The coronavirus exposes the foolishness of the U.S. sanctions policy

Viruses do not care about geopolitics, and they refuse to abide by US sanctions policy. Indeed, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease, has demonstrated that despite the United States’ best efforts to isolate them, sanctioned countries like Iran and North Korea remain as connected as ever to the rest of the world. Instead, sanctions have weakened their health care systems, making their populations more vulnerable to disease outbreaks and their governments less able to respond to the spreading virus.

The Covid-19 pandemic represents only the latest example of how policies intended to affect a single country are counterproductive in an interconnected world. US foreign policy has historically viewed specific countries or nonstate actors as threats and relied on the military to respond to such threats. But in the context of enhanced global interdependence, dangers are more complex, often threatening the entire system rather than any individual nation-state. The United States cannot bomb a virus, and an attitude of “America First” is sure to discourage the cooperation necessary to address a global pandemic.

The spread of the coronavirus demonstrates the extent to which existing approaches are inadequate to addressing planet-sized problems. Whereas North Korea illustrates that even the self-imposed exile pursued by the Kim Jong-un government cannot protect it from the spread of a global pandemic, the outbreak of the virus in Iran reveals both the ineffectiveness and myopia of using sanctions as a tool of foreign policy.

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