Do economic sanctions work?

They rarely achieve their ultimate goals and can make matters worse.

The use of economic sanctions to achieve foreign policy objectives is on the rise. The UN Security Council has approved 30 sanctions regimes since 1966, and only two of them were established prior to the end of the Cold War.

Sanctions appear to work in a narrow sense: they often achieve their most proximate goals of reducing financial flows to targets and damaging their economies.

But researchers estimate that sanctions only achieve their ultimate political goals of capitulation or acquiescence between 10-35% of the time, depending on how success is measured.

At worst, sanctions can further destabilize target countries. For example, there is some evidence that sanctions have increased domestic repression, escalated violence during civil wars, and negatively impacted domestic infrastructure and public health.

As with most policy instruments, context matters. Therefore, policymakers looking to impose sanctions to further their goals should pay special attention to the conditions under which sanctions are more likely to be effective.

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