September 16th, 2014
11:38 AM ET

Do sanctions actually work?

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By Global Public Square staff

The West has announced a new round of sanctions against Russia. But can America and Europe craft effective sanctions?

Sure, sanctions have already hurt the Russian economy: stock prices are down, capital is fleeing the country and the Russian ruble has taken a hit. But Vladimir Putin shows no signs of moving to the off ramp of diplomacy that President Obama has talked about. Indeed, he's retaliating against the West by basically imposing his own set of counter-sanctions, banning around $9 billion worth of food imports from the West, despite the fact that this will mean higher food prices for Russians.

And he's not changing his military strategy, which has been to encourage the Ukrainian separatists to stand firm. So, will yet another round of sanctions do the trick?

Well, here's the problem. Sanctions don't really have that great a track record. We think of sanctions as highly effective because they did bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, it seems. But those are unusually comprehensive sanctions, implemented by almost all countries. That's very rare.

According to one study, between 1945 and 2005, sanctions have only succeeded about a third of the time. Richard Haass argued in a 1997 Foreign Affairs essay that sanctions had some successes – in Bosnia, in Iraq increasing compliance with U.N. resolutions, possibly in Pakistan, a few other places.

But sometimes sanctions did more harm than good. In Haiti in the 1990's, Haass says, sanctions hurt the poorest the most, which led to a mass exodus of Haitians to Florida, thus burdening that state. He says that the arms embargo in Bosnia disproportionately hurt Muslims and contributed to their suffering.

And let's remember, unlike Iran, which faces the threat of an Israeli strike, Russia's sanctions are not coupled with the threat of force. Also, Russia is far less isolated than Iran from the global economy – several European countries are dependent on Russian energy. Russia supplies about a third of the European Union's gas, which is why E.U. sanctions have been largely toothless.

There might be one exception that really does seem effective. We’re talking about the nuclear weapon of the sanctions arsenal – cutting Russia off from SWIFT. SWIFT is a network that allows financial institutions to send and receive information in a secure manner. It's what more than 10,500 banks use to make international money transfers in more than 200 countries. And, the U.K. wants the European Union to block Russia from this network.

The consequences would be far-reaching. Not only would it affect trade and investment, but also millions of other routine financial transactions. It's exactly what the U.S. got the private network of banks to do to Iran in 2012. And it was profoundly damaging to the Iranian economy.

But despite Britain's prodding, the E.U. is reluctant to brandish this weapon. And now it's not willing to use any real weapons – Europe is basically out of the military business, and its major countries spend peanuts on defense, which might change, but not now.

Of course, having drawn a red line, Europe and the United States have to use some measures that would exact a real price, so that Russia and Putin are willing to negotiate a solution to the Ukrainian crisis. If not, the continent looks grim. It's mired in recession, facing a secessionist vote from Scotland, with anti-European populists rising in every country.

As the columnist Anne Applebaum has said, this could be the end of Europe as we know it.

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. chri§§y

    "WE" dont think any such thing. Its like putting a band aid on a broken arm!

    September 16, 2014 at 11:41 am |
  2. palintwit

    We arrive in rusty 1964 motorhomes.
    We bring our bibles and loaded assault weapons.
    We wear ridiculous clothing and have teabags dangling from our earlobes.
    We carry misspelled racist signs as we stomp all over the White House lawn.
    We eat Chick-fil-A and wash it down with Everclear.
    We are Sarah Palin's real Americans and we adore Honey Boo Boo.
    We love the baby jesus but we love to boink our cousins even more.
    We believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that early man walked with the dinosaurs.
    We believe that nascar is a real sport and that Dale Earnhardt was a great American athlete.
    We are the birthers. We are tea party patriots.
    We are bigots and inbreds. We are morons and we are proud.

    September 16, 2014 at 11:42 am |
    • earthtourist

      And you are an elitist condescending snob who feels more comfy looking down your nose at hard working folks to pacify your sense of inadequacy. Classy. Try stuffing the infantile name calling and talk about issues.

      September 18, 2014 at 12:10 am |
  3. Thomas

    Yes , if they are truly imposed , the problem is there is always somebody to profit on the black market .

    Putin is using sanctions to bolster his Nationalistic propaganda machine , just as Adolf did back in the 1930s .

    If some of Putin's Mob like buddy's feel a loss in market share , they might do a Julius Cesar on Putin .

    The suspense is expensive !

    September 16, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Good grief Thomas, do you really believe the nonsense you posted above? The only thugs in this mix are the Neo-Nazis in Kiev and those in Washington who back them!

      September 16, 2014 at 12:54 pm |
      • banasy©

        I see your bromance with Putin continues, fauxJIF.

        September 16, 2014 at 1:05 pm |
  4. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    The politics of hunger should never work. Over the last fifty years, this has become a staple part of U.S. Foreign policy. This is completely wrong!

    September 16, 2014 at 12:51 pm |
    • banasy©

      Then why is your hero Putin employing it?

      September 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Hunger came to Russia because of communism.
      It will take a long time to overcome what Marx wrought.

      September 16, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
      • banasy©

        Stalin perverted Marxism-Leninism and famine killed most of Stalin's victims.

        September 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        Here we go, huh, @ banasy?
        I agree that Stalin made everything worse than it would have been had his mother aborted him.
        However, I do not think that communism ever works as well as capitalism. I see communism as being in opposition to human nature. I do not think that human beings can change because of a manifesto and a personable social worker.

        September 16, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
      • banasy©

        No, I just stated the truth. I do not advocate for Marxism; I am merely stating that famine killed most of the people who perished under Stalin's despotic reign.
        I think there are also many, many things wrong with a capitalist only economy; although I don't think communism is an answer, a service-based economy is not, either.

        September 16, 2014 at 4:38 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        I see nothing wrong with capitalism, and I do advocate for that economic system, with a few exceptions for shared necessities such as roads.
        We don't have to agree.

        September 16, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
      • banasy©

        If there is a balance, it could work beautifully. It used to; the problem is that the shared necessities are crumbling, and the upkeep on those federal shared roads comes out of the federal gas tax which hasn't been raised since 1993, because of, you know, reasons.

        Our country is run on taxes. I would be absolutely delighted if the halycon days of the 50's returned, as well as the halcyon tax rates. Because, you know, reasons.

        September 16, 2014 at 8:20 pm |
    • rupert


      September 16, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Ferhat Balkan

    Sanctions do not work on Putin. He simply seeks profit elsewhere (such as China & Latin American countries). Nothing will deter him from stealing more land from neighboring countries. That has been his hallmark since he gained power. On the surface, he is a shrewd politician who wins the hearts of many Russians. On the inside, he is a war criminal with little regard for innocent lives and he has a deep distrust of the West. He is willing to lie, steal and sacrifice many lives in order to achieve his goal: Novorussia.

    September 16, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Putin has not only Russians on his side, he has admirers in Europe too. His supporters glorify him in the media. Putin must have spent a fortune on trying to buy the hearts and minds of Europeans. They know winter is approaching and they don't want to freeze or sacrifice for the sake of democratic values.

      September 17, 2014 at 11:21 am |
  6. deep blue

    "This will change Europe as we know it"
    Not really, how long ago was Ukraine under Russia's thumb? Yanukovych was ousted from President only this year, right?
    Sanctions are a good alternative to world war. If you can come up with a better way to allow overly macho leaders from both sides to save face without killing more people than are already dying in Ukraine, please, speak up.

    September 16, 2014 at 1:46 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      If these guys were not somewhat macho, they would not be in positions of leadership at all.
      It's about right, for our time.
      The USA is no longer in the strong position that we enjoyed under President Reagan.
      I like Obama: he has done many good things.
      Europe is declining for several reasons, but the USA is in worse shape.
      Germany is a Phoenix. That is Germans' goal, and they achieve it.
      See Wotan.

      September 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
  7. Thomas

    @Joey Isotta-Fraschini
    Good grief Thomas, do you really believe the nonsense you posted above? The only thugs in this mix are the Neo-Nazis in Kiev and those in Washington who back them!


    There is always somebody else who want's Putins Job , things haven't changed that much in how one becomes fearless leader , I'm sure Joseph Stalin would agree .

    September 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ Thomas:
      I think that you are aware, but please do be aware that you are addressing @ My Troll, not me.
      Thank you.

      September 16, 2014 at 2:31 pm |
    • rupert

      Wrong Thomas, I fully agree with Joey (12:51). Starvation is truly inhumane. I say, let those in eastern Ukraine determine their own fate. We simply need to just butt out!

      September 16, 2014 at 3:22 pm |
      • banasy©

        Again, then why is your hero employing it?

        September 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
      • rupert

        U poser!

        September 16, 2014 at 4:55 pm |
  8. Thomas

    Wrong Thomas, I fully agree with Joey (12:51). Starvation is truly inhumane. I say, let those in eastern Ukraine determine their own fate. We simply need to just butt out!


    Starvation is truly inhumane , then why do you sit by and let it happen in your own country ?

    September 16, 2014 at 4:42 pm |
    • rupert

      It's the EU and the U.S. Who are making it happen or trying to, Thomas. Wise up!

      September 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
  9. rupert

    After we die we rot forever.

    September 16, 2014 at 5:00 pm |
  10. Thomas

    Russian authorities urged people not to panic on Tuesday as the rouble fell to a new all-time low against the US dollar amid concerns about the effect of sanctions on the country's economy.


    How many times has Putin been elected Czar ?

    September 16, 2014 at 7:03 pm |
  11. Thomas

    It's the EU and the U.S. Who are making it happen or trying to, Thomas. Wise up!

    Next you will tell me it was the USA who shot down a Malaysian jetliner .

    September 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
    • rupert

      How do you know that the Ukrainian government troops didn't shoot down flight MH17 at the behest of our own, Thomas? How convenient for them to pin this on the eastern separatists! Just think about it.

      September 16, 2014 at 11:35 pm |
  12. Thomas

    Starvation is truly inhumane unless needed for a tyrant to stay in power , such as North Korea ?

    September 16, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
  13. Li Tai Fang

    The sanctions are more about reversing Adolf Putin's course of action in the short-term. It's designed to put Putin into the poor house, isolate Soviet Russia into laughingstock status, so he won't make trouble for anyone else.

    September 17, 2014 at 2:57 am |
    • rupert

      As for Ukraine, it's Obama and Poroshenko who's causing all the problems, not Vladimir Putin. When will you lame-brained people ever learn? Enough of this stupidity already!

      September 17, 2014 at 8:47 am |
    • good to know...

      Good to know that at least some people of Chinese descent, whether in China or not, are supporting the American approach to Putinism...... this KGB THUG has to be slowed down. By spraying quicksand around his economic wagon, we have played a very smart card......... now we just sit back, relax, and watch Russia creak and groan...... 🙂 Thank you President Obama!!!!!!!!!!!!

      September 17, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
      • joe

        buk missiles already isis will have soon, stop travel poor kid.

        November 10, 2014 at 10:06 pm |
    • joe

      wait missiles n your area, kid.

      November 10, 2014 at 10:05 pm |
  14. chri§§y

    Putin is a saint i spose??? Seriously? Hes only willing to let his citizens go hungry out of spite. Hes broken the law so something must be done. There are no good guys in this conflict really @ rupert. And Obama hasnt done anything to cause this ya know.

    September 17, 2014 at 10:55 am |
  15. Marjatta Hartzell

    I have seen again the American censorship working, because they delete all of my mails, where I do critisize. So, there is no idea writing anything here, because you don`t have the real freedom of speech, what ever you brag about it around the world. We have it in most European countries and in all of them in Scandinavia, but it`s so self evident, thatr we don`t have to brag about it anywhere. We have the real democracy too, so we don`t have to pay even a penny because of any elections, not for going to school and so on. I did write about how idiotic the tea party members are behaving abd that they are pretending to be religious, for no bible asks them to cause as much sufferings as possible to their fellow beings, by saying no to everything in the government, that would maḱe the life better for them who don`t earn much, if anything in the society,for women who are beaten by their relatives, by closing the whole country, by spreading lies about the opposite party and of your wonderful intelligent president and only for racist reasons. What kind of bible do they have, that doesn`t say, that they should love thier neighbours? Are they totally emty headed? That`s what we can think in most foreign countries,

    September 17, 2014 at 11:14 am |
    • Marjatta Hartzell

      Sorry, sometimes I can be so upset, that my spelling shows it. I do spell some words wrong, but in this case I thought, that it doesn`t matter, because it would not in any way get accepted, by those who censor this post. With the real democracy in the Scandinavian countries I also meant, that everyone of us have the health insurance, even the unemployed and the homeless ones, maybe because we do still have some solidarity in our countries left. Solidarity has almost become like a dirty word in some societies, where people have become more and more selfish and shallow, don`t care about anything but of themselves and their closest. Those societies have gone backwards in the development.We pay for the insurances with our taxes, so it`s not any form of socialism, like some extremely ignorant Americans seem to think, according to what I`ve seen on CNN. We have had so called alliance of right wing parties in power the last 8 years, but not even they dared to touch our health care laws in Sweden. Otherwise the parties would have been dead after that. Luckily, we have hope now, for those parties lost the power some days ago. So no one is going to give less and less taxes for the richest ones any more, or "forget" to invest enough of money for the schools, the hospitals and for the places for care of the elderly, no one is going to privatize anything any more, or sell our rented homes owned by the municipalities and so on. The young people who didn`t know better, did vote for the right wing before, but have seen now all of the promises, that were only lies. Instead of more jobs, we got less and less jobs, much more unemployed people. So is it with the right wingers in most of the countries of the world.

      September 17, 2014 at 12:07 pm |
    • thank you, Marjatta Hartzell!

      Thank you so much, Ma'am! How refreshing to hear the Swedish viewpoint. When Americans get to read the ideas of somebody who is "outside" their own seriously screwed up system, they can wake up and take note! Yes, indeed, the "solidarity" viewpoint is all about "we the people" that WE need to take care of ourselves.......... together........... and this can only be achieved by not being so selfish!!! America today, has become extremely selfish.......... it's all about greedy people making a ton of money, at the expense of everybody else.......... and these same greedy people prefer not to pay any taxes, and have gotten away with doing so, for decades!!!!!!!!! and YES, Obama has been brutally and viciously attacked, for his entire tenure, even thought he is very smart, very knowledgeable, very capable, very wise, very careful about warring for no reason, and a very good communicator............. and just because he is black.......... how sick is that??????????

      September 17, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
    • George patton

      Good posting, Marjatta. Thank you.

      September 18, 2014 at 10:28 am |
  16. chri§§y

    Aint that the truth @ j von. And they are willing to let others go hungry this winter too!

    September 17, 2014 at 2:02 pm |
  17. Rock

    The head midget had oligarch, Vladimir Yevtushenkov, arrested because he displeased Vlad. Now as he rots in prison, Putin will steal his fortune and gibe it to one of his more compliant lap dogs.

    September 17, 2014 at 11:59 pm |
  18. Travis Markland

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    December 20, 2020 at 7:07 pm |

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