Making Smart Sanctions Smarter

File:Secretary Kerry Meets With Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Vienna.jpg

 Sanctions can be a powerful tool, provided there is thought applied to their implementation and scope.

by Brittney Lenard

Depending on whom you ask, April’s nuclear framework agreement between the P5+1 countries (the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, Russia, and Germany) and Iran represents anything from an unprecedented diplomatic feat to reckless endangerment of the world’s population. For proponents of targeted, or “smart,” sanctions, it was unquestionable proof of such punitive financial measures’ effectiveness as a foreign policy tool. They may be right. The unprecedented regime of UN, regional, and national sanctions leveled against Tehran was instrumental in slowing its progress toward nuclear weapons capability and bringing Iran’s leaders to the negotiating table. Even so, targeted sanctions’ proponents must not rest on their laurels. Despite some successes, serious problems with sanctions programs remain, and it is time for the United States to rethink its approach.

Growing support for targeted sanctions is indeed a positive development. Past comprehensive sanctions regimes crippled national economies and exacted dire humanitarian tolls, all while proving disappointingly limited in their effectiveness at altering foreign leaders’ behavior. The oft-cited UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s failed to compel disarmament and ultimately led to the deaths from starvation of up to half a million Iraqi children as the country’s economy collapsed. Targeted sanctions, on the other hand, include arms embargoes, asset freezes, travel restrictions, and trade sanctions designed to pressure individual policymakers rather than an entire population whose suffering is unlikely to affect top-level decision making.

The United States has been particularly enthusiastic about such measures. Indeed, President Obama expanded their use in April with an executive order authorizing sanctions in response to cyberattacks targeting U.S. assets or infrastructure. Targeted sanctions are certainly a potent weapon in an era in which economic power has become as important as military might, but our current approach has not always yielded the desired results. We therefore need to take a hard look at how we use these measures, what they can and cannot do, and how we can make smart sanctions smarter.

This article was originally published in the DiplomatView full text of the original article here.

Photo: U.S. Department of State

Brittney Lenard is a Young Professionals in Foreign Policy Fellow for the Changing Nature of Power program. She was previously a member of the Europe and Eurasia practice at McLarty Associates, an international strategic advisory firm in Washington, DC.