The Efficacy of Sanctions as a Method of Conflict Resolution

The efficacy of sanctions and trade embargoes, while being important methods of exercising coercive power, is largely dependent upon the specific economic profile of a targeted state, the goals of the sanctioning state and the amount of parties involved in the embargoes. States must properly assess the needs of other states to maximize their damage to another state’s economy. They must also set realistic, practical and achievable goals, and in most cases, they must be done multilaterally as to maximize the impact on another states economy. These three requirements are crucial to the success of sanctions as an effective method of conflict resolution.

For sanctions to maximize their potential economic impact on a state, and thus be an effective method of conflict resolution, they must first be able to have a significant effect a targeted state. An example of a state successfully effecting another state through sanctions would be the refusal of the United States to grant finical aid from the Marshall Plan (1948) to the Netherlands as a result of their continued colonization Indonesia. This eventually resulted in the independence of Indonesia in 1949. By directly preventing a state from a resource that is crucial to their survival, in this case that being money needed for the post WWII recovery of the Netherlands, a state can maximize their potential to harm another state. When this requirement is not met, the power of sanctions to resolve conflict diminishes. One example of this would be the contemporary sanctioning of the Netherlands by Saudi Arabia for their failure to punish a Danish cartoonist that insulted Islam. Such sanctions have proved to be largely ineffective due the fact that the Netherlands has never had a large reliance on export to Saudi Arabia nor the import of goods from Saudi Arabia. These two case studies demonstrate that a requirement of effective sanctions is for them to be crucial to economy of a targeted state.

Another requirement of effective sanctions is that realistic, practical and achievable goals are set by states in their sanctioning of other states. An example of the failure of a state to achieve their goals in sanctioning a state would be the sanctioning of Cuba by the United States from 1960 to 2016. While the US-Cuba trade embargo has been effective in crippling and drastically hurting the Cuban economy, it has largely failed in that the Cuban government has yet to end its implementation of Communist policies, which was the United States’ set goal in implementing their Cuban sanctions. This failure was cemented by the 2016 agreement to end the US’ trade embargo of Cuba. This case demonstrates how setting unrealistic goals in the implementation of sanctions can result in the failure of said sanctions to be effective tools of conflict resolution.

An extremely important aspect of the success of sanctions is that they be supported by other states. While there are cases such as the US v. Finland (1958-1959) and US v. Taiwan (1976-1977) economic sanctions that achieved the unilateral goals of the sanctioning states, in most cases states that have a diversified economy that trades with multiple states and does not heavily rely upon one single state, are usually unharmed. Cases such as the US’ sanctions of Burma and US sanctions against Russia demonstrate that when implemented unilaterally, sanctions can be largely ineffective. A good example of the effectiveness of multilateral sanctions would be the sanctions of South Africa by the international community during the 1960s which proved extremely effective in the ending of the Apartheid system by the South African government due to the fact that the sanctions were multilateral in nature. As evident by these examples, the more states that join in sanctions, the more effective sanctions will be as a tool of conflict resolution.

In conclusion, sanctions if implemented correctly and efficiently, through the setting of practical goals, intelligent targeting of states’ economies and the multilateral adoption of such sanctions, can be an extremely powerful and coercive tool used to achieve goals and end conflict by states. Such requirements are crucial to the success of sanctions as a tool of conflict resolution. When these requirements are not fulfilled sanctions can “backfire” upon sanctioning states due to their own economic losses from preventing export to and import from sanctioned states.