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When Do Imposed Economic Sanctions Work? A Critical Review of the Sanctions Effectiveness Literature


  • Dursun Peksen


There is growing policy consensus in Washington and other Western capitals that economic sanctions are powerful tools to cope with major foreign policy crises. Are sanctions, particularly targeted sanctions, really the potent instruments optimists suggest? Under what circumstances do punitive economic measures induce policy change in sanctioned countries? To probe these queries, in this article I outline the conditions that have been identified as more likely to lead to successful sanctions outcomes in the literature. I also discuss four major shortcomings of existing scholarship. First, the sender-biased interpretation of sanctions effectiveness renders the treatment of the ‘ineffective’ cases with negative outcomes the same as those cases that induce no discernable change in target behavior. Second, the prevalent use of static data from existing sanctions databases reduces the ability of researchers to study various time-specific factors affecting the probability of sanctions success. Third, the dominant state-centric bargaining model in the literature offers limited insight into contemporary coercive measures directed at non-state actors. Fourth, the study of sanctions in isolation of other instruments that frequently accompany them, such as incentives and diplomatic pressure, leads to a partial understanding of the specific role sanctions play in shaping the outcome of key foreign policy initiatives.

Suggested Citation

  • Dursun Peksen, 2019. "When Do Imposed Economic Sanctions Work? A Critical Review of the Sanctions Effectiveness Literature," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(6), pages 635-647, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:defpea:v:30:y:2019:i:6:p:635-647
    DOI: 10.1080/10242694.2019.1625250

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    Cited by:

    1. Felbermayr, Gabriel & Kirilakha, Aleksandra & Syropoulos, Constantinos & Yalcin, Erdal & Yotov, Yoto V., 2020. "The global sanctions data base," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 129(C).
    2. Katharina Meissner, 2023. "How to sanction international wrongdoing? The design of EU restrictive measures," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 18(1), pages 61-85, January.
    3. Edoardo Grillo & Antonio Nicolò, 2022. "Learning it the hard way: Conflicts, economic sanctions and military aids," "Marco Fanno" Working Papers 0284, Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche "Marco Fanno".
    4. Inna V. Lazanyuk & David Mambu Diu, 2022. "Angola's economy under sanctions: problems and solutions," R-Economy, Ural Federal University, Graduate School of Economics and Management, vol. 8(3), pages 208-218.
    5. Kai A. Konrad & Marcel Thum, 2022. "Elusive Effects of Oil and Gas Export Embargoes," Working Papers tax-mpg-rps-2022-05, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance.
    6. Konrad, Kai A. & Thum, Marcel, 2023. "Elusive effects of export embargoes for fossil energy resources," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C).
    7. Peter A. G. van Bergeijk, 2020. "Can the Sanction Debate Be Resolved?," CESifo Forum, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, vol. 20(04), pages 3-8, January.
    8. Wonjae Hwang & Jeeseon Hwang, 2023. "Health aid for states with dissimilar foreign policy preferences, a tool for peace?," International Area Studies Review, Center for International Area Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, vol. 26(1), pages 55-70, March.
    9. Raul Caruso, 2021. "Economic Statecraft: from Negative Sanctions to Positive Sanctions," Working Papers 1010, European Centre of Peace Science, Integration and Cooperation (CESPIC), Catholic University 'Our Lady of Good Counsel'.
    10. Sedrakyan, Gohar Samvel, 2022. "Ukraine war-induced sanctions against Russia: Consequences on transition economies," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 44(5), pages 863-885.
    11. Adelaide Baronchelli & Raul Caruso & Roberto Ricciuti, 2022. "Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons: Are embargoes effective?," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 45(5), pages 1336-1361, May.
    12. Ricardo Hausmann & Ulrich Schetter & Muhammed A. Yildirim, 2022. "On the Design of Effective Sanctions: The Case of Bans on Exports to Russia," CID Working Papers 417, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    13. Michal Onderco & Reinout Arthur van der Veer, 2021. "No More Gouda in Moscow? Distributive Effects of the Imposition of Sanctions," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(6), pages 1345-1363, November.
    14. Demena, B.A. & Benalcazar Jativa, G. & Reta, A.S. & Kimararungu, P.B. & van Bergeijk, P.A.G., 2021. "Does research on economic sanctions suffer from publication bias?," ISS Working Papers - General Series 674, International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS), The Hague.
    15. George Saridakis & Constantinos Alexiou & Roger Hoseinc & Nirvana Satnarine-Singhc, 2022. "Hegemonic Sanctions and Global Economic Ramifications in the Context of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict: A Commentary," SPOUDAI Journal of Economics and Business, SPOUDAI Journal of Economics and Business, University of Piraeus, vol. 72(1-2), pages 34-55, January-J.
    16. Firat Demir & Saleh S. Tabrizy, 2022. "Gendered effects of sanctions on manufacturing employment: Evidence from Iran," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(4), pages 2040-2069, November.
    17. Hoon Lee & David Lektzian & Glen Biglaiser, 2023. "The Effects of Economic Sanctions on Foreign Asset Expropriation," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 67(2-3), pages 266-296, February.
    18. Dizaji, S.F. & Lis, P. & Murshed, S.M. & Zweiri, M., 2020. "What the political economy literature tells us about blockades and sanctions," ISS Working Papers - General Series 130655, International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS), The Hague.
    19. Moteng, Ghislain & Raghutla, Chandrashekar & Njangang, Henri & Nembot, Luc Ndeffo, 2023. "International sanctions and energy poverty in target developing countries," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 179(C).
    20. Axel Michaelowa, 2021. "Solar Radiation Modification ‐ A “Silver Bullet” Climate Policy for Populist and Authoritarian Regimes?," Global Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 12(S1), pages 119-128, April.
    21. Kamer-Ainur Aivaz & Ionela Florea Munteanu & Mari-Isabella Stan & Alina Chiriac, 2022. "A Multivariate Analysis of the Links between Transport Noncompliance and Financial Uncertainty in Times of COVID-19 Pandemics and War," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(16), pages 1-23, August.
    22. Ken Yahagi, 2023. "Sanctions and rewards with a motivated agent," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 44(4), pages 2057-2067, June.

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