 2023. Apply! The life you save may be your own.

If you were unable to attend Money as a Democratic Medium 2.0, several of the sessions are available to view on video, including Saule Omarova’s keynote, the panel on Money and Empire, and the Roundtable on Credit Design & Community Development.

Over at our favorite podcast, Meredith Whittaker, Edward Ongweso Jr, and Sarah Myers West “crack open the AI hype machine that simultaneously promises salvation and warns of apocalypse, concealing a more mundane dystopia of labor domination, surveillance, and military-industrial profits.”

David Dayen explains why recent conservative howling about conflicts of interest at the FTC reveal copious amounts of projection.

In ProMarket, Brian Callaci dons his Albert O. Hirschman hat to argue that non-compete clauses stifle the important channels of communication between employees and businesses necessary for improving firm competitiveness.

Brian Highsmith reviews David Schleicher’s recent book, In a Bad State, on the policy tradeoffs that structure federal responses to local fiscal crisis.