Understanding Sanctions

February 24, 2022
4:09 pm


Sanctions are non-violent attempts by a country or countries to compel a change in behavior within another country while also avoiding engagement that could lead to war.

Economic sanctions are especially used to ‘turn up the heat’ when peaceful diplomacy has failed to produce the desired results.

Common types of sanctions

Economic & Financial Sanctions

  • Duties on imports and exports of goods
  • Embargoes on imports and exports of goods
  • Naval blockades to block imports
  • Foreign aid reduction
  • Freezing financial assets
  • Severing ties with foreign banks and other financial institutions

Diplomatic & Travel Sanctions

  • Cancellations of high-profile government visits
  • Travel bans on key individuals such as diplomats, political figures, or athletes
  • Expelling or withdrawing ambassadors and other diplomats
  • Closing embassies
  • Cutting off diplomatic relations

Military Sanctions

  • Arms embargo – block the sale of weapons or “dual-use technology” (non-weapon technology that can be used as weapons, such as classified information or chemicals) to the target country or businesses in the country

Why use sanctions?

The goal of sanctions is to put pressure on the foreign country in some important ways. Sanctions are viewed as a middle-point between the extremes of peaceful diplomacy and violent war and are used to:

  1. compel a change of behavior
  2. avoid an undesirable future situation

Examples of desired outcomes often include:

  • stimulating popular demands for political change internally
  • banning arms-related exports or the trade of other specific critical technologies
  • combating terrorism, genocide, human trafficking, and narcotics
  • preventing the development of weapons of mass destruction

Do sanctions work?

The vast majority of sanctions made by a single country do not accomplish their intended goals. However, they tend to be more successful as more countries participate and work together to impose the sanctions against the target country.

Sanctions lose their leverage the more they are used, particularly when they are repeatedly used unsuccessfully.

Sanctions often don’t work because they hurt the citizens of the target country long before their politicians begin to suffer. In theory, sanctions work better when used against democracies in the months leading up to elections (when the politicians are more responsive to the pains of their people). Nations that have faulty or no elections would be less responsive to the demands of their suffering people.

It should also be noted that economic sanctions come with a cost and usually hurt both the target nation and the nation imposing them.

Read More: Effectiveness of Economic Sanctions in Achieving American Foreign Policy Goals

Jacob Householder

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