Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Economic Sanctions: Public Goals and Private Compensation*

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Economic Sanctions: Public Goals and Private Compensation*

Article excerpt


Two seemingly contradictory trends-globalization, epitomized by the free flow of goods and capital across nations, and the frequent disruption of these free flows for foreign policy reasons-emerged in the 1990s.1 Economic sanctions were so routinely imposed in the early 1990s that scholars came to call it the "Sanctions Decade" (see Figure 1). Economic sanctions were the policy tool of choice to address an increasing number of foreign policy concerns.

What are the reasons for this proliferation of economic sanctions in the early 1990s? First, while the United States remained by far the most frequent user of economic sanctions in absolute terms, this period saw the emergence of new sender countries.2 The end of the Cold War and superpower rivalry brought with it new enthusiasm for international cooperation within the United Nations framework. Cooperation among major powers manifested itself in a remarkable increase in UN peacekeeping missions and humanitarian operations-and these were often accompanied by the imposition of economic sanctions. Since 1990, the UN Security Council has imposed mandatory sanctions thirteen times, compared to just twice-against South Africa and Rhodesia-before 1990.3

Moreover, while Western sanctions against the former Soviet Union ("FSU") and Eastern bloc countries decreased with the end of the Cold War, Russia itself has initiated six sanction episodes against newly independent states of the FSU in an effort to secure political rights for Russian minorities and better economic terms from its newly independent neighbors.5 The EU as well has become a more active user of economic sanctions over the last decade. Partly due to increased efforts to develop a Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU has emerged as a political actor with an identity distinct from its member states. The increased sanctions activity of the EU illustrates this point, as the member states themselves might not have imposed their own sanctions. Moreover, the Common Commercial Policy of the European Community requires that restrictions on external commercial relations be implemented by common institutions.6

Two other new trends are linked to the appearance of new sender countries-the broader range of foreign policy goals and the shift in geographic location of targets. In the post Cold War era many issues formerly considered internal affairs of the state are now considered to be legitimate concerns of the international community. UN sanctions against Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were all linked to instances of civil war and other forms of internal strife. Other UN sanctions were aimed at addressing terrorism (Libya, Sudan, and Afghanistan), territorial aggression (Iraq, prior to the first Gulf War), weapons of mass destruction (Iraq, after the first Gulf War), and regional conflicts (Ethiopia and Eritrea). However, in many instances the new threats were not of paramount concern for the major powers and only weakly enforced arms embargoes were imposed under the UN umbrella. By the same token, the majority of EU sanctions were only minor aid cuts.

The second striking change in the 1990s (compared to previous decades) is the decline of new cases targeting Latin American countries and the rise in new cases involving countries in Africa. Instances of US economic sanctions against Latin American countries decreased during the 1990s as the region moved towards democratic governance. New sanction initiatives in Africa increased, however, in response to the rise of civil strife, regional conflicts, and concern over repressive regimes. This geographic shift is an important reason for more frequent sanctions from European nations today.7

The proliferation of economic sanctions in the first half of the decade sparked a renewed debate about their effectiveness as a foreign policy tool, both in the United States as well as within the UN. …

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