Earlier this month, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Economic Sanctions: Agencies Assess Impacts on Targets, and Studies Suggest Several Factors Contribute to Sanctions’ Effectiveness.” (Whew!)
Here’s the lead “What GAO Found” section”:
The Departments of the Treasury (Treasury), State (State), and Commerce (Commerce) each undertake efforts to assess the impacts of specific sanctions on the targets of those sanctions. For example, Treasury and State both analyze or compile information on sanctions programs’ impacts, such as on a target country’s economy. In addition, Commerce assesses prospective impacts of some sanctions on targeted countries and others. According to Treasury and State officials, the agencies also use Intelligence Community assessments to gauge sanctions’ impacts. However, agency officials cited several difficulties in assessing sanctions’ effectiveness in meeting broader U.S. policy goals, including challenges in isolating the effect of sanctions from other factors as well as evolving foreign policy goals. According to Treasury, State, and Commerce officials, their agencies have not conducted such assessments on their own. However, they stated that agency assessments of sanctions’ impacts often contribute to broader interagency discussions that examine the effectiveness of sanctions in achieving policy goals.
The academic studies GAO reviewed suggest that several factors have contributed to more-effective sanctions. Studies examining factors that contribute to the effectiveness of sanctions in changing targeted countries’ behavior provided evidence that sanctions have been more effective when (1) they were implemented through an international organization (e.g., the United Nations) or (2) the targeted countries had some existing dependency on, or relationship with, the United States, such as a trade or military relationship. In addition, studies examining factors that increased sanctions’ economic impact provided evidence that the impact has generally been higher when the sanctions were more comprehensive in scope or severity, or—similar to the findings on effectiveness in changing behavior—were imposed through an international organization. Sanctions may also have unintended consequences for targeted countries, such as negative impacts on human rights or public health. In some studies, larger economic impacts were associated with more unintended consequences.
It’s not a bad read – confirms a lot of common wisdom, But, it does make you think – then why do we have all these programs that are unlikely to bear fruit?