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Sanctions: A Viable Tool or an Ineffective Instrument of Foreign Policy?

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The preponderance of American strategic thinking today is that sanctions do not work as an effective instrument of foreign policy. If one accepts this conventional wisdom, then why has the United States substantially increased its use of sanctions to obtain political objectives The answer may lie in ones definition of success. This paper examines the use of sanctions and their effectiveness. It also discusses ways in which sanctions can be made more effective, and addresses the usefulness of combining other diplomatic instruments with sanctions. Sanctions are one of a series of instruments that a nation state may use to seek political objectives against a target country. Sanctions are regarded as coercive in nature in that their use is designed to force the target to bend to the will of the nation that imposes the sanctions. In recent history, leading nations and the United Nations have increased the imposition of sanctions. The more recent uses of sanctions include economic sanctions to force Iraq to leave Kuwait, sanctions against Serbia, Haiti, South Africa and, of course, the long standing U.S. embargo against Cuba. One comprehensive examination of the effectiveness of sanctions is found in the 1990 research by Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliott HSE. These three economists collected data on 116 cases involving the use of sanctions since 1914 and concluded that sanctions were effective in 34 40 of 116 of the cases studied. The work of HSE is refuted by Robert A. Pape, who declares that only 5 of HSEs 116 cases were successful. What can be done to make sanctions more effective The consensus view is that multilateral sanctions are more effective than those imposed unilaterally by a single country. Another approach to improving sanctions is the use of targeted sanctions. Although the use of sanctions is clearly not an ideal strategy, the case for employing sanctions is compelling when compared to the alternative of protracted military conflict.

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  • Government and Political Science

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