America has a penchant for unilaterally imposing economic
sanctions on other nations. It's a "ready, fire, aim" approach to
international policy that angers allies, harms US businesses, and
almost always inflicts pain on innocent people in the targeted
Congress has dabbled at reforming US sanctions policy, but it
should now take up the issue in earnest and redirect it on a more
rational and prudent course.
Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee
and a senior member of the Foreign Relations panel, was exactly
when he said "unilateral sanctions have become, too often in the
post-cold-war era, a policy of first use, rather than a policy of
Economic sanctions are the deliberate, government-directed
withdrawal or threat of withdrawal of customary trade or financial
relations with a targeted country. They can take a number of forms,
including trade embargoes; restrictions on imports or exports;
of foreign loans and investments; or seizing control of foreign
assets or economic transactions.
They can be used to punish a nation for policies the United States
doesn't like, or to warn a nation not to continue objectionable
policies, or even to encourage the removal of a regime.
In the continuum of international intervention that extends from
polite protest to full-scale war, economic sanctions fall in the
middle. More forceful and consequential than diplomatic
admonishments, they're obviously less harsh than sending in the
The US International Trade Commission has identified 142
provisions under 42 federal statutes that require or authorize the
to restrict international trade and finance. The ITC also reports
there are 27 state, county, and city laws that impose sanctions.
It concludes that by the end of 1998, 29 nations were then being
sanctioned by the US.
Another report - by the President's Export Council - found 73
nations were targets of some form of unilateral US economic
It uses a broader definition of sanction than does the
International Trade Commission and includes limits or prohibitions
US foreign aid.
While the debate sometimes degenerates into a disagreement over
the number of nations now punished by the US, virtually no one
disputes that the US is the world leader in imposing unilateral
economic sanctions, especially since the end of the cold war.
It now seems that whenever Congress is angry or frustrated at
another country - or even at the executive branch's handling of a
crisis involving another nation - it slaps on sanctions. …