Do Economic Sanctions Work?

Economic sanctions have been around for ages and have been used by major countries against different countries as a response to a policy or a course of action that is deemed unacceptable. These sanctions are typically used instead of using a military attack, and they are meant to prevent aggression between countries and bring about a change in policies of the target country. Critics say sanctions are often poorly conceived and rarely successful in changing a country’s conduct, while supporters contend that they have become more effective in recent years and remain an essential foreign policy tool. There are varying types of economic sanctions that can be utilized, each with different levels of effectiveness. To learn more, check out this infographic.

infographic - economic sanctions

Text: Do Economic Sanctions Work

What is an Economic Sanction Exactly?

In the simplest terms, an economic sanction is when normal economic interactions between countries are brought to a halt. The halt is meant to force a particular country to change political policies or actions. A country can choose simply to threaten a country with such a sanction to get a political concession or advantage.

It should be noted that there are different types of economic sanctions that could be imposed on a region. The simplest to explain is the unilateral sanction where the sanction is imposed upon a country by another. The other type of sanction is a multilateral economic sanction. This kind of sanction involves a team of countries imposing a sanction on one country.

There are also varying forms of sanctions that might be used on a country during this time. For one, a country can decide to impose a trade boycott. This means that the country will no longer accept the country’s imports, which could strike a significant negative impact on the region’s revenue. The sanctioning country could also choose to stop exporting products to the other country, which is usually referred to as an embargo.

There are other types of financial restrictions that could be imposed by the sanctioning country or countries like the reduction or complete denial of financial assistance should the country be in need. There could also be a reduction or denial of military assistance if a country is being sanctioned.

Understanding When Economic Sanctions are Imposed

There are a few key reasons why a country, or a group of countries, would choose this particular route, such as national security. At this point, the country that is being targeted with this tactic may be attempting an aggressive attack on a territory that holds some importance to the country imposing the sanction. The sanction is meant to be powerful enough to force the country to stop its military aggression.

One should keep in mind that military action is actually a very expensive endeavor. A country attempting military action will need revenue to replenish their troops constantly. Hence, an economic sanction can be an effective tool in inhibiting a country’s revenue and potentially deterring these aggressive acts.

Another basis for such action is to try to stop countries from acquiring weapons that violate international safety. These countries may be attempting to acquire weapons, the means to create weapons of mass destruction, or find weapons that could reach regions outside of their country. Any given country may be attempting to become an international threat, which is condemned by major international powers.

Another reason countries may consider imposing such sanctions is to stop terrorist threats. This is an especially important reason because terrorist threats have risen in modern times. The threat has become an international issue for many countries around the world like the United States, France, Germany and other countries. The sanctions that are imposed prohibit most countries around the world from trading with countries that are known to condone or support terrorist groups. Making sure that these countries are not aided financially helps to attempt to ensure that these terrorist groups cannot get fully funded to continue their acts of terror.

Additionally, another powerful motive for a country, or countries, to impose economic sanctions deals with foreign policies that undermine democracy or human rights. This type of sanction can be seen as a moral protest against a country or region that is treating its people inhumanely or is threatening basic democracy.

Most of the time these regions or countries have been taken over by a dictator or are under the control of a particular political system that is at odds with democracy, such as communism. This oppression of a country’s or region’s people convinces some countries to impose punitive sanctions. It should be noted that these actions have actually been successful, even against offenses like violent oppression. Take Guinea back in 2005 to 2010, which was subjected to multilateral sanctions due to its oppression. The sanction did take 5 years to be successful, but a war was avoided and people were saved from oppression.

There have also been instances where sanctions haven’t worked, but most of the time these occur in countries without a functioning government. One example is Somalia, which has been under the control of different regimes and terrorist groups since the early 1990s. Sanctions have failed there, because these dangerous groups are using smuggled goods and money to continue their efforts, meaning that sanctions do not have the same effect on their economy.

Overall, sanctions have been successful more often than not, which could be one of the reasons why so many countries continue to use sanctions. 51% of the time, an economic sanction is able to implement modest policy changes that affect citizens in a positive way or protect other countries. Economic sanctions see a 31% success rate in stopping military action, which is a success rate that is preferable to going to war and putting more people in greater danger.

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