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On the books for some time: National Emergency With Respect to Syria

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Trade Security
Monday, 09 September 2013 10:33

Jason I. Poblete

syria pol 2007Whenever the United States announces that it may engage in foreign military activities, a discussion invariably ensues in this town regarding the use of economic sanctions. Opponents of military action tend to urge more aggressive use of them, while sanctions detractors will argue that they do not work. The current national debate as to whether or not to use military force in Syria to punish the Syrian government for the alleged use of chemical weapons is a good example of this back and forth. 

Economic sanctions are tools, not a policy. They can be part of a clearly articulated foreign policy, without it, they are not very effective. It should also go without saying, in order to yield results sanctions need to be robustly enforced, usually over a prolonged period of time. Once the target nation or person has committed an offending action, if allowed to continue to do so, economic sanctions tend to do little to deter the offending acitivities in the future.

One of the things I find most fascinating about the current national debate on the Syria matter is what we are not hearing. Absent from  most media reports, or for that matter during the Congressional debates last week, is a clear articulation of U.S. foreign policy toward Syria. Any use of weapons of mass destruction by any party to the Syrian civil war must be forcefully condemned; however, that is not a foreign policy goal. I think this is leading to a great deal of political confusion in the United States and internationally. 

Speaking with a senior diplomatic official from a European and NATO ally government late last week, it was evident that the President's announcement, and the ensuring Congressional debate, was missing something. There is not reason for it because, if folks cared to focus a bit, the United States has had a clear mission with respect to Syria for quite some time. A considerable chunk of U.S.-Syria has also been legislated and signed into law, as well as enforced through numerous Executive Orders and regulations. But no one is really talking about it in that manner. 

Pursuant to numerous laws, executive orders, and regulations, since 2004 the United States has maintained a national emergency with respect to Syria. The United States has done so for numerous reasons including Syria's involvement in global terrorism, the Lebanon occupation, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts to stabilize Iraq. You can read it more about here.

When you factor in that a NATO ally borders Syria, you can appreciate the complex legal and diplomatic equities at play. It is for these reasons that I did not think the President needed to request Congressional approval to engage in limited military operations in Syria. What he was really seeking was political cover. It could also be a caculated move to force a negotiation with the various interests in the region, including the Syrian government. Whatever the reason, we may never really know, economic sanctions have been in place for some time and will continue to be enforced. 

If you or your company does business in that part of the world, you should make sure that your compliance policies and procedures are up to date. Keeping your systems current with the latest U.S. government watch lists, as well as having a designated person in your company keep current with regional political developments, can help foster a compliance culture within your organization so that your team will be better prepared to manage complex transactions in a timely and efficient manner when they arise.

Economic sanctions are not going away anytime soon. If anything, this Syria matter reminds us that governments tend to increasingly use these foreign policy tools because they are efficient ways to exact certain behavior from target nations and persons. 


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