Skip to main content

The Hidden Hand of Economic Coercion


Why do policymakers consistently employ economic sanctions even though scholars consider them an ineffective tool of statecraft? Game-theoretic models of economic coercion suggest the success rate may be understated because of selection effects. When the targeted country prefers conceding to incurring the cost of sanctions, it has an incentive to acquiesce before the imposition of sanctions. The bulk of successful coercion episodes should therefore end with sanctions threatened but not imposed. This contradicts the recent literature on sanctions, which assumes that sanctions rarely, if ever, work at generating significant concessions from the targeted country and are imposed for domestic or symbolic political reasons. If the game-theoretic argument is correct, the crucial cases to study are those in which coercion is threatened but not implemented. A statistical analysis of data on sanctions in pursuit of economic or regulatory goals strongly supports the gametheoretic argument. These results suggest that the significance of economic coercion has been undervalued in the study of statecraft and international relations more generally.

Hide All
Baldwin David A 1985. Economic Statecraft Princeton, N J.: Princeton University Press.
Baldwin David A. 1999/2000 The Sanctions Debate and the Logic of Choice. International Security 24 (3):80107.
Bayard Thomas O., and Elliott Kimberly Ann. 1994. Reciprocity and Retaliation in U S Trade Policy. Washington, D C.: Institute for International Economics
Beschloss Michael R., and Talbott Strobe. 1993. At the Highest Levels The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War. Boston: Little, Brown.
Bienen Henry, and Gilpin Robert. 1980 Economic Sanctions as a Response to Terrorism. Journal of Strategic Studies 3 (1):8998.
Blanchard Jean-Marc F., Mansfield Edward D., and Ripsman Norrin M., eds. 2000. Power and the Purse: Economic Statecraft, Interdependence and National Security. London: Frank Cass.
Bolks Sean M., and Al-Sowayel Dina. 2000 How Long Do Economic Sanctions Last? Examining the Sanctions Process Through Duration. Political Research Quarterly 53 (2):241–65.
Buck Lori, Gallant Nicole, and Nossal Kim Richard. 1998. Sanctions as a Gendered Instrument of Statecraft: The Case of Iraq. Review of International Studies 24 (1):6984.
Buzan Barry. 1984. Economic Structure and International Security: The Limits of the Liberal Case. International Organization 38 (4):597624.
Chayes Abram, and Chayes Antonia Handler. 1995 The New Sovereignty Compliance with International Regulatory Agreements. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press
Cheney Richard. 1999. Defending Liberty in a Global Economy. In Economic Casualties How U S Foreign Policy Undermines Trade, Growth, and Liberty, edited by Singleton Solveig and Griswold Daniel T., 1928. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute.
Chien-Hale Elizabeth. 1997. Asserting U.S. Intellectual Property Rights in China: Expansion of Extraterritorial Jurisdiction. Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA 44 (2):198230.
Conybeare John A. C. 1987. Trade Wars: The Theory and Practice of International Commercial Rivalry. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cortright David, ed. 1997. The Price of Peace: Incentives and International Conflict Prevention Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Cortright David, and Lopez George A.. 2000. The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Reiner.
Dashti-Gibson , Jaleh Patricia Davis, and Radcliff Benjamin. 1997. On the Determinants of the Success of Economic Sanctions: An Empirical Analysis. American Journal of Political Science 41 (2):608–18.
Dehejia Rajeev H., and Wood Bernard. 1992. Economic Sanctions and Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Cautionary Note. Journal of World Trade 26 (1):7384.
DeSombre Elizabeth R. 1995. Baptists and Bootleggers for the Environment: The Origins of United States Unilateral Sanctions. Journal of Environment and Development 4 (1):5375.
DeSombre Elizabeth R. 2000. Domestic Sources of International Environmental Policy Industry, Environmentalists, and U S Power. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Dorussen Han, and Mo Jongryn. 2001. Ending Economic Sanctions: Audience Costs and Rent-Seeking as Commitment Strategies. Journal of Conflict Resolution 45 (4):395426.
Doxey Margaret P. 1987. International Sanctions in Contemporary Perspective. New York: St Martin's Press.
Drezner Daniel W. 1999. The Sanctions Paradox Economic Statecraft and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Drezner Daniel W. 2001. Outside the Box: Explaining Sanctions in Pursuit of Foreign Economic Goals. International Interactions 26 (4):379410.
Drury A. Cooper. 1998. Revisiting “Economic Sanctions Reconsidered.” Journal of Peace Research 35 (4):497509.
Eaton Jonathan, and Engers Maxim. 1992. Sanctions. Journal of Political Economy 100 (5):899928.
Eaton Jonathan, and Engers Maxim. 1999. Sanctions: Some Simple Analytics. American Economics Review 98 (2):409414.
Eland Ivan. 1995. Economic Sanctions as Tools of Foreign Policy. In Economic Sanctions Panacea or Peacebuilding in a Post-Cold War World? edited by Cortright David and Lopez George, 2942. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Elliott Kimberly Ann. 2000. Preferences for Workers? Worker Rights and the US Generalized System of Preferences. Working Paper. Washington D.C.: Institute for International Economics. Available at ⟨⟩.
Elliott Kimberly Ann, and Richardson J. David. 1997. Determinants and Effectiveness of “Aggressively Unilateral” U.S. Trade Actions. In The Effects of U S. Trade Protection and Promotion Policies, edited by Feenstra Robert C., 215–43. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Elliott Kimberly Ann, and Uimonen Peter P.. 1993. The Effectiveness of Economic Sanctions with Application to the Case of Iraq. Japan and the World Economy 5 (4):403–9.
Fearon James D. 1995. Rationalist Explanations for War. International Organization 49 (3):379414.
Garfield Richard. 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Among Iraqi Children from 1990 Through 1998: Assessing the Impact of the Gulf War and Economic Sanctions. Available at ⟨⟩.
Galtung Johan. 1967. On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions: Examples from the Case of Rhodesia. World Politics 19 (3):378416.
Gilpin Robert. 1987. The Political Economy of International Relations. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Goldstein Judith. 1993. Ideas, Interests and American Trade Policy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Gowa Joanne S. 1994. Allies, Adversaries, and International Trade. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Grieco Joseph M. 1990. Cooperation Among Nations Europe, America, and Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Haass Richard N. 1997. Sanctioning Madness. Foreign Affairs 76 (6):7485.
Haass Richard N., and O'Sullivan Meghan, eds. 2000. Honey and Vinegar: Incentives, Sanctions, and Foreign Policy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
Hart Robert A. Jr 2000. Democracy and the Successful Use of Economic Sanctions. Political Research Quarterly 53 (2):267–84.
Hiscox Michael J. 2000. The Political Economy of American Trade Sanctions. Paper presented at the 96th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September, Washington, D.C.
Hufbauer Gary Clyde, Elliott Kimberly Ann, Cyrus Tess, and Winston Elizabeth. 1997. U.S. Economic Sanctions: Their Impact on Trade, Jobs, and Wages. Working Paper 97–01. Washington D.C.: Institute for International Economics.
Hufbauer Gary Clyde, Schott Jeffrey J., and Elliott Kimberly Ann. 1990. Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Institute for International Economics.
Institute for International Economics. 2001. Chronological Summary of Economic Sanctions for Foreign Policy Goals, 1914–1999. Available at ⟨⟩.
Kaempfer William H., and Lowenberg Anton D.. 1988. The Theory of International Economic Sanctions: A Public Choice Approach. American Economic Review 78 (4):786–93.
Kaempfer William H., and Lowenberg Anton D.. 1992. International Economic Sanctions: A Public Choice Perspective. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Keohane Robert O., and Nye Joseph S. Jr 1977. Power and Interdependence. World Politics in Transition. Boston: Little, Brown.
Kirshner Jonathan. 1995. Currency and Coercion. The Political Economy of International Monetary Power. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Knorr Klaus. 1975. The Power of Nations The Political Economy of International Relations. New York: Basic Books.
Krasner Stephen D. 1999. Sovereignty. Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Lacy Dean, and Niou Emerson M. S.. 2000. A Theory of Economic Sanctions. Unpublished manuscript, Duke University, Durham, N.C.
Lam San Ling. 1990. Economic Sanctions and the Success of Foreign Policy Goals: A Critical Evaluation. Japan and the World Economy 2 (3):239–48.
Lindsay James M. 1986. Trade Sanctions as Policy Instruments: A Re-examination. International Studies Quarterly 30 (2):153–73.
Mansfield Edward D. 1994. Power, Trade, and War. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Marinov Nikolay. 2003. Ending Sanctions Interstate Bargaining and the Duration of Costly International Disputes. Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
Martin Lisa L. 1992. Coercive Cooperation Explaining Multilateral Economic Sanctions Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Mastanduno Michael. 1998. Economics and Security in Statecraft and Scholarship. International Organization 52 (4):825–54.
McGillivray Fiona, and Stam Allan C.. 2001. Leadership Turnover and the Duration of Sanctions. Paper presented at the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, August–September, San Francisco, Calif.
Morgan T. Clifton, Palmer Glenn, and Miers Anne. 2000. Economic Sanctions and Foreign Policy Substitutability. Paper presented at the 96th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September, Washington, D.C.
Morgan T. Clifton, and Miers Anne C.. 1999. When Threats Succeed: A Formal Model of the Threat and Use of Economic Sanctions. Paper presented at the 95th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Atlanta, Ga.
Morgan T. Clifton, and Schwebach Valerie L.. 1997. Fools Suffer Gladly. The Use of Economic Sanctions in International Crises. International Studies Quarterly 41 (1):2750.
Morton Rebecca B. 1999. Methods and Models A Guide to the Empirical Analysis of Formal Models in Political Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Noland Marcus. 1997. Chasing Phantoms: The Political Economy of USTR. International Organization 51 (3):365–87.
Nooruddin Irfan. 2002. Modeling Selection Bias in Studies of Sanctions Efficacy International Interactions 28 (1):5975.
Nossal Kim Richard. 1989. International Sanctions as International Punishment. International Organization 43 (2):301–22.
Papayoanou Paul A. 1999. Power Ties Economic Interdependence, Balancing, and War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Pape Robert. 1997. Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work. International Security 22 (2):90136.
Ripsman Norrin, and Blanchard Jean-Marc 1996/1997. Commercial Liberalism Under Fire: Evidence from 1914 and 1936. Security Studies 6 (1):450.
Rubinstein Ariel. 1982. Perfect Equilibrium in a Bargaining Model. Econometrica 50 (1) 97110.
Signorino Curtis S. 1999. Strategic Interaction and the Statistical Analysis of International Conflict. American Political Science Review 93 (2): 279–97.
Sislin John. 1994. Arms as Influence: The Determinants of Successful Influence. Journal of Conflict Resolution 38 (4):665–89.
Skålnes Lars S. 2000. Politics, Markets, and Grand Strategy Foreign Economic Policies as Strategic Instruments. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Smith Alistair. 1996. The Success and Use of Economic Sanctions. International Interactions 21 (3):229–45.
von Amerongen Otto Wolff. 1980. Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool? International Security 5 (2):159–67.
Wagner R. Harrison. 1988. Economic Interdependence, Bargaining Power, and Political Influence. International Organization 42 (3):461–83.
Waltz Kenneth N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: Random House
Waltz Kenneth N. 1999. Globalization and Governance. PS Political Science and Politics 32 (4).693700.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 327 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1150 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.