IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

International sanctions as international punishment

Listed author(s):
  • Nossal, Kim Richard
Registered author(s):

    Much of the contemporary literature on the utility of international sanctions approaches the apparent riddle of why sanctions are embraced so eagerly when they are supposedly such an “ineffective” tool of statecraft by focusing on the instrumental and rational purposes of sanctions. As a result, one purpose that does not always lend itself to a rational means-end calculus—the purpose of punishment—tends to be overlooked or, more commonly, dismissed outright. This article explores punishment as both a useful and an effective purpose of international sanctions. It argues not only that sanctions should be distinguished from other forms of hurtful statecraft but also that they are a form of “international punishment” for wrongdoing, despite the difficulties of applying the term “punishment” in the context of international relations. The article then examines the purposes of punishment and reveals that only some are understandable when a model of means-end rationality is used, suggesting that the element of the nonrational also plays an important role in international sanctions. The argument is then applied to the case of U.S. sanctions imposed after the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan to demonstrate the different purposes of punishment at work in this case. The article concludes that just as we cannot understand punishment as a purposive human activity solely by reference to a rational model of a means to a clearly delineated end, so too we cannot entirely understand sanctions as a form of international punishment by an attachment to a rational model of policy behavior. However, some forms of punishment are exceedingly effective, and this may explain why sanctions continue to be a popular instrument of statecraft.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    File Function: link to article abstract page
    Download Restriction: no

    Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal International Organization.

    Volume (Year): 43 (1989)
    Issue (Month): 02 (March)
    Pages: 301-322

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:43:y:1989:i:02:p:301-322_03
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
    Cambridge University Press, UPH, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge CB2 8BS UK

    Web page:

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:43:y:1989:i:02:p:301-322_03. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Keith Waters)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.