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Sanctions: Greater Congressional Oversight Needed for Costly, Ineffective "Go-To" Policy

Kristen Patel, William A. Lichtenfells, Esq.

Syracuse Law Review, July 2023

Kristen Patel

Kristen Patel

Over the last twenty years, the United States has frequently employed economic and financial sanctions, particularly unilateral, targeted sanctions as a “go-to” foreign policy and national security tool.

Despite this governmental perspective, evidence suggests that such sanctions have largely failed to meet their stated policy objectives. Moreover, empirical analysis suggests sanctions are not cost-effective, and place an undue burden on the private sector, which is charged with implementing these policy choices. 

One reason for this may be that over the past several decades, the U.S. Government has engaged sanctions for both substantive and public relations objectives. Over time, the merits of this policy focus have shifted squarely into the public relations arena. Quantifying data surrounding sanctions’ effectiveness has largely been lacking, to the point that empirical analysis of sanction effectiveness is sparse. The U.S. Government has not provided any studies that show whether its sanctions work or show that sanctions consistently influence personal or agency behaviors of these foreign governments. Thus, the lack of granular policy analysis begs the question: Do sanctions work, or are they window dressing?