Tool Category D: Economic and Social Measures
|Sanctions are a form of non-military coercion whereby a state applies leverage to try to change the conduct of another state. Sanctions can be economic, political, diplomatic or cultural, imposed unilaterally or multilaterally, comprehensively or selectively. Sanctions are always negative conditions imposed on parties in conflicts; positive inducements are conditions or incentives and are discussed in the previous tool profile.|
|Sanctions are imposed to
induce a state to change its actions. The driving force
behind sanctions is often the need to demonstrate
resolve, express outrage, or to deter future
objectionable policies by increasing the associated
costs. The changes required may affect the conflict
directlysuch as demonstrating progress in
negotiations or reducing a threat against another
countryor indirectlyfor instance,
demonstrating progress in democratization, protection of
human rights or military reform.
Objectives vary from changes in target country policies to destabilizing the target government, disrupting a minor military adventure, undermining the target countrys legitimacy or impairing its military potential. Objectives of sanctions can also be to maintain or restore international peace and security, to prevent the use of force, or to reduce a threat posed by the target country. Lessons of sanctions may be intended for other countries who may be contemplating policies similar to the targets.
The country imposing sanctionsthe "sender"may have multiple objectives, objectives can evolve over time, and advertised objectives may be more ambitious or appealing than actual objectives so as to gain international cooperation. Sanctions may be used to demonstrate moral outrage, to symbolically enhance the senders prestige, to give reassurance that the sender will stand by its international commitments, or to send a warning to future offenders.
Sanctions can be imposed selectively, stopping only certain trade and financial transactions or aid programs, or comprehensively, halting all economic relations with the target nation. Senders can attempt strategic targeting, designing sanctions to impact most heavily on the political leadership instead of the most vulnerable populations.
Sanctions are sometimes used as a surrogate for other measures, "adding teeth" to international diplomacy when strictly diplomatic action is not strong enough yet covert action or military measures are excessive. Sanctions often serve the senders domestic political purposes by showing that the regime is acting forcefully without precipitating bloodshed; in some cases, domestic political goals can be the motivating force behind sanctions.
Expected outcome or impact
|Sanctions are imposed in order to achieve specific changes in the target countrys policies and actions. Specific outcomes depend on the nature of the sanctions imposed.|
Relationship to conflict prevention and mitigation
|Sanctions can be used to increase the costs to the target regime of using violence in a conflict with another state or against an internal opposition, to make other options appear more attractive. Senders may require the target to take specific actions to affect a conflict or refrain from specific behaviors which would incite or exacerbate conflict. Sanctions may contribute to conflict prevention or mitigation by discouraging the target from engaging in violent conflict or by undermining its capacity to wage war. Sanctions can be used to maintain or restore international or internal peace and security, to prevent or reduce the use of force, to contain a conflict, or to reduce a threat posed by the target country.|
|Countries that impose sanctions are usually large nations, although there are instances of sanctions being used by middle or smaller powers. Sanctions may be imposed collectively, as in the case of United Nations members against Iraq. Although several countries may be engaged in a sanctions effort, one country usually takes the lead, typically enlisting support through bilateral consultations or through international organizations.|
|The sender country and countries cooperating in the sanction effort participate along with the target country or countries that is the immediate object of the sanctions.|
|A first step in
considering sanctions to prevent or mitigate conflict is
to assess the regime and its internal dynamics,
particularly its vulnerabilities and its responsiveness
to different types of pressure. Exact activities depend
on whether the sanctions are designed to penalize the
target, express displeasure with the targets
actions, or persuade or coerce the target to take certain
actions or change its policy.
International cooperation increases the prospect of success of sanctions: multilateral sanctions bring greater political legitimacy and inflict greater isolation on the target nation than do unilateral measures. This argues that selected, moderate sanctions, with the threat of more severe measures to come, inflict some economic pain on influential interests, giving them an incentive to lobby for compliance to alleviate the more severe impending theat. "The political benefits derived from imposing graduated sanctions override the disadvantage of allowing the target nation time to adjust its economy."
When used together, the different economic effects of export, import, and financial sanctions may reinforce each other.The senders and/or an independent organization can monitor the situation in both the target and sender countries to assess the sanctions impact, and ensure compensating humanitarian support occurs.
|Sanctions may impose costs to sender countries, especially in terms of lost trade and finance activity: domestic firms are affected by disrupted trade, aid and financial flows, and other trading partners may be motivated to seek alternative partners and diversify supply. Many costs to senders are difficult to quantify and some may be felt only in the very long term. Sender governments can make arrangements to compensate states or industries for losses incurred in complying with the sanctions, and international financial institutions, for example, may make available low-cost loans. Other states may choose to increase production of the goods sanctioned in the target country to maintain world supply and discourage steep price increases.|
|It can take a very short time (a few days or weeks) for sanctions to be proposed, agreed upon, and implemented. Some specialists insist sanctions should be imposed quickly to discourage evasion and mobilization of public opinion in the target country on the grounds that sanctions imposed slowly or incrementally may simply strengthen the target regime, feed nationalism or push target nations closer to countries that are enemies of the sender. Others argue that when the target government faces significant domestic political opposition, moderate sanctions are likely to have a greater effect. than comprehensive, severe measures that rally the population in the target country around its government.|
Timeframe to see results
|Sanctions are generally regarded as a short-term policy since public support in sender countries can diminish with time. Sanction results can take time.|
Stage of conflict
|Sanctions can be enacted prior to violent conflict to pressure the target government to take actions to prevent or mitigate conflict or to stop actions believed to be exacerbating conflict. Sender countries may enact sanctions during the rising stages of an internal conflict to compel the regime to take actions to defuse the conflict. Sanctions may be imposed during violent conflict to contain the conflict by reducing the use of force.|
Type of conflict
|Different sanctions are appropriate for various types of internal or international conflicts.|
|The use of sanctions presupposes the sender countrys willingness to interfere in the decision-making process of another sovereign government." Effective sanctions also require that the target be vulnerable to the pressures applied and have the ability and resources to take the senders desired actions.|
Outside the Greater Horn
|South Africa. The
international effort to apply diplomatic and cultural
sanctions against South Africa became concerted by the
1960s, with mixed results. The three components of
diplomatic sanctions (formal exclusion, legitimacy for
the anti-apartheid movement, and lack of recognition for
the homelands) failed to coerce domestic change during
this period but set the stage for increasing bilateral
and multilateral measures. They also had substantial
direct and indirect effects within South Africa such as
supporting domestic opponents of the regime and
undermining the internal social and economic foundations
of the apartheid framework. At the peak of international
momentum for global sanctions in the mid-1980s, numerous
international organizations and states adopted partial
economic sanctions against South Africa, supplementing
existing diplomatic restrictions, arms embargoes, and
other voluntary measures. The Commonwealth strengthened
its measures from 1985 to 1987. Even the US, previously
opposed, adopted substantial restrictions in 1986. The
European Community followed suit.
In addition to pressures of globalizing market forces and cross-national demonstration effects and others, "...a wide range of international military, economic, cultural and diplomatic sanctions influenced South African reform." Although not the sole cause of the South African transition, sanctions enhanced pressure on the government both directly and indirectly.
Even though diplomatic sanctions eliminated opportunities for bargaining and cooperation, the government was able to continue bilateral and informal exchange and cooperation, and sanctions galvanized white support for the government. However, the opposition gained moral and material resources in their struggle to overthrow the regime. "Diplomatic sanctions strengthened the exiled anti-apartheid opposition and increased the costs of implementing apartheid. While not directly causing the demise of apartheid, these sanctions weakened the South African government and encouraged a negotiated transition." Diplomatic sanctions undermined the legitimacy and increased the costs of apartheid from within while boosting the anti-apartheid movements legitimacy, "...culminating in the ANCs standing as a government-in-exile prior to the negotiated transition. By the late 1980s, the ANC had official representation in more capitals than the South African government."
One effect of international sanctions was to guide the South African governmentss initial reforms which opened the political system in 1990-1991. Sanctions against South Africa pressured the regime to end apartheid and sent a signal of support to the black opposition. Some analysts believe this signal provided internal impetus for reform by adding international support for the black oppositions cause and encouraging it to take stronger positions against the South African government. Various agreements and legislation, including the Commonwealth accords and the US Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, contained a list of conditions for sanctions to be lifted; these included ending the state of emergency; releasing political prisoners, unbanning liberation movementsANC, Pan African Congress (PAC) and Communist Partyeliminating the fundamental legal basis for apartheidthe Population Registration Act, the Land Acts and the Group Areas Actand the South African government had to enter preliminary negotiations with legitimate representatives of the majority population.
de Klerks initial reforms satisfied these conditions. Sanctions were lifted almost immediately, despite ANC objections. the governments behavior corresponded to international demands and were likely a response to international pressure. "Future benefits, specifically the lifting of sanctions, apparently outweighed both the costs of maintaining the status quo and white fears of the future under majority rule." The threat of the reimposition of sanctions fostered support for the National Partys reforms, in the face of vehement Conservative Party opposition in the early 1990s. Hoping to refute the reforms, the Conservatives demanded that de Klerk hold another election, which they expected to win. In response, de Klerk called for a whites-only referendum on the reforms. Sanctions, particularly the implicit threat of renewed economic and cultural isolation should the reform effort be repudiated, figured prominently in the debates leading up to the vote. Many whites feared the renewal of economic sanctions and the impact of failure of the reform effort, predicting increased unemployment and a general decline in prosperity. Businesses launched extensive advertising campaigns advocating a yes-vote on the referendum, and sports enthusiasts dreaded a return to isolation. The referendum passed. "Thus international economic and social sanctions offered prospects of benefits if reforms should be implemented and increased costs if they were not."
Sanctions were also important for defining legitimate actors, principles and state boundaries. Sanctions reinforced the ANCs legitimacy and its primacy over its rival, Buthelezis Inkatha Freedom Party, by undermining the homelands as a legitimate concept and reinforcing the principle of universal suffrage rather than minority rights. The government had redirected funds to Inkatha from a secret account used to fight sanctions. ANC demands for universal suffrage and a unitary state challenged the National Partys emphasis on minority rights and protection and power-sharing under federalism. "Nothing less than one person, one vote would likely satisfy international critics" and thus white conservatives favoring secession "...had little hope of attaining the requisite international recognition, without which their fledgling states could not hope to survive." While sanctions were not the only factor undermining Inkatha and bolstering the ANCs position, they were "...a significant influence on the rise and fall of Buthelezi, illustrating that international pressures can successfully legitimate group identity and behavior." However, one analyst concludes that "the National Party did not reform primarily in response to coercive threats, but a combination of economic and social threats demonstrated to elites that racial discrimination abrogated international norms at significant material and symbolic costs.
UN economic sanctions were lifted in October 1993, and the international community lifted diplomatic sanctions following Mandelas election in April 1994. South Africa subsequently resumed participation in the UN, rejoined the Commonwealth, and initiated OAU membership.
"Sanctions clearly played a major role in bring down apartheid, particularly as they escalated in the mid-1980s in tandem with increased diplomatic pressure and struggle by the African National Congress. However, it took a generation for the international community, particularly the United States, to muster the political will to impose stiff sanctionsdespite unprecedented domestic political pressure in the West to tighten the screws on the white regime." South Africa would have been vulnerable to sanctions because of its reliance on foreign capital, technology and trade. However, the US, Britain, and France vetoed all UNSC efforts to impose further sanctions before 1977, when they agreed to a mandatory arms embargo but still refused to support economic sanctions. Many countries flouted the arms embargo. To counter the arms embargo, South Africa both developed a domestic arms industry and resorted to illegal military procurement. The economic toll of the first two decades of sanctions on South Africa was small (an estimated 1 to 3 percent of GNP in 1985-1986). Campaigns to disinvest and cultural and sports boycotts also had an impact; South Africa was banned from 90 percent of world sporting competitions.
Even as sanctions tightened in the mid-1980s, only exports of weapons and petroleum, and imports of textiles, apparel, steel, iron and agricultural products were banned. In contrast to warnings that black workers would be most hurt by sanctions, in fact black workers low economic status made the impact of sanctions less pronounced than it was for many whites. South Africa countered by devaluing its currency to boost attractiveness of its exports. In the mid-to-late 1980s, major banks suspended loans and refused to roll over South African debt, inducing a debt crisis. "This action by international banksnot governments or the UNshocked South African business out of its complacency and contributed to the opening of talks with the ANC. The 1980s recession, and the increasing costs of beating the UN arms embargo and producer oil boycotts, as well as the growing number of disinvesting took their toll." The US issued the South African Transactions Regulations (SATR) in September 1985, barring loans by US financial institutions and importing currency. The following year, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (CAA) prohibited trade in agricultural products, some natural resources, as well as new loans and investments in South Africas public and private sectors. When US sanctions were imposed in 1986, the ANC called them "the most effective action that can be taken by the international community to express its opposition to apartheid." During the last four years of the 1980s sanctions were estimated to have cost South Africa $32-40 billion, including $11 billion in net capital outflows and $4 billion in lost export earnings. Financial sanctions forced a rise in interest rates and taxes, and unemployment was growing about a quarter million a year. "The last years of tightened sanctions played a role in the Namibia settlement, in forcing South Africa to negotiate over Angola, and in pushing the government to negotiate with the black majority." Sanctions raised "the political costs of maintaining the apartheid system and sent a message of solidarity to the internal resistance."
Iraq, 1990-present. In response to the Iraqi invasion and annexation of Kuwait, UN-sponsored multilateral sanctions were imposed on August 6, 1990, four days after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Objectives were to withdraw immediately and unconditionally all its forces from Kuwait and to restore the legitimate government of Kuwait, to be achieved by preventing exports and imports of all commodities and products to and from Iraq and Occupied Kuwait and by preventing the sale or supply of weapons and other military equipment except for supplies "intended strictly" for medical purposes and foodstuffs in "humanitarian circumstances." The Security Council further established a Sanctions Committee to examine the sanctions progress and to solicit information from member states regarding their reactions to the sanctions. To hinder Iraqs illicit attempts to export oil, the UNSC authorized naval interdiction of all outward and inward bound ships, a highly effective measure.
Iraq seemed an "ideal" and easy target for sanctions because of its highly skewed oil economy, dependency on imports, and limited land routes. There was unprecedented cooperation among countries, the regime was heavily dependent on external links, and Iraq received little offsetting assistance (from Libya, Yemen, Jordan). This was the most rapid, comprehensive multilateral imposition of sanctions to date. Sanctions were effectively enforced despite with great costs to sender countries in terms of lost oil imports, direct losses from stopping trade, non-payment of debt and increased price of oil. Secondary enforcement was more effective than any previous case; compensation was paid to states for losses incurred for complying, and international financial institutions made available low-cost loans. Other oil-producing states increased production to compensate for lost Iraqi oil and to keep down oil prices. The embargo on exports to Iraq raised prices for Iraqs imports. Iraqi funds that could be used to pay the higher prices were severely eroded by the UN boycott of its exports and a freeze on new credit and its overseas assets.
The sanctions had considerable impact in economic terms but little effectiveness in achieving their intended political result. The sanctions did not compel Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait before the international community decided to use military force to achieve that purpose. The time the sanctions were given may have been too short to have achieved their goals; the use of force began only four months after the sanctions were imposed. Some experts believe, however, that sanctions might have worked if given more time. Some also believe sanctions sabotaged Jordanian King Husseins effort to negotiate an Iraqi withdrawal.
Iraqs authoritarian regime was able to cushion the impact of sanctions, and had the advantage of heavy stockpiling as well as war booty stripped from Kuwait. The weakness of any political opposition allowed the regime to ignore many effects of the sanctions on its citizens. The sanctions served to rally many Iraqis around the regime and increase anti-US sentiment. The Iraqi regime responded by shifting the burden of sanctions to the rebellious population in the North. The sanctions affected non-combatants, especially the poor, the most. Sanctions allow the regime to blame the suffering of the civilian population and Iraqs dire economic situation on the outside world. Sanctions blocked adequate amounts of food and medicine from reaching the country and prevented the rebuilding of vital electric power, water treatment and sewage plants. They caused very high food prices, depletion of personal assets and rapidly increased numbers of the destitute, even though the UN cooperated with the ICRC and other humanitarian agencies to provide food assistance.
Serbia, 1995-1996. The US envoy to the Balkans, in negotiating the Dayton peace accords, threatened to reimpose sanctions on the Serbian economy if President Milosevic did not have the Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic removed from power. Under the Dayton accord, Karadzic, under international indictment for war crimes, was supposed to be arrested and handed to the tribunal in the Hague. Unwilling to risk provoking retaliation by using NATO troops to arrest Karadzic, Western countries threatened renewed economic sanctions to force Karadzic out. Milosevic was skeptical that the major powers, who are divided on the issue, would quickly organize effective sanctions such as a ban on trade. Economists questioned whether Milosevic would be influenced by the economic threats or rewards offered.
UN sanctions against Serbia were lifted after the Dayton accord but could be reimposed for noncompliance with the treaty. After sanctions were suspended in December 1995 through July 1996, there was little improvement in the Serbian economy, largely due to maintenance of state controls and obstruction of privatization. However, various foodstuffs and gasoline had become more available, easing daily life. Initially, the reimposition of sanctions would have a negative psychological impact on Serbia. In the longer term, new sanctions would be catastrophic, according to Serbian economists, further decaying the decrepit industrial base.
Guatemala, 1993. US diplomatic pressure, backed by the threat of severe sanctions, played an important role in dissuading the Guatemalan military from supporting the autogolpe by President Serrano, thus leading to its unraveling. In addition, the "unanimity of purpose shown by the OAS member states and the unequivocal and immediate message conveyed to the Serrano administration and other forces that Guatemala would face political isolation and economic sanctions if constitutional rule remained disrupted.
Guatemalan civil society mobilized massively, contributing to the apparent effectiveness of the threat of diplomatic and economic sanctions. In contrast, US pressure for human rights in Guatemala has not been effective, leading one author to caution that even sanction threats by a major power may be ineffective unless applied in a comprehensive and forceful manner, clearly conveyed through multiple channels, and combined with a wide range of policy instruments, and unless there is a moderate faction within the authoritarian regime prepared to be receptive to such pressure.
Central America, 1980s. The US was particularly active in using sanctions in its Latin American policy during the 1980s. Measures against El Salvador forced it to prosecute killers of US civilians. In an effort to destabilize the Sandinista regime, the Reagan administration cut sugar imports from Nicaragua, and imposed a more comprehensive trade boycott in 1985. The sanctions, together with other forms of pressure and various domestic and international factors, probably pushed the Sandinistas to hold early, free elections. In Panama, Noriega was able to hold out against sanctions imposed by the US.
|The cost to the target is usually much greater than the cost of sanctions to the sender. Sanctions can give the sender government the appearance of taking strong measures without resorting to a violent response to a given situation. Sanctions can be imposed in conjunction with other measures to achieve conflict prevention and mitigation goals.|
|Sanctions may be
ineffective: goals may be too elusive, the means too
gentle, or cooperation from other countries insufficient.
It is usually difficult to determine whether sanctions
were an effective deterrent against future misdeeds:
sanctions may contribute to a successful outcome, but can
rarely achieve ambitious objectives alone. Some regimes
are highly resistant to external pressures to reform. At
the same time, diplomatic sanctions may narrow the
domestic support of authoritarian regimes and aggravate
Economic sanctions can raise the cost of trade and finance to the targeted nations, but in most cases do not ruin their economies. Denied finance can compound the cost to the target country by inhibiting its ability to engage in trade without formal trade controls being imposed. Over time the target nation can develop alternative suppliers and markets, although at increased cost. The target country may receive economic or military aid from other countries opposing the sanctions. If "saving face" is important to the target nation, or if sanctions receive substantial publicity, sanctions may provoke a backlash from the targeted regime and instead increase violent conflict. Backlash from the senders allies may be exacerbated if attempts are made to enforce the sanctions extraterritorially.
Skeptics question whether the costs paid by senders are worth the benefits derived, or if the costs to innocent groups in the target countries are justified. Sanctions often do not succeed in changing the behavior of other countries, depending on various factors. In contrast to most foreign and defense actions, financed by the government treasury, sanctions costs are mostly felt by businesses whose trade is affected. Sanctions can amount to a discriminatory, sector-specific tax to finance foreign policy. Complaints of losses to domestic firms may undermine a sanctions initiative when sanctions interrupt trade and financial contacts; businesses may fear loss of their reputation for reliability. And economic sanctions may alienate the senders foreign allies.
Popular regimes are more vulnerable than authoritarian regimes to domestic pressure for the state to change its behavior. Governments with high degrees of control over information can manipulate the public to blame foreign countries for unjustifiably inflicting damages against them. Sanctions can impose a high cost on noncombatants in the target country.
Diplomatic sanctions such as breaking bilateral ties or rejecting a target country organizational membership deny sender states and organizations some of their direct leverage against the target regime.
Sender governments may fail to honor their commitments to enforce sanctions, gaining political advantage from cooperating in international efforts while reaping economic benefits by looking the other way as their companies evade the sanctions and illicitly take over the market share of other sanctioning countries.
|Sanctions are blunt tools
with limited ability to focus economic pressure against
particular groups in the target society. Sanctions can
have substantial inadvertent adverse impact on the
economy and non-targeted population groups; more
authoritarian regimes may use their populationss
suffering to motivate senders to lift sanctions. Senders
can try to design sanctions to impact most heavily on the
political leadership instead of the most vulnerable
populations. Sanctions imposed on one sector of an
economy will spill over into other sectors.
Sanctions are of limited utility in compelling a target regime to take actions it strongly resists. Sanctions against small target countries for relatively modest policy goals have greater prospects of altering foreign behavior. Sanctions are more successful in achieving objectives such as upholding international norms by punishing the target nation for unacceptable behavior, and deterring future objectionable actions. The availability of goods from other sources lessens the impact of the sanctions, raises the level of the international cooperation required to implement sanctions, and increases the domestic political costs of maintaining the controls. It is preferable to impose sanctions on goods not readily obtainable in foreign markets.
The likelihood of successfully attaining the foreign policy goals of an economic sanction is usually not determined by the actual economic damage caused by the measures. It is important to distinguish the impact of sanctionschange in target country policies or behaviorfrom their effectivenessthe role sanctions played in producing the desired political response.
The effectiveness of sanctions depends greatly on the target country governments sensitivity to its own population. Sanctions work best when there is strong internal political opposition to the target government pressuring the government to accede to the senders wishes, particularly internationally-oriented commercial interests that want to retain business ties with the country imposing the sanctions. Policy-makers often have inflated expectations of what sanctions can accomplish. If the objective is military impairment or major policy change, sender countries need to have a near monopoly over trade with the target country. The greater the number of countries needed to implement sanctions, the less likely it is they will be effective. International cooperation can increase the moral suasion of the sanction, help isolate the target country from the global community, and preempt foreign backlash and evasion, especially among allies. Without significant cooperation, a sender has little chance of achieving success important policy goals through sanctions. However, international cooperation does not ensure success. Countries in distress or experiencing significant problems are far more likely to succumb to coercion by the sender. A sanctioned state with financial resources will always be likely to find, at a price, willing suppliers somewhere.
References and resources
(UC-Davis); "Transforming a Pariah State:
International Dimensions of the South African
Transition," Africa Today, 1st and 2nd quarters,
Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Kimberly Ann Elliott, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy (Institute for International Economics, Washington, DC, 1990).
Lisa L. Martin, Coercive Cooperation: Explaining Multilateral Economic Sanctions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).