January 20, 2015

SOTU: Zachary Goldman on Sanctions

By Zachary K. Goldman

In 2015, the President should devote substantial attention to working with Congress to adjust current sanctions programs--in the context of Cuba, and potentially Iran if there is an agreement over its nuclear program—so that they can continue to be used to accomplish precise political goals. This effort will build on the remarkable innovation seen in the design of targeted sanctions programs in 2014, in which those programs became ever-more-tailored to the specific political ends they intended to accomplish. The sanctions imposed in the Ukraine context, which restricted the ability of Russian banks and energy companies to obtain certain technologies and long-term financing, sought to impose costs on Russia for its activities in Eastern Europe while minimizing the consequences for Western economies. Adjusting the nature of Cuba and Iran sanctions, by contrast, will be more complicated because of their long-standing nature, complicated mix of executive and legislative programs, and, in the case of Iran, dense web of multilateral instruments. In order to keep the tools of financial warfare flexible and sharply honed, it will be necessary to show that they can be adjusted with the same degree of precision with which they were imposed.