When are economic sanctions more likely to be effective?
It helps to demand smaller concessions from friendlier targets.
Economic sanctions fail to achieve their political objectives more often than not. But researchers have identified several factors that boost their chances to succeed.
First, it's important to have realistic expectations: sanctions are more likely to achieve narrow objectives such as releasing a political prisoner than more ambitious goals like regime change or military impairment.
Second, it matters who's involved. Sanctions tend to be more effective when they're levied against allies or democracies, and when they're backed by strong multilateral coalitions and international institutions. It doesn't seem to matter whether targets are economically dependent on senders. What's more important is whether targets have strong ties to non-sanctioning countries or illicit channels that can provide interim access to scare goods or resources.
Third, size matters, but only to an extent. Economic coercion appears to be more successful when it inflicts major damage on the target economy, but it's even better when these damages tilt the balance of power in favor of domestic opponents of the objectionable policy.
There remains disagreement about the benefits of targeted sanctions. On average, they appear to be no more effective than conventional sanctions, with the possible exception of restricting access to foreign assets held by targeted actors.