At What Point Do Economic Sanctions Fail?


By Lloyd Ellison

Over the last couple of months many have been concerned over the increase in tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Just last week North Korea launched a missile for the second time over Japan. The large majority of individuals involved in foreign policy want to avoid war, and instead opt for Economic Sanctions. Economic Sanctions are often used as one of the first lines of defense to punish a nation. America is in an incredibly unique position because we are a very powerful and rich nation that imports a lot of goods and one of the G7 nations. This means we are in a unique situation to punish countries when they do something the U.S. does not like. At the same time, we have seen that Economic Sanctions are not always effective. One time that we saw Sanctions implemented effectively was in Iran. The U.S. forced global companies that worked in Iran to abandon all business or else be shut out in the much larger, and profitable U.S. marketplace. Brookings Institute mentioned this was the main reason why Iran was willing to make a deal regarding its nuclear program. Another Example of sanctions working was when the global community put sanctions on the Apartheid government in South Africa in 1986 and by the early 1990’s the economy was in economic ruin and the Apartheid era ended.

At the same time there are many instances where Sanctions did not work and the reason why is when other entities undermine the U.S. As much as we would like to believe that the U.S. could institute sanctions on these countries with no other help, the fact is that these sanctions need global support from almost every wealthy nation. In Syria we have seen that sanctions have not been effective against Bashar Al-Assad’s government because he has the backing of Russia. Obama was in many ways forced into making a deal with Iran because when talks fell through with Iran in 2005, The European union continued to implement sanctions on the basis that it was to keeping Iran from having nuclear capabilities. Likewise, Europe also had a say in whether sanctions would be continued against Iran. Consequently, this brings us back to North Korea. Sanctions have been placed against North Korea since 2006 when North Korea first started its Nuclear Program. Each couple of years more sanctions come and they get harsher and harsher, but none of this has much effect. There is one main reason…China. China accounts for roughly 90% of all trade that North Korea has, as well as giving financial support to North Korea. Which means that the international community only has so much control. China does not want to deal with a fallen North Korea, and does not want to see a U.S. backed united Korea on the border of China. So where does this leave us? It leaves us in a place where the international community has done almost everything it can. It is more likely that the tensions between the U.S. (and allies) and North Korea will only be solved when china implements the sanctions as fully as every other nation.