Negotiation and Strategy: Understanding Sanctions Effectiveness

Despite extensive and ongoing debate about economic sanctions, policy makers disagree about their effectiveness. This is to some extent surprising given the frequency and ceremony with which states sanction each other to achieve their policy goals. Analytically, this confusion is understandable; the multitude of factors that influence the outcome of a conflict involving sanctions confounds the task of evaluating the impact of sanctions.

Ongoing efforts by the United States and the United Nations to influence proliferators and human rights violators, such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Burma with sanctions suggest that they will remain a preferred policy tool for the major powers. In that light, it is essential to continue honing our understanding of the conditions under which they can be expected to achieve established policy goals.

This paper advances the debate about sanctions efficacy by assessing their role in a broader conflict management strategy. It argues that sanctions are more likely to succeed when they yield conditions conducive to bargaining between the parties to a dispute. The centrality of bargaining means that if sanctioners are unwilling to compromise over major policy goals, sanctions alone are unlikely to succeed. Therefore, countries aiming to achieve policy goals through sanctions must be prepared to engage, negotiate and compromise with their adversaries.