NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 29, 2004

Economic sanctions have been denounced as diplomatically and economically self-defeating, but Michael Judge of the Wall Street Journal says they can be effective given the proper circumstances.

The criticisms of sanctions arise from their general inability to remove or change the behavior of a rogue regime:

  • Historically, the government targeted by sanctions has ended up entrenched in power -- such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Fidel Castro in Cuba.
  • One of the oft-cited exceptions to this rule was the fall of South Africa's apartheid regime in the early 1990s; however, there the incumbent government negotiated a peaceful transition to one led by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.

Human-rights advocate Fr. Robert Sirico partly explains the reason for these differences: "The worse the government, the less effective are the sanctions, precisely because despotic regimes ignore the sufferings of the people."

Looking forward, Judge says past successes such as South Africa provides insights into how sanctions can be effective:

  • Sanctions need to be multilateral to be productive -- after all, if one country refuses to do business with a rogue regime, another one will.
  • To rally international support it may be required for one nation to take the lead, using unilateral sanctions and diplomatic pressure to get other nations on board.
  • There has to be an organized opposition in the country targeted so that the sanctions can be used as a political weapon, which Judge thinks is the case in Burma.

Economist Jagdish Bhagwati perhaps best summarizes this philosophy in regards to the recent sanctions imposed against Burma: "[It] is widely considered to be abusive; it is pitted against a Nobel laureate for peace; distaste for its regime is widely shared and recorded in votes in international institutions"

Source: Michael Judge, "Are Sanctions Evil?" Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2004.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB109019322428267001-search,00.html


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