Speaker: Ariel Petrovics, Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom

Economic sanctions are one of the most common coercive tools of foreign policy, used regularly in an effort to change target state behavior. Yet despite their versatility and prevalence in international relations, sanctions are at best an unreliable tool of foreign policy. Indeed, many of the most important and publicized sanction attempts have failed to produce any desired change in the target. Existing literature on the effectiveness of sanctions has largely focused on whether or not sanctions eventually succeed, but this overlooks the arguable more policy relevant questions of when and under what conditions sanctions are effective tools of statecraft.

The speaker's research  finds that sanctions with the greatest implications for international security — such as those that combat nuclear proliferation or foreign military aggression — fail even more catastrophically than their less salient counterparts. In addition, the implications of their failures can reverberate long after the immediate exchange. Sanctioners who fail to achieve their goals — especially goals related to international security problems — actually hurt their future credibility against any target, so their threats become even less potent in subsequent conflicts. This research contributes to the understanding of sanctions as a foreign policy tool as well as  methodological approaches for evaluating policy effectiveness. It demonstrates the importance of considering when and how quickly sanctions succeed or fail, as well as the potential consequences of failure for future conflicts.

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For more information, email the International Security Program Assistant at susan_lynch@harvard.edu.

Topic: International Security Program - April 9, 2020
Time: Apr 9, 2020 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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