Jan 24, 2010

sanctions as "signals or gestures"

Regarding the sanctions resolution, reader Kevin sends along a link to an older CATO institute backgrounder on economic sanctions, which he says is excellent for the affirmative. Some highlights:
U.S. companies are harder hit by economic sanctions than are foreign governments. Although economic sanctions are rarely powerful enough to sway the policy of a foreign government (or to inflict much economic hardship), they can be very punishing or even destructive to specific domestic sectors or businesses, especially when competitiveness requires maintaining global market shares and access to foreign resources....

The nature of economic sanctions has several specific ramifications for policymakers. First, policymakers should recognize that sanctions are almost always signals or gestures rather than pressures that will force high-policy changes: they are congenitally weak policy levers, not effective "economic weapons" against foreign governments. Policymakers should not overstate the economic force of sanctions or their expected results.

That means that as policy instruments economic sanctions do not offer substantially different leverage to achieve goals than do "weak" diplomatic actions, and selections from options menus should not be based on the lingering misperception that they do. Alternative diplomatic signaling options should be reconsidered. In general, these may be expected to send the message with less economic cost to the implementor, and they are easier to control. (There is, of course, the possibility that less costly signals will be perceived as less serious responses than signals that involve more sacrifice.)
Readers should note that the article, written in 1989, can't consider "targeted sanctions" (which have taken hold in the last five years), and, for obvious reasons, doesn't cover the most recent evidence for the efficacy of sanctions, which I've covered elsewhere.

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