I'm generally opposed to the use of sanctions (see here for a brief excursus on sanctions against Israel). They are a blunt instrument which makes little distinction between those it affects and will inevitably fall harder on those already worse of. This was certainly the case in Iraq where Saddam suffered little discomfort while millions simultaneously faced malnutrition and found themselves reliant on his regime for food. Murray is clear, however, that he wishes to see a much more targetted regime focused only on cotton.
He points out that the cotton industry hardly functions in the interests of the average Uzbek as it is:
The Uzbek cotton industry is a disastrous aberration created by Soviet central planning. Over 80% of the loss of water from the Aral Sea is due to irrigation for the Uzbek cotton industry, so it is responsible for one of the World’s greatest environmental disasters. On most agricultural land in Uzbekistan, cotton has been grown as a monoculture for fifty years, with no rotation. This of course exhausts the soil and encourages pests. As a result the cotton industry employs massive quantities of pesticide and fertiliser. As a result it is not just that the Aral Sea is disappearing, but that and fertiliser.. The whole area of the former sea suffers appalling pollution, reflected in appalling levels of disease.He backs up his case by quoting from an International Crisis Group report and endorses it's recommendations. He is understandably dubious about the likelihood of Karimov implementing these proposals, however:
Uzbek farm workers are tied to the farm. They need a propusk (visa) to move away – which they won’t get. The state farm worker normally gets two dollars a month. Their living and nutritional standards would improve greatly if, rather than grow cotton, they had a little area to grow subsistence crops.
I am afraid to say that there is politically no chance at all that the Karimov regime would voluntarily go along with any of the key recommendations. Compulsion is needed to force change, and a boycott is the way to attain that.I think Murray is most likely right that with US-Uzbek relations beginning to sour, acheiving such a boycott is a real possibility. Given the situation in the country and the opportunities which it presents us with, my instinct is to support the call for sanctions. Nevertheless, it is important to monitor them closely. If they are implemented, but to no or only detrimental effect, than they should be dropped. We should not sacrifice Uzbek lives on the altar of institutional inertia.
The object of a cotton boycott would be not just to obtain reform of the cotton industry, but to attack the income of the Karimov elite and thus break up their political alliances. I should be quite open about this – action is needed to produce early political change in Uzbekistan.
Next question: how do we get from here (no sanctions) to there (effective sanctions) and thence to over there (no more Karimov)? Answers on the back of a postcard.