Reasons For Restraining The Economic Weapon

By Michael Youhana

In March, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine published a widely read and lengthy critique of dovish policies promoted by the Democratic Socialists of America in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Levitz’s sprawling challenge to the DSA’s proposals is thoughtful, and merits a rebuttal from those who support a more measured response to Russia’s war of aggression than the bellicose strategy adopted by the Biden administration. 

I am not offering a comprehensive rejoinder to the piece in this essay. Rather, I aim to reply to a specific question posed by Levitz: How can the DSA “reconcile its moralistic objections to sanctions against Russia with its support for” the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel? The question is generative. It requires the identification of a universal standard for justifiable sanctions in response to international crimes, and an evaluation of the ongoing and proposed economic penalties on Russia and Israel against that standard. 

So let us begin with a rough sketch of a universal sanctions standard: the only sanctions socialists (and everyone else) should support are those that 1) have the backing of the international community, and 2) are narrowly tailored so that their impacts fall primarily on culpable elites and militaries. We can call the first clause the “Legitimacy Clause,” and the second the “Distinction Clause.” While the sanctions on Russia fail on both counts, BDS more closely comports with the second principle. Let us consider each in turn.

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The Skripal Poisonings and the Chance To Build A Left Foreign Policy

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, has been one of the prime movers in exposing the corrupting influence of foreign money and Britain’s complicity in Russian crimes. His response to Tory PM Theresa May, (and even his more measured comments today) however, shows the limits of Corbyn’s foreign policy prowess as well as the general unease left politicians still have have in dealing with the confluence of international relations and finance. Indeed by using the tools of financial sanctions against the corrupt and the dangerous, we can create a more equitable society while punishing Putin and his allies where they will feel it the most.

Theresa May announced this week that the UK would expel 23 Russian diplomats, identified as “undeclared intelligence officers” after the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. Provided after an ultimatum that drew only mocking and sarcasm from Russia’s foreign ministry, May went so far as to declare the use of the nerve agent Novichok (a weapon developed by the USSR in the 1970s and 80s) an “unlawful use of force.” Among other measures, May also announced that the UK would be increasing customs checks for private flights originating from Russia as well as a variety of other more pro forma measures. Continue reading “The Skripal Poisonings and the Chance To Build A Left Foreign Policy”