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Joe Biden and new administration could fix economic sanctions

As Joe Biden assembles his national security and foreign policy teams, an important issue will be economic sanctions. The need to restore this once effective, but recently misused, tool for advancing our American interests has never been as challenging. Unlike rejoining several critical treaties, or dispensing seasoned emissaries to mend fences with allies, reformulating how and where to impose sanctions marks a complex dilemma.

In the last four years, the Treasury Department sanctions lists have grown to more than 20 countries and nearly 8,000 individuals and entities. The choice of some targets was sensible, as in the case of officials engaged in repression in Belarus and Hong Kong, or of war crimes in the Congo. Yet others, such as officials of the International Criminal Court, and various entities in Iran that were added over the last month, lacked evidentiary and political credibility. This plus stubborn faith in the use of maximum pressure sanctions as the way to achieve nuclear nonproliferation aims constitute the flawed ideas about achieving sanctions success.

In crafting the rehabilitation of sanctions, Biden and his teams can draw with confidence from the research findings that have emerged from the success and failures over the last three decades. Knowing that sanctions will achieve compliance from the targets only about a third of the time is critical. In terms of American actions, our most effective sanctions have originated in the United Nations Security Council and were bolstered by our narrowly targeted financial sanctions aimed at those individuals and entities that are primarily responsible for the wrongdoing.

Sanctions also work best when they are one of a number of diverse tools used to achieve a set of strategic policy goals which are consistent and articulated in a manner that is fully understood by the target around the behavior that must change in order to lift the sanctions. Sanctions must not just enrage the target. They must include diplomacy to engage the target. Sanctions which fail are ones that have moved from being a tool for achieving a policy to actually becoming the policy.

Read the full article in The Hill.

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