23:39 GMT +319 November 2019
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    Do Sanctions Really Work?

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    Are sanctions as a political tool still effective? Dr. Clara Portela, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Singapore Management University discusses this question.

    Dr Portela’s main point is that sanctions have changed a great deal since the end of the Cold War, "comprehensive embargoes have almost disappeared, and these have been replaced by targeted sanctions.” John Harrison questioned the effectiveness of sanctions, at least in Russia’s case where import replacement has been introduced, and Russia is now trading more with other nations such as China, making the sanctions not very effective. Dr. Portela said that there are various misconceptions what sanctions are. “Sanctions are not always imposed with the goal of changing the behavior of the target. They might be imposed for a range of reasons; sometimes they are imposed because the domestic audience is interested in the imposition of sanctions.”

    In Russia, the sanctions have generated a lot of anti-western feeling, John Harrison pointed out. “This is not good at all,” Dr. Portela commented, “but it is not as if there was no anti-western feeling prior to the sanctions….This is to do with how the West manages its relationship with Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. One hoped that on the weapons side that there would be a more cooperative relationship, and there was a positive period. But then there was there was a lot of disappointment arising from the fact that NATO started to expand, and that eastern European countries were assimilated into NATO… So this is something that created a sense of disappointment. The Russian population on the one hand had a positive perception of the West and they were hoping for an improvement in relations, but then on the other hand they were not very happy with the fact that NATO persisted to expand. This, in conjunction with the disappearance of the splendor of the Soviet Union, gave them a rather negative perception of the West.

    John Harrison suggested that sanctions against authoritarian countries such as N. Korea, do not actually work as they may easily encourage those leaders to be more authoritarian. “You are right, sometimes the leaders of autocratic states use the imposition of external sanctions as an excuse to clamp down, and that was clearly the case with Iraq….But in other cases, the sanctions do manage to strengthen the leaders of the opposition…if you look at the leadership of many countries which are under sanctions, the leaders tend to be a bit more reticent, to take a hard approach to what the opposition is saying. This is not something that furthers the objective of transforming the society into a more democratic society. But at least it preserves a certain degree of freedom among the opposition forces. It’s really very different from one country to another."

    John Harrison brought up the point that sanctions stop trade and the flow of communication and ideas. This is very negative in terms of helping other countries transform. “In reality we now have targeted sanctions, they do not destroy trade relations altogether, there are still forms of cooperation that are still ongoing, and trade is not interrupted completely…”

    Sanctions clearly do not always have the desired effect.

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    political tools, economic sanctions, sanctions
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