June 15, 2020

Sanctions by the Numbers: The Geographic Distribution of U.S. Sanctions

In February, CNAS launched Sanctions by the Numbers, a project to track U.S. sanctions designations and delistings. In this second installment, heat maps show the most heavily targeted states in three periods of time: over the course of the Obama administration from 2009–2017, the Trump administration from 2017–June 2020, and a snapshot of the past decade through June 2020. The maps rely on ten years of sanctions data published by the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Obama Administration Designations by Country, January 2009–January 2017

During the Obama administration, 655 Iranian individuals and entities were sanctioned under U.S. authorities, making Iran the most-sanctioned country in the world. However, other states are close behind, which demonstrates a broad application of sanctions during the Obama years. Colombia and Mexico were the second- and third-most sanctioned states, due to a high number of counter-narcotics designations. Mexico also owed its high number of designated entities to organized crime and drug regimes. Russia was the fourth most frequently-sanctioned country during the Obama administration, with most of these designations tied to Ukraine.

Trump Administration Designations by Country, February 2017–June 2020

The Trump administration’s maximum pressure sanctions campaign against Iran is strikingly clear when mapped. In just three years, the Trump administration has levied almost 300 more sanctions on Iranian entities than the Obama administration levied over two terms. Only Venezuela is close to Iran in overall designations, though many of these are sanctions on the Maduro regime’s individual aircraft.

A Side-by-Side Comparison of Designations by Country

In the past three years, the United States has moved from a wider utilization of sanctions to highly concentrated efforts on fewer targets, as shown by this interactive time-lapse map.

Overall Designations by Country, 2010–2020

Across ten years of sanctions designations, Iran has been the highest priority for both administrations. While the Obama administration applied sanctions to a wider range of countries, the Trump administration has opted for heavy sanctions pressure on a few high-priority target countries.


The resident country for each designated individual or entity was extracted and tallied. Where resident countries did not accurately reflect the entity’s true location, the true location of the entity was used. For example, a ship owned by a Chinese entity but sailing under a Panamanian flag would be listed under China, not Panama. This project tracks only U.S. sanctions as listed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and not, for example, the UN Security Council or EU sanctions.

  • Burma includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to Executive Orders (EOs) 13619 and 13651.
  • Counternarcotics includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to EO 12978 and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
  • North Korea includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to EOs 13687, 13722, and 13810.
  • Nicaragua includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to EO 13851 and the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018.
  • Iran includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010; the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act; the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act; as well as EOs 13553, 13608, 13846, and 13876.
  • Ukraine includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to EOs 13660, 13661, 13685.
  • Russia/SSI includes all entities identified pursuant to EO 13662.
  • Magnitsky includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
  • Venezuela includes all entities sanctioned pursuant to EOs 13692, 13850, and 13884.

This is the second installment in the Sanctions by the Numbers series. To read the first installment by Johnpatrick Imperiale, click here.

  1. "OFAC Recent Actions," U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, accessed May 18th, 2020, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/OFAC-Recent-Actions.aspx.


  • Abigail Eineman

    Former Intern, Energy, Economics, and Security Program

    Abigail Eineman is a former Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Intern for the Energy, Economics, & Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)....

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