By the time this journal is in its readers' hands, the American Congress may have been called upon to decide whether Uganda's coffee should be barred from entering the United States. Its decision will hold great importance for Uganda, for the United States, and for the international system. At stake will be the issue of whether or not the richest and most powerful of sovereign states is justified in using its economic power unilaterally to force the government of a smaller and weaker state to alter the way it treats its own subjects. The questions raised come cascading forward: Why should rich North Americans interfere in the internal affairs of a poor African state? How would that interference relate to other American interests and policies - in Africa and elsewhere? What is the larger significance for the international system of such use of an economic instrument - a coffee boycott - for a political purpose?


In any contemporary lexicon of horror, Uganda is synonymous with state-become-slaughterhouse. The most conservative estimates by informed observers hold that President Idi Amin Dada and the terror squads operating under his loose direction have killed 100,000 Ugandans in the seven years he has held power. Some estimates run as high as 300,000. Many victims have been guilty of nothing more than catching the eye of the killer - a shopkeeper with coveted goods, a Christian in a Muslim village, a civil servant who questions a command, a judge with foreign friends.

Other governments, in Africa and elsewhere, rule by terror and reward opposition by death; Equatorial Guinea and Cambodia would belong on any list, and there are more. But the scale of official murder in Uganda, its ferocious brutality, and its terrible capriciousness all place Idi Amin's Uganda in a category of its own in which the nearest analogues may be Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia. Just as South Africa is unique - an entire system of political and social repression resting on racial distinctions - so Uganda is also. Each, for different reasons, deserves international condemnation.

Thus far, however, Uganda has escaped the kind of censure exemplified by the U.N. Security Council's vote last November to impose a mandatory arms embargo on South Africa. The most notable act of international censure came at last summer's conference of Commonwealth heads of government when, in Idi Amin's absence, the meeting passed a resolution deploring human rights violations in Uganda. Previously, in March 1977, the U.N. Human Rights Commission - on which Uganda sits - shelved a proposal that it should conduct an investigation into Ugandan conditions. Early last December the five Nordic governments jointly sponsored a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Uganda. Immediately it aroused intense controversy within the U.N.'s 50-member African group, with some members even willing to support it. But the majority urged - and the Nordic sponsors agreed - that in exchange for a commitment that the Human Rights Commission would take up Uganda once again in March 1978, the resolution would not be publicly debated or pressed to a vote.

Not surprisingly, many Westerners contrast African governments' toleration of Uganda with their denunciation of South Africa. Nearly all African leaders have been vociferous in their condemnation of the white regime in Pretoria while remaining silent regarding the black regime in Kampala. African leaders are, indeed, curiously schizophrenic regarding Amin. Many privately admit to abhorring him, and say that he has disgraced Africa. Yet only a few, such as Tanzania's Julius Nyerere and Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, have said so publicly. The Commonwealth conference succeeded in condemning Uganda last summer only because the resolution of censure did not mention Amin by name and because it passed by acclamation: no head of government had to put his name to it. Only a short while later, at the summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at Libreville, Amin received a rousing ovation.

Many African leaders refuse to speak or act against Amin for fear of violating the OAU's cardinal rule against interference in a member state's internal affairs. The use of repressive force to maintain order - or power - in new, fragile states composed of multiple tribal groupings is common. Some leaders undoubtedly feel that even though the scale and the capriciousness of official violence in Uganda goes beyond any rational bounds and is fully deserving of repudiation, any effort to condemn Amin would open the door to a process that ultimately would rebound against themselves. Therefore, perhaps the most important factor determining whether or not African governments will ever join in some sort of collective condemnation or action against Idi Amin's regime will be whether they can persuade themselves, as others are already persuaded, that the slaughter in Uganda is indeed a case apart.

There are a few African leaders who purport to believe that the allegations against Amin - well-documented though they are - are fabrications by white racists designed to discredit all African governments. Throughout Africa Amin enjoys a certain popularity because of his theatrical humiliation of whites; the photograph of his great bulk, chair-borne, being carried into an OAU rally in a Kampala stadium by a clutch of sweating British businessmen - a modern "white man's burden," as Amin himself put it - will not soon be forgotten.


Black African states can censure Amin, and their doing so would be a gesture of great moral significance. Conceivably, they could use coercive force against him. But armed action would endanger ordinary Ugandans and the citizens of the neighboring countries from which a military campaign would come.

It is the West, more than black Africa, that holds the power decisively to affect events in Uganda. The alternative to coercion by arms is economic coercion, and only the West can provide it. Uganda's economic relations with African states consist of a fairly modest trade in foodstuffs and light manufactured goods. As in the case of South Africa, it is in the economic realm that Western states can exert leverage. South Africa's modern, industrialized economy is deeply intertwined with the economies of the West. There is no comparable interdependence in the case of Uganda, but a simple and direct dependence. Uganda depends on the West to provide a market for the Ugandan coffee crop, and coffee is now the country's only export of any significance. A decade or so ago Uganda exported substantial amounts of both cotton and copper, but under Amin its economy has been thrown into such chaos that cotton growing and copper production have virtually ceased, and in recent years coffee has accounted for more than four-fifths of Uganda's exports. That coffee - the cheaper robusta type used for instant coffee - amounts to five percent of the world's crop by value. During 1977 Uganda benefited substantially from the rise in world coffee prices brought about by the frosts in Brazil and earned some $750 million for its crop, more than double the figures for 1976. No less than one-third of that coffee comes to the United States. Another fifth goes to the United Kingdom, and other Western countries - notably West Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands - buy virtually all the rest.

Uganda's coffee is grown almost entirely by peasant smallholders, not on plantations. Growers are required to sell their beans to the state marketing board, and are paid, at a price set by the board, in vouchers redeemable only in nearly worthless Ugandan shillings. Sometimes they are not even paid at all. Their crop is simply seized. Thus Amin's regime, and not the growers, receives all the foreign exchange. Amin uses it to pay off loans from Libya and other Arab countries, to buy weapons (mostly from the Soviet Union), and to supply his army, police, and civil service with luxury goods. The latter are particularly important to his hold on power: Amin uses lavish material rewards to purchase loyalty.

Thus there is a direct relationship between foreign purchases of Uganda's coffee and Amin's murderous regime. Whether he would fall from power if those purchases ceased is a question impossible to answer. Many knowledgeable persons think that he would. There is no doubt, however, that he and his closest collaborators would feel the impact of a boycott of Uganda's coffee, and feel it hard.

Who else would feel it? Economic sanctions, so the accepted wisdom runs, are blunt instruments. They cannot be "fine tuned" to impinge only upon those persons whose actions deserve censure. Take the case of South Africa: Some who support Pretoria's policies (and some who do not) concede that comprehensive sanctions - especially a stoppage of all petroleum imports - might eventually bring the white regime to its knees. However, the process would take years, they argue, and while it is occurring urban blacks (roughly half the black population) would feel the pain earlier, and to a greater extent, than whites. That may or may not be the case for South Africa. But Uganda's situation is very different. The vast majority of Ugandans, more than 90 percent and including most of the peasant coffee-growers, depend in large measure upon subsistence agriculture for the necessities of life and participate only marginally in the cash economy. An effective boycott of Uganda's coffee would thus seriously curtail the livelihood only of the country's small urban sector, including Amin's army and police.

There is, of course, the risk that a boycott - especially one that was only partial - would misfire, and merely cause Amin to rule with greater brutality. Even an effective boycott might only induce him to hunker down, rally Ugandans to his side, and wait out the siege. That is doubtful, however. Amin might indeed be able to rally some support. But he is scarcely a popular ruler, and he would have to rely entirely upon sticks, rather than upon the mixture of carrots and sticks he now employs. Moreover, he could not threaten to bring down Uganda's economy with him. It already is down. Some specialists compare Uganda today with Cambodia, so completely has Amin allowed - in fact, hastened - the deterioration of a once fairly impressive social and economic infrastructure.

While a coffee boycott - if effective - would be quite narrowly focused in its impact, and might succeed in removing Amin from power, it obviously could not assure a better future for Ugandans. Amin's downfall would likely be accomplished by members of the narrow circle around him. These are men who themselves have blood on their hands. However Amin's downfall were brought about, there are plenty of Ugandans with scores to settle. In six years of rule, Amin has vastly exacerbated religious and tribal animosities. To expect an easy and bloodless transition in the aftermath of one of the most barbarous reigns of our era would scarcely be realistic, although the process could (and certainly should) be eased by rapid and generous offers of foreign assistance. In addition, many of the thousands of educated and talented Ugandans who have fled abroad to escape Amin would undoubtedly return to aid their country's reconstruction. Whoever Amin's successors might be, however, the chances are overwhelming that they would not be men afflicted with his peculiarly vicious kind of paranoia. It is scarcely likely that the lives of Ugandans - of all classes - would be worse. And there is a very good chance that they would be much better.


The certainty that the Amin regime would be hurt by a boycott, and the considerable chance that he might even fall from power, has motivated Democratic Congressman Don J. Pease of Ohio, supported by 75 colleagues, to introduce legislation to cut off all American trade with Uganda. They are also sponsoring an alternate, less sweeping bill that would bar Ugandan coffee from entering this country.

Pease would, of course, prefer international action, akin to the U.N. arms embargo against South Africa. But he recognizes that, at least for the present, the chances of securing the required international consensus are nonexistent. Even if the U.N. Human Rights Commission should agree to investigate Ugandan atrocities, its inquiry would be likely, at best, to give rise to a General Assembly motion of censure, but not to punitive action. Pease therefore favors a unilateral boycott by the United States, as Uganda's largest export market and supplier of foreign exchange. If an American lead were followed by the United Kingdom, where there is perhaps even a greater awareness and abhorrence of Amin, and by only one or two other Western countries, the impact would likely be large. Even if no other Western government were to follow - and there is no sign that any contemplates doing so - a strong American lead might well stimulate consumer boycotts elsewhere. In any case, denial only of the American market would crimp Uganda's foreign exchange supply. Even that might be enough to precipitate defections from the ranks of Amin's lieutenants. And, combined with the Administration's current policy of refusing to license the export to Uganda of armaments of any sort, it would at the very least effectively disassociate the United States from a genocidal regime.

The Carter Administration has pronounced itself as opposed to a unilateral American boycott of Ugandan coffee. Douglas J. Bennet, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations, wrote to Congressman Pease in September 1977 that the Administration was "not convinced" that a unilateral boycott "would be effective in bringing about an improvement in human rights conditions" in Uganda. But its reason for opposing a unilateral action was more general. Bennet stated:

Boycott actions are not consistent with the principles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), to which the United States is committed as the basis for international commercial relations. Whenever these principles are set aside, their overall authority as a protection for our own international trade interests is undermined. Therefore, as a general matter, we are extremely reluctant to take actions which contradict these principles.

This argument is, of course, very much in the mainstream of official and popular American thinking about international economic relations that runs back to the nineteenth century. As a major trading power, the United States should oppose any effort to restrain trade for a political purpose. Even though a particular cause might be compelling - and Bennet's letter reminded Pease of the Administration's "unequivocal opposition to the continuing record of human rights violations in Uganda" - the more general American interest in an international economic system with minimal barriers would ultimately suffer from a boycott. As The Washington Post put it (November 14, 1977), a boycott would set "a dangerous precedent for more of the same political manipulation of international trade in less egregious cases."

Underlying this argument is the widely shared conviction that economics and politics belong on separate "tracks." The GATT, to which Bennet referred in his letter to Pease, is an important element in the structure of global rules and institutions erected after World War II to guard against the political intrusions in world trade relations that had proved so ruinous during the interwar years. Within this framework, economic pressure should ordinarily be used only to counter economic abuses by others - unilateral imposition of protective tariffs, predatory exchange rate manipulation, and the like. Human rights violations, such as Amin's, are in the political realm; they should be countered by political measures - denunciation, ostracism, and, ultimately, military force - unless (and here is the exception to the ordinary instance) economic sanctions are mandated by an international organization like the United Nations.

The model for such multilateral action - and one referred to by Bennet in his letter to Pease - has been economic sanctions against the Rhodesian government of Ian Smith, imposed by the U.N. Security Council following his unilateral declaration of independence from Britain in 1965. The requirement of great power unanimity in the Security Council assures that economic measures will not be taken unilaterally or, even more important, without American consent. If sanctions against Rhodesia - even though far from effective or fully observed by the United States - have been the beau idéal for American policymakers, the nightmare was the Arab oil embargo, imposed with varying degrees of stringency against the United States and other Western nations because of their support of Israel in the Middle East war of October 1973. A variant of the same nightmare has been the Arab boycott of selected American banks and companies for their business dealings with Israel. These visions seem to confirm the soundness of Washington's continued insistence upon the protection of a Security Council vote as necessary to justify blurring the separation between political and economic "tracks."

American practice, however, has departed considerably from this ideal. To cite but a few examples: in 1960 the United States unilaterally imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in retaliation for the Castro regime's uncompensated expropriation of American property. Here, perhaps, was an economic response to an economic action, but the motivation - for both sides - was unabashedly political. That same year Washington obtained economic sanctions by the Organization of American States (OAS) against the Dominican Republic government of Rafael Trujillo for its attempted intervention in Venezuela. These were multilateral, but far from universal. And, later, by a majority vote in which there were a number of dissenters, it induced the OAS to put a multilateral fig leaf over its embargo against Cuba. Similarly - sometimes unilaterally, at other times through the medium of the so-called Coordinating Committee (COCOM) within NATO - the United States has restricted the sale of important equipment and sensitive technology to communist countries. Finally, the Carter Administration has taken limited punitive economic measures - a cutoff of economic aid and credits, suspension of arms sales - against several governments, Uganda's included, for their flagrant violations of human rights.


The truth, of course, is that the economic and political realms are inseparable, and that decisions made "solely" on the basis of economic criteria have profound political consequences. The explicit decision not to offer easier-than-market credit to a hard-pressed government, such as Peru's, means that it probably will need to repress workers protesting forced austerity - and, later, to face foreign accusations of human rights violations - in order to remain in power. Similarly, the tacit decision to allow market forces to govern the amount of Uganda's coffee American firms purchase is also a tacit decision to take no significant steps - covert measures being, presumably, ruled out - to bring down Idi Amin, nor even to disassociate the United States from support of his regime.

American policymakers are, of course, well aware of the difficulty, in practice, of distinguishing between "economic" and "political" causes and effects. They find it convenient to maintain the rhetorical distinction, however, because of a view that, on balance, American interests are better served in a world in which there is a strong presumption against the overtly political use of economic instruments. Moreover, maintaining the distinction makes it possible to avoid some hard decisions. If unilateral (or Western) economic measures to bring down Amin are ruled out, the peculiar advantage that the United States possesses by virtue of its economic size is neutralized, and the issue of what to do about Amin becomes one of organizing a moral consensus against him. The United States thus becomes only one state among many, and the decision is passed squarely back to Amin's peers, the leaders of other African states. Washington is willing to do its part, at the U.N. General Assembly or in the Human Rights Commission, to contribute to censuring Amin, but the central role falls to his fellow Africans.

Undeniably, this is a posture that makes life easier for an American Administration for which, after all, events in Uganda - even if Americans are involved - can never be of continuing central importance. And it is one that carries no risk that the United States (or a Western coalition) will be labeled as an oppressor of a weak, black Third World state. Even African leaders who privately wish for Amin's downfall might be reluctant to see such an outcome brought about as a result of direct American economic pressure. The precedent might seem too dangerous: in other circumstances they themselves might be Washington's chosen targets.

This may be a more comfortable American posture, but it is one that is both intellectually and morally disingenuous, especially for an Administration like Jimmy Carter's, which has so forthrightly identified itself with the promotion of human rights worldwide. When it comes to dealing with Uganda the United States is not merely another small African country. African states can enjoy a luxury denied to the United States by virtue of its size and power. No matter what posture they assume regarding Amin, short of declaring war upon him, it will make relatively little difference to his ability to survive. But the United States wields great leverage over the Ugandan economy. By not using it, Washington tacitly acquiesces in Amin's survival.


A peculiarity of the American relationship with Uganda is its drastic asymmetry. It is difficult to imagine a bilateral combination in which the power of the first partner to affect the second is so great and that of the second to affect the first so small. Doing without Ugandan coffee would cause scarcely a ripple in the American coffee market.

Indeed, so painless would a boycott be that the President of the National Coffee Association, representing the entire domestic industry, wrote last November 29 to Congressman Pease and to Secretary of State Vance stating that the Association's members awaited the government's orders. Its board of directors agreed unanimously "that the violations of human rights occurring under the Ugandan Government of President Idi Amin are abhorrent and morally repugnant." But rather than respond firm by firm to public pressures to desist from purchasing Ugandan coffee, and rather than risk being charged with antitrust violations for colluding in a boycott, the Association asked the Congress and the Administration "to declare and implement a uniform national policy" that would bind the entire industry.

The situation in other Western countries would undoubtedly be similar, for Uganda's share of their markets is comparably insignificant. Nor would there be a likelihood of significant evasion. Boycott regulations are difficult to enforce if there is substantial profit in evading them. But Uganda's coffee is so small a part of the world crop that the incentives for importers to cheat would be slight, and they could reasonably ask for assurance that coffee from other suppliers was not in fact diluted with Uganda's crop. Similarly, Amin does not enjoy such political support that other African suppliers would be much tempted to come to his assistance by palming off his coffee as their own.1

There is, of course, the possibility that other purchasers - the Soviet Union or radical Arab states, such as Libya - might come forward, either to buy the coffee for their own consumption or for resale. That is unlikely, however. The effort would be costly. The countries in question routinely purchase little coffee. Resales might be detected. Moscow came to Cuba's rescue a decade and a half ago and purchased its sugar crop, but there are virtually no parallels between the situations of Cuba and Uganda, nor any - other than flamboyant personal styles and anti-Western rhetoric - between Idi Amin and Fidel Castro. And even Libya's Colonel Qaddafi might find that the role of Amin's savior would carry more political costs than benefits.

The relative ease of imposing an effective boycott against Uganda, however, may become an argument against it, especially in the eyes of Africans. If Western governments want to use their economic leverage on behalf of black Africans, such an argument might run, let them use it in circumstances where they themselves would also have to pay a price - for example, against the white racist regime in South Africa. Virtue that is costless is scarcely distinguishable from opportunism. To take action against Idi Amin while continuing to conduct business as usual with John Vorster would be an affront to the rest of Africa.

The counters to this argument are not so much logical as political - and avowedly opportunistic. It is undeniably true, given the degree of economic interdependence between South Africa and the West, that sanctions against Pretoria must be costly if they are to have any chance of effectiveness. But that, in fact, may be an argument for starting with Uganda. Once Western governments and societies prove willing to apply sanctions against Uganda, at little pain to themselves, it would be politically more difficult for industries and individuals to argue persuasively that comparable measures should not be taken next against South Africa. There is now, in every Western country and certainly within the U.S. Congress, a considerable body of opinion that decries what is held to be an international double standard applied to South Africa: those who fulminate at Pretoria's abuses of human rights, it is said, are too often willing to overlook equally grave violations elsewhere, especially in black Africa. A boycott aimed at Uganda would effectively dispose of these allegations of a double standard - and perhaps neutralize those who make them as politically potent opponents of sanctions against South Africa.

There is, it should be noted, one respect in which the asymmetries of Uganda's international relationships place leverage in the hands of Idi Amin - the vulnerability of the 300 or so Britons, 200 or so Americans, and lesser numbers of other Westerners who still reside in Uganda. Amin has threatened them before. In the face of a boycott, he might carry out his threats. Westerners in Uganda may be divided into three groups. Something over a third are Christian missionaries. (Perhaps 60 percent of the Ugandan population is at least nominally Christian, while ten percent, including Amin and nearly all his inner circle, are Muslims.) The missionaries remain precisely because they hope to alleviate the hardships Ugandans have suffered under Amin. An equal number of the Westerners are either businessmen or specialists of various sorts who serve the regime - pilots, technologists, and the like. They do not feel endangered, and they stay because there are large sums of money to be made. The remainder are a heterogeneous lot, including some dependents of Ugandans. Western governments acknowledged possible dangers to their citizens long ago by warning them to leave Uganda. The United States issued such a warning in 1973, when it closed its embassy in Kampala, and it has frequently been repeated. Each Western resident remains for personal reasons. Clearly their situation should cause concern. But it should not ultimately be a decisive determinant of Western policy.


If Congress mandates a boycott of Uganda's coffee by American importers (not to mention legislating the more drastic sanctions many Congressmen also desire), it should do so with a clear awareness of the larger implications of that action. It would indicate, of course, that the U.S. government is prepared to say that there are boundaries of decency beyond which other governments must not pass in their treatment of their own citizens, and that it will suspend official American assistance to those governments. This, in fact, is consonant with existing American policy, as has already been pointed out. Much more important, it would also indicate that Washington would order private persons and firms under its jurisdiction to cease actions that help those governments maintain themselves in power. And in nearly every instance it is the private sector's role, rather than official aid, that makes a difference. Such a posture could scarcely be confined to Uganda alone. Unless Congress were prepared to make it general and, in particular, apply it to South Africa, it would make an absurdity of any larger American policy toward Africa. That is why action against Uganda should be accompanied by economic pressure - not necessarily an embargo, but meaningful economic measures of some sort - against the present South African government.

A boycott against Uganda for its abuses of human rights would also indicate a greater American willingness to depart from the "two-track" separation of economics from politics. There have, of course, been other instances in which Congress has blurred that separation to promote human rights - most notably the so-called Jackson Amendment of 1974, denying most-favored-nation treatment to the exports of countries whose citizens are not allowed freely to emigrate. In practice, however, the Jackson Amendment and similar punitive economic measures have been applied only to the Soviet Union and its allies, countries (especially the Soviet Union) that the United States has long regarded as adversaries on a number of grounds. Human rights violations constitute only one of those grounds, and historically it has not been the most important. By contrast, Uganda can in no sense be regarded as an adversary of the United States - its international role is too unimportant, and its impact on this country too minimal. That is why a boycott of its coffee would represent the application of a genuinely new principle in American foreign relations.

The difficulty, of course, lies not in stating that principle but in translating it into day-to-day policy. Especially, it lies in making the judgment as to which governments have placed themselves beyond acceptable limits of decency in their treatment of their citizens. Since consistency in application over time is an essential characteristic of sound policy - especially in an area as sensitive and as emotion-laden as this one - the criteria for determining whether or not a given government deserves a place on the list of offenders must necessarily be gross and not susceptible to reasonable contradiction. To put it crudely, ordinary garden-variety oppressors - of which, arguably, there are many - would not qualify. Rather, the list would be limited to the most egregious cases, such as regimes that practiced widespread murder or the wholesale forced degradation of their subjects merely on the ascriptive basis of race. The present government of South Africa would clearly qualify under the second criterion, those of Uganda, Cambodia, and Equatorial Guinea, under the first. While it is unlikely that other states will follow South Africa in grounding an entire political structure in racial distinctions, it is all too likely that the state system will see future Ugandas or Cambodias, where extermination - either capricious or in accordance with an elaborate design - becomes an habitual instrument of national policy.

To single out this handful of existing states as deserving of special censure, and special measures, is not to suggest that the human rights performance of other governments - from the Soviet Union to South Korea, from Argentina to Indonesia - should not be an object of considerable American concern, and of American pressure. To apply that pressure, a whole panoply of foreign policy instruments - incentives, protests, public exposure of wrongdoing, denials of aid of various kinds, Jackson Amendment-type restraints on trade - are available and appropriate. But only in the most serious instances should Washington resort to measures as drastic as sweeping economic sanctions whose ultimate objective is to bring about either a total change in a government's domestic policies or else its downfall.

These are measures, it should be noted, that fall far short of war - of the employment of American military forces for coercive purposes. Yet, at the same time, their purpose is one for which states have traditionally employed military force. If the Congress wants to bring down Idi Amin, it might be asked, why not use force to do it? The answer, of course, is that Congress does not wish to expend American lives in order to save Ugandans. That should surprise no one. Some 30 years ago, E. H. Carr observed that in the nineteenth-century European scramble for empire, Great Britain could accomplish without force what lesser economic powers could only achieve with warfare.2 The observation applies to the United States today. It does not apply to the Soviet Union, which has nothing like the economic leverage the United States has; neither 100 years ago, did it apply to Germany, Britain's rival.

Just as some states are more potent wielders of economic pressure, so some are more vulnerable targets. We have seen that Uganda, by virtue of its dependence on a few buyers of a single crop, is peculiarly vulnerable. South Africa - with a modern, industrialized, energy-consumptive economy - is also vulnerable to economic pressure, but in a different way, and the necessary measures would be much more costly to the states wielding pressure. By contrast, Cambodia under the radically autarchic regime of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, would scarcely be vulnerable at all. Vietnam - a small economy itself, of course - had to use military force when it attempted to alter Cambodian conduct. But so would the United States if it wanted to deflect the Phnom Penh regime from a path of barbarism apparently approaching Amin's. One uses - or chooses not to use - the instruments at one's disposal. The fact that economic leverage can be applied only with difficulty against South Africa, and probably not at all against Cambodia, is no argument for not using it against Uganda.

International consciousness of a shared humanity may some day reach a point where supranational authorities or states acting at their command will maintain strike forces - larger versions of the Israeli force that landed at Entebbe or the German force at Mogadishu, each to rescue its own nationals - for use against regimes that brutalize their own citizens. But that day is nowhere in sight. Until it comes, today's prevailing general proscription against the use of military force is best preserved intact. It is a proscription which, by consensus, applies especially to the two superpowers. Although each has flagrantly violated it, it remains a bulwark of a "moderate" international order. American use of military means to save Ugandans or Cambodians from their own governments would violate prevailing norms regarding appropriate conditions for using international force: judged by commonly accepted standards, no "vital" American interests are at stake. And, of course, it would risk counter-intervention by others (conceivably, Moscow on Amin's behalf, Peking on Pol Pot's).

By contrast, the use of economic instruments to promote human rights does not conjure up quite the same images of a system of small-state lambs and predatory superpower wolves. The international economy contains strong incentives that in nearly all cases constrain a giant trading and investing power like the United States to play by the "two-track" GATT rules it was so instrumental in writing. The best assurance for the Senegals or the Bolivias (or other small states that are not egregious offenders against decency) that Washington will not some day use against them the economic leverage it might apply to Uganda is the likelihood that the United States itself would be seriously injured if the use of economic coercion for political purposes became an everyday occurrence. Uganda - and South Africa - would be distinct exceptions, and exceptions often do strengthen rules; those who break rules tend subsequently to observe them precisely in order to underline the uniqueness of the exceptional cases.

In the case of Uganda today, the rules of the system, which separate the "economic" from the "political," work entirely to support the brutal regime of Idi Amin. It is, therefore, incumbent upon others who benefit from the normal working of that system - large states and small ones alike - to take action to assure that it no longer provides Amin with the instruments by which he maintains his grasp on power. If possible, that action should be collective. Its impact, not to speak of its international legitimacy, would be much enhanced. But if efforts to bring about collective action by the international community should fail, the United States - and those other major purchasers of Uganda's crucial coffee crop that elect to follow - should take steps to wield the West's large economic power against, rather than in support of, Idi Amin.


1 Because Ugandan coffee-growers receive so little for their crop, those living near the Kenyan and Tanzanian borders attempt to smuggle their coffee out. This coffee is, of course, not identified as Ugandan. But since the proceeds go to the growers and not to Amin, their smuggling should be encouraged: it benefits them directly while reducing still more the importance to the world of Amin's "official" crop.

2 Edward Hallett Carr, Nationalism and After, London: MacMillan, 1945, p. 16.

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  • Richard H. Ullman is a member of the Editorial Board of The New York Times. Until July 1977, he was Professor of International Affairs at Princeton University and Director of the 1980s Project at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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