Economic Sanctions: An overview
In the conduct of foreign policy world leaders and countries have applied economic sanctions since Ancient Greece.
They have usually been used as reprisals to settle grievances with wrongdoers.
In earlier times, countries justified their reprisals as a moral right to punish wrongdoers or entities responsible for the grievance.
In many cases, reprisals were imposed as reaction to a denial of justice (an authority refused to extradite criminals), an unfriendly act (refusal to pay a debt) or to deny the (potential) enemy access to certain goods which could be used to enhance military capabilities. Reprisals could be very expansive, whereby not only denying goods, but also kidnapping citizens of another country.
With the evolution and socialization of international realizations, e.g. the promotion of friendly relations, peaceful settlement of disputes and the prohibition to use armed force in the conduct of foreign relations, punishment of wrongdoers has been replaced with compliance to accepted norms of conduct and behavior. For instance, massive human rights violations, restoration of democracy (following a military coup), stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or the support of international terrorism.
The justification for imposing economic sanctions now focuses on stopping or preventing unacceptable conduct and compelling a change of conduct.
The fundamental problem with economic sanctions is that they are an enforcement tool to compel change in conduct or behavior. Therefore, it should be no surprise that economic sanctions quickly provoke disagreements. One catches more flies with honey, than with vinegar.
From a compliance perspective, there is a common observation that as an instrument, economic sanctions are ineffective, namely they only achieve their goals in 34% of the cases which they are imposed. However, this perspective doesn’t fully explain the role of economic sanctions in the governance of global affairs, setting standards of conduct which cannot be violated without consequences.