As Russia has invaded Ukraine we have been ever more increased sanctions with calls for further sanctions against Russia. It should not be understated that sanctions are not a passive action. They are designed to damage the economic welfare of another country and cannot avoid causing resentment and friction and retaliation. Sanctions are an aggressive act that fall short of war, but we should be under no illusions that all too often they result in warfare.
Originally “sanction” meant a law that had been sanctified by the Church and only later did it become a penalty for disobedience. Sanctions are hard to enforce without unity. For they fall short of war and it is illegal to blockade a country and prevent third party country’s supplying goods and services. If there is a unified approach to sanctions and they are effective they can leave the country subject to those sanctions no alternative but to go to war. In this way any country imposing sanctions does need to consider whether it would be prepared to back such measures up with armed force.
The results of sanctions are very hard to predict. One thing for certain is that both sides of the sanctions suffer. Trade is lost and offices close. Russia may seek trade elsewhere with China at the West’s expense. Or trade of goods or services provided from outside Russia is replaced by them being supplied within Russia’s borders.
We see a strong British government supporting sanctions and supply of arms to Ukraine. The principles may be sound. But we can be under no illusions that moral self-indulgence, no matter how just the cause, can be expensive. Germany and France are assessing that expense with a caution that does not bode well for Ukraine.
However, there may be a silver lining to Germany's reluctance as illustrated in the withdrawal of Maersk shipping from Russia - this one Company accounts for about one in four shipping containers throughout the world. It is a Company without any army or national identity. Yet it has more wealth and power than many countries in the world. It makes you think about where power lies.