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Blockades: Determining Effectiveness
CSC 1995
Subject Area - Warfighting
TITLE: Blockades: Determining Effectiveness 
AUTHOR: Lieutenant Commander C. Troedson, United States Navy 
THESIS: Since the decade of the l98O's, blockades have become an 
increasingly important weapon of diplomacy in coercing belligerent 
nations to accept U.S. or international policy. There are many 
considerations the blockading nation must address if success is to 
be achieved. The success of the blockade is not always obvious and 
is difficult to determine for several reasons. 
BACKGROUND: As the most powerful Navy in the world, the US Navy 
has been called upon on numerous occasions in the last two decades 
to conduct naval blockades. While the Navy is quite capable of 
performing the operation there are several key factors which 
planners must consider which will promote success. Is the effort 
supported both nationally and internationally? Is control of air, 
land, and sea routes possible? What are the desired results and 
are they achievable through blockade alone? Is the blockaded 
nation vulnerable to the blockade. Is the hardship that the 
blockade will inflict on non-combatants justified by the expected 
results? Blockades are not effective against all countries and a 
blanket policy of imposing one for every crisis is wrong. The 
blockades imposed upon Iraq and Haiti will be evaluated based upon 
these tenets. 
RECOMMENDATIONS: The same attention placed upon proper planning for 
the air, land and sea battle needs to be applied when considering 
imposition of a naval blockade. Determinations need to be made 
upfront concerning the goal and expected impact the blockade will 
have for the targeted country. To impose an economic blockade 
blindly without considering the economic and political situation of 
the blockaded nation may result in failure to achieve the desired 
	A blockade cannot be classified as a surgical strike or 
even as a smart weapon. For these reasons the effectiveness 
and required precision of the naval blockade or embargo in 
achieving the desired endstate is questioned in both the 
planning phase and, with increased vigor, months after being 
placed in position. Answers to these questions are elusive 
and are yet to be decided for the naval blockades the United 
States participated in during the Reagan, Bush, and now 
Clinton administrations. There are many factors a blockading 
force must consider and which, when applied, contribute to the 
success of the blockade. Several of these key factors will be 
used in analyzing the apparently successful naval blockade 
placed against Iraq compared to the questionable success of 
the Haitian blockade. In conclusion several intrinsic factors 
contributing to the questionable effectiveness of blockades 
are addressed. 
	Economic pressure may be brought to bear on a belligerent 
in degrees, ranging from restricting specific commodities as 
with an embargo or sanctions to full fledged air and sea 
blockade of all trade. 
	"An embargo is generally an order by a government to 
forbid ships to enter or leave its ports and is issued with 
the intent of imposing legal restriction, hindrance or 
restraint on commerce." 1 An embargo involves domestic 
prohibition of trade, total or specific, with a belligerent 
country. Most often an embargo is placed on arms, munitions, 
and materials of war. 
	An embargo does not necessarily include naval or air 
power for enforcement, but a show of naval force may be 
required to ensure observance. An embargo may simply rely 
upon collective monitoring of shipping manifests to track 
prohibited cargoes. Detention in port, with confiscation of 
vessels and cargo found to be in violation of the embargo is 
legal under international law. 
	A blockade can be considered an act of war or an act 
short of war and comes in different forms. It can be 
offensive or defensive, near (tactical) or distant 
	An offensive blockade is directed toward physically 
denying the movement of commodities to or from the belligerent 
nation. The offensive blockade provides strategic leverage 
for negotiation of disputes by inflicting hardship and 
inconvenience which weaken the belligerent resolve and works 
in partnership with a military offensive by cutting off the 
supply of materials and revenue necessary for continued 
conduct of war. The naval blockade imposed against Iraq by 
the United Nations following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on 02 
August l990 is an example of an offensive blockade. 
	The defensive blockade is a protective measure 
established in order to prevent the movement of unwanted 
commodities, contraband, or enemy personnel into that nation's 
territory or to prevent enemy warships from going to sea where 
they would present a threat to friendly shipping. The 
introduction of air and naval forces in the "War on Drugs," 
though not sufficient in numbers to be totally effective, is 
an attempt to form a defensive blockade to prevent the flow of 
illegal drugs into the United States. 
	The near blockade, off the coast or outside the port of 
the enemy was popular when weapons were limited in range and 
the only threat was coastal artillery. In the near blockade 
enemy activity could be monitored full time. With the advent 
of mines, torpedoes, and missiles the use of the near blockade 
became too dangerous and costly to use. 
The distant blockade, established farther beyond the 
enemy's coast, became the method of choice by necessity. 
Today, new technologies such as radar and radio communications 
make distant blockades nearly as effective as near blockades 
once were. 
	The term "sanction" covers , in a broad sense, those 
devices that are used to enforce or induce adherence to 
international law and the laws of war.2  As  such the naval 
blockade and the embargo are both devices which fall under the 
category of sanction. 
	Only because it is often misused one final term deserving 
of clarification is quarantine. This term is often wrongly 
used to identify a forceful means of trade warfare similar to 
blockade. The label quarantine is used with the intent of 
identifying a belligerent action with a non-belligerent label, 
for example President Kennedy's Cuban Quarantine. 
Used correctly, quarantine is the practice of restricting 
the movement of passengers and cargo into a country to prevent 
the introduction of animal and plant diseases. Quarantines 
are enforced in port by inspectors who review manifests and 
inspect cargo searching for banned or infected plant and 
animal products. Any items found in violation can be seized 
for destruction or turned away. Establishing and maintaining 
a naval blockade requires significant naval power and long 
term dedication. Public opinion, both nationally and 
internationally, is required if a blockading nation is to 
successfully implement and maintain a blockade. The burden of 
unilateral enforcement was removed from the United States 
early in the case of Iraq versus the international community. 
Internationally reaction to Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 
02, l990 was swift. The United Nations, on the day of the 
invasion, passed Resolution 660 by unanimous vote demanding 
Iraq withdraw immediately from Kuwait. Various nations took 
independent action freezing Iraqi and Kuwaiti assets, halting 
arms shipments, and imposing a boycott of oil imports from 
both Iraq and Kuwait. 
			On August 06, l990 the U.N. Security 
			Council, acting under Chapter VII of the 
			U.N.Charter, voted l3-0 (Cuba and Yemen 
			abstaining) to require all member states 
			to prevent the import of "all commodities 
			and products originating in Iraq or 
			Kuwait exported therefrom after the date 
			of the present resolution. "(Resolution 
			66l) The Resolution also prohibited any 
			transfer of funds to Iraq or Kuwait, and 
			prohibited the sale or supply of any 
			commodities or products (excluding 
			medical supplies and, in humanitarian 
			circumstances, foodstuffs) to Iraq or 
	Actual enforcement of UN Resolution 661 with ships from 
l3 nations began on August l7, l990, with an interception in 
the Red Sea by the USS John L. Hall (FFG 32) of the Iraqi oil 
tanker Al Fao. Maritime Interception Operations continue to 
this day in support of UN Resolutions against Iraq with a 
weakening of determination appearing among various countries. 
France and Russia are pressuring to ease the blockade and 
allow trade to resume with Iraq while the United States, 
sympathetic toward a nation considered important to the 
Mideast peace process, has quietly ignored recent Jordanian 
violations of the blockade. 
	In the case of Haiti neither national or international 
support came willingly. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was 
overthrown by a military coup in August l99l. The United 
States promptly backed the Organization of American States 
call for an economic embargo by initiating weak bilateral 
trade sanctions against Haiti which were not strictly 
enforced. Contradictory signals from both the Bush and 
Clinton administrations contributed to the hesitancy of the 
international community in responding to the situation. 
	With rare exception the economic blockade against Iraq 
has been effective in isolating Iraq from international trade, 
reaching nearly 100 percent effectiveness during the Gulf War. 
Continuation of this success is possible only through near 
total control of the land, sea and air routes which blockade 
runners must use. The main effort against Iraq takes place in 
the North Red Sea targetted against ships bound for Aqaba, 
Jordan, which shares a land border with Iraq. Leaks to the 
embargo occur primarily through smuggling across this border 
between Jordan and Iraq. Despite violations receiving high 
level attention, with pressure being applied on Jordan to 
support the blockade, the violations continue allowing Iraq to 
rebuild its defensive and offensive capabilities. 
	The chokepoint between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, 
as well as deep navigable water, are factors which benefit the 
interception ships. Interception ships are able to closely 
monitor and block the chokepoint and the deep water allows 
pursuit of shallow draft blockade runners. Any vessel stating 
her destination as Aqaba is boarded and searched to ensure 
that no cargo is manifested for delivery to Iraq. 
	Enforcement of the U.N. embargo against Haiti was not as 
vigorously pursued as the embargo against Iraq. The primary 
reason for this being lack of national support in the U.S. 
which was the predominant naval force available for 
			In dramatic contrast to the strict 
			enforcement of sanctions against Iraq, in 
			which U.S. naval vessels aggressively 
			intercepted and boarded ships, three oil 
			tankers reportedly managed to slip into 
			Haiti, providing fuel to keep the 
			military machine going. Haitian 
			parliamentarians also complained to the 
			U.S. Congress that a steady flow of 
			supply planes were landing at Port-au- 
			Prince airport each night. . .The United 
			States quickly abandoned the pretense, 
			announcing on February 4 that the embargo 
			would be relaxed for U.S. companies 
			running assembly plants that employ cheap 
			labor in Haiti.4 
	Added to the apparent policy weakness which hampered 
warships in stopping these large blockade running ships the 
jagged coast line with its restricted waters in which the 
large warships were unable to maneuver benefitted the blockade 
runners with smaller, shallow draft vessels. 
			That leaves the jagged shoreline to 
			"coast- huggers," wildcat fuel runners 
			who use the cover of darkness to spirit 
			drums of gas and diesel into Haiti's 
			biggest harbors. Together with small 
			tankers operating out of Venezuela 
			and Panama, which do not observe the 
			embargo, the armada of smugglers have 
			managed to deliver so much contraband 
			fuel that hustlers have set up a bustling 
			business along "gasoline alley" in Port 
			au-Prince. 5 
	Not only did the air and naval enforcement of the embargo 
prove ineffective but strong trade across the border with the 
Dominican Republic continued with an estimated 10,000 Haitians 
daily crossing to buy fuel to be sold on the black market. 
The ineffectiveness of the blockade was significant in that 
the Haitian leadership continued to function despite the 
sanctions and was further emboldened in its defiance of the 
international community. 
	As seen in Haiti, a naval blockade by itself is usually 
ineffective in obtaining the desired results. The successful 
naval blockade relies heavily upon operations being 
simultaneously conducted ashore. These operations may include 
actual invasion by ground forces, an aerial bombing campaign, 
or simply the believable threat of such invasion or attack. 
	The show of force demonstrated by the introduction of 
U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia on l4 August l990 and the 
blockade which began on l7 August l990 failed to impress 
Saddam Hussein. He obviously felt time was on his side and 
expected a weakening of wills with gradual acquiescence from 
the world community over the Iraqi seizure of Kuwait. Through 
economic sanctions the international body hoped to convince 
Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. In order to maintain the non 
violent posturing, President Bush, though prepared to use the 
U.S. Navy to enforce these sanctions, avoided describing the 
sanctions as a blockade. Saddam Hussein rejected United 
Nations ultimatums to withdraw from Kuwait and the offensive 
to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait began on January l7, l99l. 
	Military leaders in Haiti were confident that the U.S. 
would not resort to military force for several reasons. 
First, the U.S., U.N., O.A.S. and even President Aristide were 
initially outspoken against the introduction of military 
forces. Secondly, repeated American threats and associated 
deadlines passed without enforcement. Finally, emboldened by 
their success in turning away the USS Harlan County, carrying 
American and Canadian military trainers as part of the 
Governors Island Accord, the Haitian military felt they could 
prolong the political conflict without any real threat from 
the United States. It was not until notification that U.S. 
Forces were enroute to forcefully remove them from power and 
reinstall the legitimate government in Haiti that agreement 
for a peaceful settlement was reached. 
	The greater a nations dependency upon sea trade the 
greater its vulnerability to coercion by naval blockade. Iraq 
depends upon sealift for export of its primary source of 
revenue, oil (30 million dollars per day), and for the import 
of the majority of its supplies, both military and domestic. 
The blockade resulted in ". . .Iraq los[ing] 90 percent of its 
imports, 100 percent of its exports, and had its gross 
national product cut in half."6  reduction of spare parts 
and equipment as well as beans, oil, and bullets brought 
Saddam's once mighty war machine to the brink of collapse. 
	An island nation the size of Maryland, Haiti is primarily 
an agrarian society, with 75 percent of the population relying 
upon small scale subsistence farming. Approximately 75 
percent of the population live in abject poverty with little 
to export and no money for significant imports. Haitians 
relied mostly upon sea transport to deliver humanitarian 
supplies and these were exempted from the embargo. Aside from 
demonstrating U.N. disapproval for the Haitian regime the 
economic blockade against impoverished Haiti had little merit. 
	What do the blockades against Iraq and Haiti have in 
common? There are several intrinsic features of a blockade 
which must be evaluated by the blockading nation. These 
features contribute to targetting inaccuracies and complicate 
measurement of blockade effectiveness. 
	There is little question that the blockade imposed 
against Iraq was successful in weakening the Iraqi military 
both materially and psychologically, contributing greatly to 
the shaping of the battlefield. Four years after the Gulf War 
and without the threat of military intervention to support it, 
the blockade has failed to achieve all the intended goals. On 
the other hand, no evidence can be found to indicate the 
blockade imposed against Haiti contributed in any measurable 
way to restoring the democratically elected president to 
	The length of time required for the blockades to pressure 
both Iraq and Haiti to comply with the dictates of the 
international community has not been determined. Iraq 
continues to defy the world despite continuance of the 
blockade, and Saddam Hussein remains firmly in power. Iraq 
has proven capable of rebuilding its military and repairing 
most wartime damage even with a blockade in place. The 
question that needs addressing is how long should the blockade 
remain in place even when its usefulness in achieving the 
desired endstate becomes questionable. 
			This pressure on Iraq, this barbarian 
			policy of starving a whole population 
			to force them into rebellion against 
			the regime, has the contrary effect 
			because it increases the dependence of 
			the people on this government. 
			Political change is too luxurious a 
			thought to indulge in if you are busy 
			just surviving.7
	The military leadership in Haiti would probably never 
have ceded control of the government because of hardships 
brought about by the naval blockade alone. How long could the 
United States expect the international community to support an 
unpopular blockade? Repressive regimes must have something 
personal to loose (or gain as in the case of Haiti) before 
they willingly surrender control of a nation. It was not until 
the introduction of military forces to physically remove them 
was initiated did the regime in Haiti finally capitulate. 
	Western nations tend to evaluate blockades based upon 
economic damage and hardship. Iraq and Haiti, being Third 
World nations, do not provide their citizens with a standard 
of living equivalent to even the poorest of Western nations. 
The general population is familiar with subsistence living and 
is unfamiliar with luxuries Westerners depend upon in their 
daily lives. The impact of a blockade is slow in developing 
even in industrial countries. The impact on Third World, 
under-developed nations is significantly less and may be of 
little consequence. 
	Neither Saddam Hussein of Iraq nor the military 
leadership in Haiti were particularly concerned with the 
welfare of the populace. The hardships endured by the general 
population were not shared equally by the leadership or the 
military, the designated targets of the blockade. Both the 
leadership and the military received priority in food, fuel, 
medicine in order to maintain their control of the countries. 
In the case of Iraq, ". . . the United States provided evidence 
that President Saddam Hussein was spending lavishly on his own 
comforts while millions of Iraqis lacked food and medicine. 
... the Iraqi leader has spent more than $500 million on dozens 
of opulent new palaces for the exclusive use of his family." 8
The target of the blockade, those in power, control who has 
money and food. The Iraqi government lives virtually 
unaffected by the blockade while the common Iraqi citizen 
lives in poverty, forced to sell family possessions to 
purchase basic necessities. 
	    In Haiti the leadership and elite actually benefitted 
from the blockade. 
		The handful of wealthy families who 
		directly or indirectly support the 
		junta maintain their near monopolies 
		on items exempted from the blockade, 
		such as cooking oil, rice, and sugar--
 		and are profiting handsomely. . .black 
	 	marketeers slapped an $11 charge on 
		every case of supplies. Canned milk, 
		a substitute for nonexistent fresh milk, 
		has doubled in price. The poor people 
		can't afford it. . .Everything is for the 
		rich first. 9
	Stories of hardship and death were used as political 
weapons by the leaders in both Iraq and Haiti. "In fact, the 
military is counting on headlines about rising malnutrition 
and disease to weaken the international community's resolve."10 
	A naval blockade is a two edged-sword, injurious to 
combatants and non-combatants alike. The simple act of 
declaring an economic blockade has significant impact on 
shippers to that area of the world and to other countries. 
In the Red Sea boardings did not take place after sunset as a 
safety issue. Any merchant that could not be boarded and 
inspected prior to sunset was not allowed to proceed and was 
required to lay to until the next morning. The cost of the 
delay runs into the tens of thousands of dollars a shipper 
loses in operational costs while sitting at anchor unable to 
deliver the cargo. Further, there is an increased danger of 
sailing into what may be considered a war zone and the 
possibility of increased insurance premiums. The incentive to 
conduct shipping within the blockade area is greatly reduced 
and many shippers are financially forced to avoid the area of 
	Again using the North Red Sea interdiction effort as an 
example, trade to Jordan and Israel were significantly reduced 
by the naval blockade against Iraq. Indeed, "
losses [were] incurred by Jordan as a result of delays caused
by a US--led Naval force...Jordanian losses are estimated at
more than 1.4 billion since the sanctions were applied against
Iraq in August 1990."11  Other nations, Russia, France, China,
and Turkey were also big trading partners with Iraq and would 
like to see an end to the blockade and resumption of trade
with Iraq.
	This reduction in shipping also has an impact on the non-
combatants within belligerent country.  Even though food 
and medicine may be exempted from the embargo, the reduced
shipping in general reduces available foodstuffs and medicine
into the blockaded country.
	In both Haiti and Iraq, the blockades impacted the lives
of the non-combatants more than the intended targets.  This is
an unavoidable occurence with the economic blockade.  The
question that must be answered in the planning stages must be
whether set goals are achievable and whether the suffering
inflicted upon unintended victims is justified by the results.
In the case of Iraq the initial results, cutting off war
materials to Hussein, appear to support the blockade.
Continuation of the blockade alone to pressure Iraq to abide
by remaining United Nations Resolutions is questionable.
	In the case of Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas
with a small and ill equipped military, the naval blockade
succeeded only in demonstrating the international communities
opposition to the Haitian regime.  The aim of pressuring the
regime to surrender power was not achievable through economic 
pressure alone. 
	For an economic blockade to be effective each case must 
be viewed individually, taking into consideration the aim to 
be achieved and the situation both politically and 
economically for that specific nation. The questions that 
bear answering are will the blockade impact its target and is 
the collateral damage to the civilian population acceptable? 
	1. Naval Warfare Publication 10, Warfare Naval 
Warfare College, Newport, RI. 03 March l972, p 2-9. 
	2. Naval Warfare Publication 10. 
	3. CDR Jane Gilliland Dalton, JAGC, "The Influence of 
Law on Seapower in Desert Shield/Desert Storm," Naval Law 
Review Vol 41, l993, p 30. 
	4. John Canham-Clyne, "Haiti After the Coup,"  World
Policy Journal Fall l994, p 350. 
	5. Kevin Fedarko, "To Have and To Have Not,"  06 
June l994, p 32. 
	6. General Norman Schwarzkopf, "A Tribute to the Navy- 
Marine Corps Team",  August l99l, p 44. 
7. Youssef M Ibrahim, "Baghdad's Burden", The New York 
Times 25 October l994, p Al. 
	8. Richard D. Lyons, "U.N Council Decides to Keep 
Economic Sanctions on Iraq", New York Times 15 November 
l994, p A6. 
	9. Fedarko, p 32. 
	10. Fedarko, p 33. 
	11. Lamis Andoni, "US Lifts Red Sea Blockade In Peace 
Gesture to Jordan", Christian Science Monitor 27 April l994, 
p 3. 
1. Andoni, Lamis. "US Lifts Red Sea Blockade In Peace Gesture 
to Jordan".  Christian  Science Monitor, 27 April l994 ,p 3. 
2. Canham-Clyne, John. "Haiti After the Coup". World Policy 
Journal FALL l994, pgs 348-364. An interview with Haitian 
ambassador to the United States, Jean Casimir. 
3. Gilliland Dalton, CDR, JAGC. "The Influence of Law on 
Seapower in Desert Shield/Desert Storm". Naval Law Review Vol 
4l, l993, pgs 27-82. 
4. Fedarko, Kevin. "To Have and To Have Not." Time 06 June 
l994, pgs 32-33. 
5. Ibrahim, Youssef. "Baghdad's Burden." The  New York 
Times, 25 October l994, pgs A1 - A12. 
6. Lyons, Richard. "U.N. Council Decides to Keep Economic 
Sanctions on Iraq." The New York Times, l5 November l994, p 
7. Naval Warfare Publication 10, Naval Warfare. Naval War 
College, Newport, RI, 03 March l972, pg 2-9 
8. Schwarzkopf, Norman, GEN. "A Tribute to the Navy-Marine 
Corps Team."  Proceedings, August l99l, 44. Speech presented 
to the Naval Academy Class of l99l.

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