It is not often the U.S. finds itself on the receiving end of an international sellers embargo from an ally. Yet on June 12, 2020, the Scottish parliament voted 52-0 (with eleven abstentions) to immediately halt the export of tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear to the United States.
Sympathy protests, in support of Black Lives Matter marchers, have arisen around the world in recent weeks. Originally focused on George Floyd and the central issue of police violence against unarmed black men in the United States, international demonstrators’ focus shifted as police tactics against peaceful protesters in the United States turned violent.
With tear gas canisters routinely deployed in the first weeks of the protest (and particularly preceding the St. John’s photo op) questions about U.S. police ignoring on citizens’ First Amendment rights reinforced the point of the protests. The tactics also raised the potential for government entities to condemn the actions.
Governments have an array of nonviolent tactics they can deploy against other countries. The ones we most often see deployed revolve around changing diplomatic status, delaying events, delaying recognition, and refusal of membership.
But there is another form available.
The United States employs this tactic often, with Cuba, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Sudan, and Syria all currently under full embargo.
It is rarely used against us, particularly by an ally.
But the UK’s licensing criteria are clear: exports should not be granted if there is a “clear risk that items might be used for internal repression.”
The widespread use of force against peaceful protesters by a number of police departments in the United States meets this criteria. It made placing a seller’s embargo on a portion of the gear supplied to police an easy call for the Scottish parliament. (NVA #94: International sellers’ embargo)
While the arms sales from the UK to the US is likely a drop in our proverbial bucket, perhaps the move will inspire other allies to join the movement and exert pressure on the US government to change its way, to recognize the depth of our militarization of police. Perhaps it will help move the needle and reinforce efforts to dismantle structural racism in our policing and prison systems.
Nonviolent methods employed:
NVA #94. International sellers’ embargo