Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy October–November 2016
12 September 2016
Busted Sanctions: Explaining Why Economic Sanctions Fail
Bryan R. Early. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. $29.95. 275 pp.
Economic sanctions are the weapons of the rich and powerful. This is as true today as it was when E.H. Carr wrote The Twenty Years’ Crisis in the 1930s. Equally true is that sanctions frequently fail to achieve the desired effect. Worse, it often seems that a sanctioning country’s closest allies are among the most determined to undermine the pursuit of its foreign-policy objectives. Given that the alternative to sanctions is often a choice between impotence or violence, it is worth considering why that is the case.
Bryan Early offers a fascinating window onto sanctions busting. He focuses on two strategies. The first involves replacing the trade that sanctions are meant to embargo, while the second uses aid to mitigate the impact of any clampdown on foreign demand. Using a mixture of broad statistical analysis and detailed case studies of Iran and Cuba, Early identifies which countries are most likely to use either strategy to undermine sanctions.
The countries that replace trade do so for commercial reasons: to gain market access and to lock in economic advantages. The worst offenders are those that are both geographically close to the country being targeted and politically close to the country imposing the sanctions. In other words, governments that seek to apply sanctions should pay special attention to any wealthy friends in the area.