Grappling with the Growing Use of Sanctions: Bridging the Academic-Policy Divide

Policymakers in the past decade have embraced the use of sanctions as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. Successive U.S. Presidents, as well as both parties in Congress, have seen the use of sanctions against U.S. adversaries as a relatively low-cost, low-risk way to respond to a variety of malign behavior. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) implements thirty sanctions programs, with thousands of individuals and entities designated. The United States has targeted sanctions at state and non-state actors alike, attempting to address policy goals in arenas including non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, human rights violations, and global narcotics trafficking. Policymakers intend a variety of effects from these sanctions: signaling what behavior is acceptable; deterring potential bad actors; and punishing others by denying them needed financial resources.

Alongside this growing use of sanctions, there has been a robust debate in the academic community about whether and under what circumstances sanctions succeeded in achieving foreign policy aims, and how effective the United States has been at deterring bad behavior and signaling the policy goals which sanctions are meant to achieve. To better understand how this academic research on sanctions can be useful to policymakers, the Center for a New American Security is partnering with Bridging the Gap to convene policy practitioners and academics focused on the use and implications of sanctions. This work benefits from the generous support of the Frankel Family Foundation.

Experts associated with this collaboration on sanctions have contributed analysis and recommendations to the policy community. These commentaries are a small sample of the work of this effort and are intended to be a resource to the policy community examining sanctions statecraft and national security strategy. SUNY Albany’s Bryan Early identifies how OFAC has used enforcement actions as a credible way to promote compliance with U.S. sanctions. University of Memphis political scientist Dursun Peksen outlines the five key conditions for a successful sanctions strategy. Dartmouth College Professor Nicholas Miller highlights how important it is for the United States to offer meaningful sanctions relief when an adversary changes behavior. CNAS Associate Fellow Neil Bhatiya looks at Congress’ growing role in sanctions policy creation. A longer white paper with further findings and policy prescriptions will be released in the fall.

Read the series

Energy, Economics, & Security

Strengthening Congress’ Role in Sanctions

Congress’ role in U.S. sanctions policymaking is not a new phenomenon, but it has taken on increased resonance in the past decade. The passage of legislation, such as the Iran...

Energy, Economics, & Security

The Eroding Value of Nonproliferation Sanctions

Is the threat of sanctions a deterrent to nuclear proliferation? Academic theory suggests deterrence should hold when the potential proliferator believes the threat of sanctio...

Energy, Economics, & Security

When Do Economic Sanctions Work Best?

With the success of comprehensive financial sanctions against Iran over nuclear proliferation during the Obama administration, policymakers in Washington have grown more confi...

Energy, Economics, & Security

Deterrence and Disclosure: The Dual Logics Promoting U.S. Sanctions Compliance

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is the primary agency responsible for promoting compliance with U.S. economic sanctions. OFAC has a m...