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Foreign Policy Analysis
Sanctions | Model Diplomacy

Sanctions | Model Diplomacy

Sanctions can be defined in many ways.
The maybe simplest or broadest way to define them is that they are a
restriction on an economic or political action that would otherwise happen. Sanctions can be imposed by Congress.
They can be imposed by the executive branch. Sanctions can be imposed also by
state governments, or individual businesses might decide not to invest or
trade in certain areas. Or you have divestment campaigns, which are
essentially forms of sanctions. Often targeted sanctions are political in
nature. They may be against particular individuals to keep those individuals
from traveling abroad. Or it may be a sanction to freeze the assets of a
particular individual. There’s a very broad category of economic sanctions. Some of
those could involve trade, just the export or the import of particular
commodities. Oil might be the one that comes to mind first and foremost. But
there are also sanctions on investment. And there are also financial sanctions, which
really prohibit not the trade of concrete goods but put restrictions on
the flow of money or the ability of one country to do transactions in
the global financial system. American policymakers have found that
they can have a huge economic impact by saying to other countries, “if you do
business with country X you’re not going to be able to open bank accounts
in the United States.” However, there’s increasing concern that America might
overuse financial sanctions. It may be that the more America uses financial
sanctions, and the more it encourages its allies to use financial sanctions, the
more incentive there is for countries to do their transactions without using the dollar,
without using the American financial system. A sanction is a tool, not a strategy.
And that distinction is often lost on people studying foreign policy or even
making foreign policy. Often policymakers think about individual sanctions. But if
policymakers think about sanctions in a more strategic way, they would think
about how could they create an entire sanctions regime that is best geared towards
achieving their broad goals. So say your objective is really to get a country to change its behavior. The
best contemporary instance of that is Iran. The very explicit purpose has been
to bring Iran to the negotiating table. And so there, you want a sanctions regime
that’s very flexible, that you’re able to use inducements and threats alongside of
sanctions, and credibly say to the country in question, “if you do this
action that’s desired, you will get this sanctions relief.” This is a very interesting
case because in many ways I think it has revived the interest in
international sanctions. Sanctions I think will be credited with really
playing a vital role in a very complex
and complicated strategy. People often ask the question, “do
sanctions work?” I always get a little irritated with that question because I
never hear it asked in relationship to any other tool of foreign policy. The answer’s yes, but in certain
circumstances and when used in conjunction with other tools. So at the end of
the day, the question is not so much, “do sanctions work,” but “are sanctions the
best tool policymakers have to use in light of what their other options are?” I
expect that sanctions will continue to play a very big role in
American foreign policy. Faced with a situation where
policymakers really want to demonstrate that they’re taking action, but aren’t in
a position or don’t desire to take action that could be too expensive in
terms of lives or dollars, they may continue to impose sanctions.

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