The many ruts US got itself stuck in; sanctions, air power included
Foreign Policy columnist, Stephen Walt, highlights the failures of the US foreign policy and how "familiar approaches" lead to more damage than good.
In a report on Foreign Policy, columnist Stephan Walt discussed what he describes as the "several ruts that American policymakers are currently stuck in," with a close eye on the US foreign policy failures.
Walt believes that countries like the United States, which are rich and powerful, have the power to do the same things over and over without facing severe consequences. Based on that, he elaborates that "sometimes familiar approaches are so deeply entrenched that they become almost reflexive," further explaining that there are four main "rinse-and-repeat" responses.
'Bombing' their way to 'victory' is not the way
Walt questioned the US' recurring strategy to "bomb" their way to "democracy". He explained that for over a century, "air-power advocates have claimed that it could be used to punish opponents and get them to say uncle," detailing that the United States, "Israel", Russia, and other nations, enjoying "near-impunity" in certain regions like Gaza, Ukraine, or Yemen, persist in the belief that deploying airstrikes, drone attacks, or cruise missiles will compel their opponents to comply with their demands. But he suggested, citing Robert Pape, that "air power is rarely, if ever, an effective coercive tool."
On that note, he cited the current Israeli aggression campaign on the Gaza Strip as an example to demonstrate how using bombs did not push any party on either front to surrender to the Israeli occupation. The aim to stop Hezbollah and eliminate Hamas failed because using bombs only motivated them to be more resilient and "strengthened their resolve."
Another example is that neither Saudi Arabia's aggression on Yemen nor Russia's operation in Ukraine has succeeded in compelling the Yemenis or Kiev to surrender.
Why is air power inefficient?
As stated before, despite advancements in yield, accuracy, and surveillance, conventional air power alone "cannot bring a society to its knees and force it to comply." With a closer look at Gaza, he maintained that the densely populated enclave can be easily bombed by "Israel", but till now, the occupation has failed to eliminate Hamas - its ultimate objective.
That said, the second reason for air power being inefficient is the reaction to the bombing attacks and campaigns. At a time when the Israeli occupation uncontrollably bombs every part of Gaza - killing children and women - a "spirit of resistance and a desire for revenge" is planted inside them.
Why is it always about 'restoring deterrence'?
Simply put, Walt explained that when powerful countries resort to force against an adversary for actions they disapprove of, officials frequently justify their actions by stating that they aim to "restore deterrence".
As he stated, Israeli officials have consistently cited this objective on multiple occasions, most recently in response to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood launched by the Palestinian Resistance. Similarly, US politicians often invoke the need to "restore deterrence" against Iran, Russia, the Yemenis, or whoever "refuses" to be a US puppet.
Nevertheless, he contended that if a nation consistently needs to reinstate deterrence, it should contemplate the likelihood that its responses are not achieving the "desired outcome". He further suggested that the requirement to persistently penalize someone to restore deterrence indicates that previous actions have not succeeded in influencing their assessment.
To impose influence, he suggested that "states whose deterrent threats keep failing should ask themselves if there’s some other way to reduce the opponent’s motivation to challenge the status quo."
Can the US finally acknowledge that the DPRK won’t give up its nukes?
Moving forward, Walt suggested that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) poses a "complex challenge" for South Korea, the United States, and "occasionally even its Chinese ally." Various US administrations have found themselves compelled to allocate more attention to Pyongyang than they may have preferred, with a significant portion of their apprehension centered on the nuclear program.
Nonetheless, Walt elaborated that the "denuclearization" of the DPRK remains the primary policy objective of the United States. In essence, the United States is officially dedicated to an "unattainable goal", which inevitably limits efforts to create a more pragmatic approach to address this issue.
US 'over-exploitation' of sanctions
Meanwhile, the US is widely known for its quick decision-making when it comes to spitting sanctions on states and officials wherever its hands can reach and Walt agrees with that. He explained that "whenever US policymakers are mad at someone and want to do something, their first recourse is to freeze some foreign assets, restrict trade, deny the enemy access to global financial markets, or limit some foreign official’s ability to travel."
Based on that, he believes that sanctions have become the default strategy when resorting to force is not feasible, even though it is widely acknowledged that they will not influence the target's behavior in any way.
Efficiency of sanctions
Walt explained that similar to air power, well-structured sanctions can assist a country in "achieving certain foreign policy objectives." In times of war, "embargoes and other forms of sanctions can weaken an adversary and reduce its ability to fight, though they rarely have decisive effects and certainly do not work quickly," he stressed, adding that the prospect of future sanctions may dissuade some targets from taking certain actions. However, in the event that they go ahead and defy the threat of sanctions, this suggests that they foresaw the pressure and were prepared for the consequences.
On that note, he suggested that sanctions are typically "too slow and too easily evaded" to prompt determined adversaries to change their behavior. However, "US policymakers persist in applying them without bothering to consider if they will work."
US 'democracy' has no democracy
As stated, it is clear that the United States has multiple mechanisms to pressure other states and parties, but the question here is - what happens at the first sign of trouble?
Walt suggested that in such a case, the United States is willing to use all its tools of pressure to reach the desired outcome, which is by deciding what others should and should not do. However, he stressed that this approach is not bound to work because "we are usually asking others to make substantial concessions and because bringing pressure to bear gives adversaries even more reason to resist us."
He maintained that the overreliance on the US' tools and the stubbornness to reach what could be an "unreachable objective" have become obstacles to US foreign policy, suggesting that "instead of convincing others to do what we want with minimal recourse to threats and pressure—which is the primary task of diplomacy—Washington hopes that its toolbox of coercive instruments will allow it to get its way without having to compromise much, if at all."
By highlighting the US approach to things, he stressed that it's easier to impose power instead of "diplomatically" dealing with the situation. However, he argued that "this take-it-or-leave-it approach gives adversaries little reason to cut a deal and even less reason to stick to whatever deal we might be able to impose on them."