Economic sanctions: A test of clout



“War is hell,” General William Tecumseh Sherman famously uttered this as he reflected on his campaigns in the American Civil War. Most people who have had a taste of war are likely to agree. The loss of life is always regrettable, and good leaders usually avoid wars if possible. Conflicts, however, are inevitable.

Enter sanctions. Economic sanctions are trade penalties imposed by one country on another, and they can be created for a variety of reasons, although they are mostly political in nature. Sanctions are particularly effective in producing results when the country imposing them has either a resource or a market that the other country needs. Sanctions can be particularly deadly when other countries follow suit and multiple sanctions are created.

In theory, the practice of sanctioning sounds impressive, and there have been several cases where imposing economic sanctions has produced real, relatively timely results. The key to their success is cooperation. If one European country imposed a sanction on America, nothing would happen. If the entire European Union placed a sanction on America, America would be acting posthaste to have it removed.

Sanctions are effective when convictions are widespread. The multiple sanctions placed on North Korea, for example, are effective. Necessarily, the effectiveness of a sanction is a testament to the power and influence of a country, both in terms of resources and political clout. If a wealthy country places a sanction on another, it blocks the offending country from the sanctioning country’s resources and communicates to the global community that the offending country is problematic.

America has faced a stiff test over the better part of the last decade in its sanctioning of Iran and many of the nations it believes are harboring terrorists and others who are acting against their interests. While the sanction on Iran has had an effect on the country, it has not produced the results America is looking for. With the rising threat of an expansive Russia, America must seriously evaluate its ability to stem the tide of international unrest.

The American people have grown tired of enforcing justice on a global scale as recent crises have illustrated the arduousness of doing so. To date, economic sanctions have been a powerful tool in keeping smaller countries in line. As Russia begins to take aggressive and offensive actions eerily similar to ones taken by a crazed Austrian less than a century ago and America contemplates enforcing sanctions, we must soberly assess our ability to stymie hostilities.