June 01, 2023

The Unintended Consequences of Economic Sanctions

Economic sanctions are being used more and more often but also face more questions of effectiveness, especially as they are used on larger and larger targets. The recent anniversary of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted considerable analysis of the effectiveness of economic sanctions. In the Russia case, sanctions are clearly having an economic impact, reducing Russia’s economic and policy choices, resulting in a smaller but more centralized economy that is increasingly reliant on a smaller number of trading partners. However, there are no signs that the war is coming to an end. The Russian sanctions highlight two linked trends—the economic impacts of sanctions may build over time, impairing future investment and growth, while at the same time workarounds develop, creating resiliency. To maintain similar levels of pressure, new sanctions are required, often creating a whack-a-mole situation.

Since 2022, the risks of splintering among developed economies seem to have receded, at least temporarily and with respect to Russia.

While sanctions clearly bring economic stress and political impacts, including potential consolidations of power within the target governments, there is less evidence about their ability to bring behavioral change, as even policymakers like Janet Yellen seem recently to have pondered. Policymakers in the U.S. have begun to shift away from a prior assessment that sanctions are meant to prompt policy change, and more applications seem designed to degrade and limit the access of malign actors to the global economy. Russia is a case in point.

Read the full article from Lawfare.

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