The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions, Economic Sanctions and American Foreign Policy in the Unipolar Era


Political Science & International Affairs

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009


Are economic sanctions effective instruments of American foreign policy? The consensus view among scholars and in the popular press holds that sanctions are futile efforts, and often work to undermine U.S. foreign policy objectives. The research presented in this study supports the converse conclusion; that sanctions are often effective policy tools which have succeeded in a large majority of instances in the contemporary era. The jaundiced conventional wisdom is an anachronism shaped by bipolar-era studies asserting the low efficacy of economic statecraft. The major shift in the polar distribution of power which occurred two decades ago, however, significantly altered the dynamics of economic statecraft, making it a far more effective instrument of foreign policy for the United States; with significantly lower costs and risks than military force. The efficacy of the sanctions tool, however, may soon begin to wane, as American economic primacy appears to be on the decline and as evidence is already emerging that rising powers are engaging in counterbalancing measures against U.S. sanctions efforts.


New England Journal of Political Science





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