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Political Effectiveness, Negative Externalities, and the Ethics of Economic Sanctions

  • Dursun Peksen

Abstract

As part of the roundtable “Economic Sanctions and Their Consequences,” this essay discusses whether economic sanctions are morally acceptable policy tools. It notes that both conventional and targeted sanctions not only often fail to achieve their stated objectives but also bring about significant negative externalities in target countries. Economic dislocation and increases in political instability instigated by sanctions disproportionately affect the well-being of opposition groups and marginalized segments of society, while target elites and their support base remain insulated from the intended costs of foreign pressure. Sanctions might also incentivize target governments to use repressive means to consolidate their rule and weaken the opposition. Given these serious shortcomings, I argue that sanctions are ethically problematic tools of foreign policy. Nonetheless, this does not mean that sanctions should be rejected outright, as there might be cases where sanctions are the only viable option, and they might work effectively under certain circumstances. Rather, the essay suggests that policymakers should apply more caution in considering the use of sanctions given their low probability of success, and should be more concerned with the delicate balance between political gain and civilian pain before levying sanctions, whether comprehensive or targeted.

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1 The list of U.S. sanctions is available at www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions.

2 Cortright, David and Lopez, George A., eds., Smart Sanctions: Targeting Economic Statecraft (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002); Drezner, Daniel W., “Sanctions Sometimes Smart: Targeted Sanctions in Theory and Practice,” International Studies Review 13, no. 1 (March 2011), pp. 96108; and Biersteker, Thomas J., Eckert, Sue E., and Tourinho, Marcos, eds., Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

3 The list of UN sanctions can be found at www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/information.

4 Damrosch, Lori Fisler, “The Collective Enforcement of International Norms through Economic Sanctions,” Ethics & International Affairs 8, no. 1 (March 1994), pp. 5975; Pierce, Albert C., “Just War Principles and Economic Sanctions,” Ethics & International Affairs 10, no. 1 (March 1996), pp. 99113; Gordon, Joy, “A Peaceful, Silent, Deadly Remedy: The Ethics of Economic Sanctions,” Ethics & International Affairs 13, no. 1 (April 2006), pp. 123–42; and Winkler, Adam, “Just Sanctions,” Human Rights Quarterly 21, no. 1 (February 1999), pp. 133–55.

5 Gordon, Joy, “Smart Sanctions Revisited,” Ethics & International Affairs 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011), pp. 315–35; and Early, Bryan R. and Schulzke, Marcus, “Still Unjust, Just in Different Ways: How Targeted Sanctions Fall Short of Just War Theory's Principles,” International Studies Review 21, no. 1 (April 2018), pp. 5780.

6 Lopez, George A., “More Ethical than Not: Sanctions as Surgical Tools,” Ethics & International Affairs 13, no. 1 (March 1999), pp. 143–48; and Fabre, Cécile, Economic Statecraft: Human Rights, Sanctions, and Conditionality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2018).

7 Galtung, Johan, “On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions: With Examples from the Case of Rhodesia,” World Politics 19, no. 3 (April 1967), p. 388; and Kirshner, Jonathan, “The Microfoundations of Economic Sanctions,” Security Studies 6, no. 3 (1997), p. 42.

8 Weiss, Thomas G., Cortright, David, Lopez, George A., and Minear, Larry, eds., Political Gain and Civilian Pain: Humanitarian Impacts of Economic Sanctions (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997); Gibbons, Elizabeth D., Sanctions in Haiti: Human Rights and Democracy under Assault (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1999); Peksen, Dursun, “Better or Worse? The Effect of Economic Sanctions on Human Rights,” Journal of Peace Research 46, no. 1 (January 2009), pp. 5977; and Peksen, Dursun and Drury, A. Cooper, “Economic Sanctions and Political Repression: Assessing the Impact of Coercive Diplomacy on Political Freedoms,” Human Rights Review 10, no. 3 (September 2009), pp. 393411.

9 Andreas, Peter, “Criminalizing Consequences of Sanctions: Embargo Busting and Its Legacy,” International Studies Quarterly 49, no. 2 (June 2005), pp. 335–60; Early, Bryan R., Busted Sanctions: Explaining Why Economic Sanctions Fail (Redwood, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2015); and Bryan Early and Dursun Peksen, “Searching in the Shadows: The Impact of Economic Sanctions on Informal Economies,” Political Research Quarterly (forthcoming).

10 Andreas, “Criminalizing Consequences of Sanctions.”

11 Hufbauer, Gary Clyde, Schott, Jeffrey J., Ann Elliott, Kimberly, and Oegg, Barbara, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, 3rd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007); and Morgan, T. Clifton, Bapat, Navin, and Kobayashi, Yoshiharu, “Threat and Imposition of Economic Sanctions 1945–2005: Updating the TIES Dataset,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 31, no. 5 (November 2014), pp. 541–58.

12 Cortright and Lopez, Smart Sanctions; and Biersteker, Eckert, and Tourinho, Targeted Sanctions.

13 Biersteker, Eckert, and Tourinho, Targeted Sanctions.

14 Rosenberg, Elizabeth, Goldman, Zachary K., Drezner, Daniel, and Solomon-Strauss, Julia, The New Tools of Economic Warfare: Effects and Effectiveness of Contemporary U.S. Financial Sanctions (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, 2016).

15 Ibid.

16 Hufbauer et al., Economic Sanctions Reconsidered; and Morgan, Bapat, and Kobayashi, “Threat and Imposition of Economic Sanctions.”

17 Allen, Susan Hannah, “The Domestic Political Costs of Economic Sanctions,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 52, no. 6 (December 2008), pp. 916–44; and Grauvogel, Julia, Licht, Amanda A., and Soest, Christian von, “Sanctions and Signals: How International Sanction Threats Trigger Domestic Protest in Targeted Regimes,” International Studies Quarterly 61, no. 1 (March 2017), pp. 8697.

18 Peksen, Dursun and Drury, A. Cooper, “Coercive or Corrosive: The Negative Impact of Economic Sanctions on Democracy,” International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations 36, no. 3 (2010), pp. 240–64; Wood, Reed M., “‘A Hand upon the Throat of the Nation’: Economic Sanctions and State Repression, 1976–2001,” International Studies Quarterly 52, no. 3 (2008), pp. 489513; and Peksen, “Better or Worse?”

19 Galtung, “On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions”; and Peksen, “Better or Worse?”

20 Peksen, Dursun and Son, Byunghwan, “Economic Coercion and Currency Crises in Target Countries,” Journal of Peace Research 52, no. 4 (July 2015), pp. 448–62; and Hatipoglu, Emre and Peksen, Dursun, “Economic Sanctions and Banking Crises in Target Economies,” Defence and Peace Economics 29, no. 2 (2018), pp. 171–89.

21 Neuenkirch, Matthias and Neumeier, Florian, “The Impact of US Sanctions on Poverty,” Journal of Development Economics 121 (July 2016), pp. 110–19; and Afesorgbor, Sylvanus Kwaku and Mahadevan, Renuka, “The Impact of Economic Sanctions on Income Inequality of Target States,” World Development 83 (July 2016), pp. 111.

22 Peksen, Dursun, “Economic Sanctions and Human Security: The Public Health Effect of Economic Sanctions,” Foreign Policy Analysis 7, no. 3 (July 2011), pp. 237–51; and Allen, Susan Hannah and Lektzian, David J., “Economic Sanctions: A Blunt Instrument?,” Journal of Peace Research 50, no. 1 (January 2013), pp. 121–35.

23 Garfield, Richard, “The Impact of Economic Embargoes on the Health of Women and Children,” Journal of the American Medical Women's Association 52, no. 4 (1997), pp. 181–85; Gibbons, Elizabeth and Garfield, Richard, “The Impact of Economic Sanctions on Health and Human Rights in Haiti, 1991–1994,” American Journal of Public Health 89, no. 10 (November 1999), pp. 1499–504; Peksen, “Economic Sanctions and Human Security”; and Parker, Dominic P., Foltz, Jeremy D., and Elsea, David, “Unintended Consequences of Sanctions for Human Rights: Conflict Minerals and Infant Mortality,” Journal of Law and Economics 59, no. 4 (November 2016), pp. 731–74.

24 Peksen, “Economic Sanctions and Human Security,” p. 240.

25 Biersteker, Eckert, and Tourinho, Targeted Sanctions.

26 Drury, A. Cooper and Peksen, Dursun, “Women and Economic Statecraft: The Negative Impact International Economic Sanctions Visit on Women,” European Journal of International Relations 20, no. 2 (June 2014), pp. 463–90.

27 Buck, Lori, Gallant, Nicole, and Nossal, Kim Richard, “Sanctions as a Gendered Instrument of Statecraft: The Case of Iraq,” Review of International Studies 24, no. 1 (January 1998), pp. 6984; and Al-Ali, Nadje, “Reconstructing Gender: Iraqi Women between Dictatorship, War, Sanctions and Occupation,” Third World Quarterly 26, no. 4/5 (2005), pp. 739–58.

28 Peksen, Dursun, “Economic Sanctions and Official Ethnic Discrimination in Target Countries, 1950–2003,” Defence and Peace Economics 27, no. 4 (2016), pp. 480502; and Lv, Zhike and Xu, Ting, “The Effect of Economic Sanctions on Ethnic Violence of Target States: A Panel Data Analysis,” Social Science Journal 54, no. 1 (March 2017), pp. 102–5.

29 Peksen, “Economic Sanctions and Official Ethnic Discrimination in Target Countries.”

30 Peksen, “Better or Worse”; and Peksen and Drury, “Coercive or Corrosive.”

31 Hultman, Lisa and Peksen, Dursun, “Successful or Counterproductive Coercion? The Effect of International Sanctions on Conflict Intensity,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 61, no. 6 (July 2017), pp. 1315–39.

32 Rachel Koning Beals, “Boeing Will Lose Out on $20 Billion in Iran Deals as Airbus, GE Impacted,” MarketWatch, May 8, 2018, www.marketwatch.com/story/boeing-will-lose-out-on-20-billion-in-iran-deals-as-airbus-ge-impacted-2018-05-08.

33 Slavov, Slavi T., “Innocent or Not-So-Innocent Bystanders: Evidence from the Gravity Model of International Trade about the Effects of UN Sanctions on Neighbour Countries,” World Economy 30, no. 11 (November 2007), pp. 1701–25; and Canes, Michael E., “Country Impacts of Multilateral Oil Sanctions,” Contemporary Economic Policy 18, no. 2 (April 2000), pp. 135–44.

34 Damien Sharkov, “Russian Sanctions to ‘Cost Europe €100bn,’” Newsweek, June 19, 2015, www.newsweek.com/russiarussian-sanctionseueuropean-unioneuropean-economiessanctionseu-sanctions-603431.

35 Natasha Turak, “Europe, Russia and China Join Forces with a New Mechanism to Dodge Iran Sanctions,” CNBC, updated September 26, 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/09/25/eu-russia-and-china-join-forces-to-dodge-iran-sanctions.html.

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