Do sanctions work?


The use of sanctions has risen sharply in recent years, according to the Global Sanctions Database, a project from Drexel University that has become the most comprehensive tally of its kind, The New York Times reports:

But sometimes sanctions can have the counterintuitive effect of consolidating the power of an authoritarian government, according to Dursun Peksen, a political scientist at the University of Memphis. When a nation becomes isolated, he found, access to state resources becomes even more important, and elites unite behind the leader and quell opposition. Sanctions are often detrimental for human rightsdemocracygender equalitypress freedom and public health in affected nations such as Iran and Cuba, Mr. Peksen’s research showed.

The main objectives of sanctions are increasingly related to democracy and/or human rights and less on classical diplomacy but the success rate of sanctions, which had been increasing until 1995, has since fallen, with an average success rate of about 30%, according to Drexel research. 

The Atlantic Council’s Brian O’Toole and Daniel Fried, a National Endowment for Democracy (NED) board member, offer several escalatory options for sanctions against Russia in a roughly ascending order of magnitude:

  • Target oligarchs, cronies, wallets, and Putin’s assets. …. It may be somewhat symbolic—when stacked against the devastation in Ukraine—to see a six-hundred-million-dollar yacht seized by customs agents, but symbols can help sow uncertainty and panic in Russian markets and further diminish confidence in the Russian economy. These sanctions will show Putin’s cronies and subordinates that Putin is damaging their interests and those of their families….
  • Extend sanctions on companies. ….The state-owned Gazprombank and Russian Agricultural Bank, as well as the private AlfaBank, are already subject to financing restrictions but could be next for full blocking sanctions, which would effectively lock them out of the international financial system. The same holds true for transportation companies Sovcomflot and Russian Railways, and diamond company Alrosa. Meanwhile, major Russian insurer Sogaz has been sanctioned by the European Union but not the United States…..
  • Sanction Russian stock markets. If the West is seeking to further undermine domestic capital markets—having already largely severed Russia’s access to external markets—sanctions targeting the major markets, such as the Moscow Exchange, may provide a path to additional market turmoil. ….
  • Block the Russian government. This would amount to sanctioning all of Russia’s state-owned companies….
  • Ban new investment in Russia. While the White House banned new investment in Russian energy projects on Tuesday, the logical escalatory option could be to extend that ban to the entire Russian economy. ….
  • Enact a full financial embargo. This rests at the far end of the sanctions spectrum and would ban all transactions, exports, and imports with Russia. …
  • Hit sanctions evaders. Enforcing all these measures is critical to maintaining a sanctions regime. The United States, United Kingdom, and European Union must assume that Russians will attempt to evade punishment, including by creating shell companies to disguise sanctioned ownership….RTWT
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