Bombs versus starvation: the humanitarian case agains “peace”

My friend David Boyum asks a good question; I invite my anti-war readers, including anti-war bloggers, to provide answers. If the alternative to war is continued sanctions, and if sanctions (and the Iraqi government’s response to them) are killing about 90,000 Iraqi children per year — which would come to roughly 1 million in the twelve years since their adoption — in what sense is war a more violent option than continued sanctions? (Other relevant UNICEF documents here and here.)

Yes, the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad will kill innocent civilians; so do the sanctions. What reason is there to think that, if we eschew an invasion now, the sanctions will end before killing a larger number of people than will die as a result of the fighting? Or is starving children to death, or causing them to die of disease, somehow less violent than dropping bombs? Or is the distinction that the deaths due to sanctions are proximately the result of Iraqi government actions, keeping our hands clean, while the deaths due to invasion will be proximately the results of the bombs we drop?

Some — perhaps many — in the “peace” camp want to abandon sanctions, too. But that clearly isn’t going to happen, and of course hundreds of thousands of people weren’t marching in New York and London and Rome to protest the sanctions regime.

Now of course concern about Iraqi casualties isn’t the only reason to oppose war. You could be against war because you think it won’t serve our foreign policy goals, or because you think it would destabilize the Middle East and increase tensions between Muslims and Christians, or between Muslims and the liberal democracies, or because you think it would decrease, rather than increasing, the prospects for democratization in the Islamic world, or because American soldiers will die, or even because it will cost a lot of money. But it’s worth bearing in mind that sanctions, like war, are not healthy for children and other living things.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner notes that (1) he made this point a long time ago and (2) 25,000 per month is probably closer to the truth than 90,000 a month.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: