Episode 15. Joy Gordon on Iraq Sanctions

The United States has faced an uphill battle this summer in its attempts to impose international sanctions on Iran and North Korea. In this episode of Public Ethics Radio, we consider why it might not be such a bad thing that sanctions are difficult to impose. Our guest is Joy Gordon, whose new book on the Iraq sanctions regime describes a superpower run amok. The international sanctions on Iraq were the strictest ever imposed. The tremendous damage that ensued set the stage for the devastated country we see today.

Joy Gordon is Professor of Political Philosophy at Fairfield University and a Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Global Justice Program. Her book about the Iraq sanctions regime is Invisible War. Her work on sanctions has also appeared in Harper’s and Ethics & International Affairs.

Click here to download the episode (39:23, 19 mb, MP3), or click on the online media player below. You can also download the transcript.


The UN Security Council resolutions establishing the sanctions regime are 661 (establishing the initial regime in August 1990) and 687 (extending it after the Gulf War ended). The full quote from 661 is as follows:

All States shall prevent: … The sale or supply by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels of any commodities or products, including weapons or any other military equipment, whether or not originating in their territories but not including supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs, to any person or body in Iraq or Kuwait or to any person or body for the purposes of any business carried on in or operated from Iraq or Kuwait, and any activities by their nationals or in their territories which promote or are calculated to promote such sale or supply of such commodities or products.

The figure of 500,000 Iraqi children dead due to sanctions is widely cited, but not without controversy. Gordon documents the debate in an extensive endnote in Invisible War (p. 255, n. 82).

Electricity is a major point of contention in present-day Iraq. A recent New York Times article describes the power shortages in Baghdad and elsewhere. Protests over electricity in Basra turned deadly in June, forcing the resignation of the electricity minister.

Gordon mentions “deontological” theories. For nonphilosophers, these are rule-based theories; Kant is their most famous proponent.

The website of the 661 Committee is, surprisingly, still online.

The term “P5” refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

The postive study of sanctions Gordon refers to is Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Kimberly Ann Elliott, Barbara Oegg, eds., Economic Sanctions Reconsidered (Washington, D.C.: Peterson Institute, 2007), currently in its third edition.

Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist, wrote about sanctions in “Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work,” International Security 22, no. 2 (1997).

Gordon refers to the potential deal between Iran, Brazil and Turkey. The deal would have “Iran send 1,200 kilogrammes … of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for 20 percent high-enriched uranium to be supplied by Russia and France at a later date.”


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2 responses to “Episode 15. Joy Gordon on Iraq Sanctions

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