Swedish Defence Research Agency
The implementation of targeted sanctions is a flexible and multivariate process embedded in a larger strategic context that involves a sender and a target, where the decision-making, perception and interactions among these, during well-defined episodes in a sanctions regime, are expected to shape impact that will lead to a political outcome.1
The Promise of a Sanctions Episode
Sanctions are many times treated as a stand-alone measure where direct causal links between input and output is operating. This is time and again done by looking at the sanctions “case” as the unit of observation. However, experience shows that sanctions assessment requires a fairly broad integration of factors that shape the outcome of a sanctions case, considering both a variety of exogenous and endogenous factors such as the strategic context in which the sanctions case is taking place. These factors includes, for instance, the number and type of actors involved, they type of conflict, they type of measures applied, the history of conflict, the relationship between the sender and the target, existing policy resources at the disposal of the sender and the target, institutional capacities, technical knowledge, monitoring mechanisms; skills of personnel working with sanctions administrators, etc. Thus, one could here talk about the need to include both formal and informal factor operating in targeted sanctions analysis. This is important both for the theory of targeted sanctions as well as an understanding of their role in practice. In all, this suggests that one apply a “multi-factor” approach when seeking to understand the utility of sanctions.
Before going into further detail about this multivariate approach, it is worth noting already from the outset that the utility of sanctions assessment exercises by themselves should not be taken for granted. In fact there are even good reasons to question whether targeted sanctions can be evaluated at all, given that there are a multitude of intervening or background variables that may effect sanctions’ outcome. These may not always be entirely grasped in any single analysis. A more profound question is whether it would not be more prudent to illustrate the complexity of targeted sanctions rather than make absolute assertions about success and failures of the tool? The question is warrant although quite bootless. An alternative then to illustrate sanctions complexity, without assigning a value for the policy would then be to consider sanctions impact.
Rather than taking an absolute or deterministic view of what sanctions can achieve, the term impact, as opposed to effectiveness, could be more valuable for scholars and policymakers because of its inclusiveness. Impact is here understood in three ways: the impact on the target / commodity (physical or psychological impact), such as blocking an account or preventing a target from entering a country; the impact on the sender (e.g. contra-productive and instrumentally); and the impact on the overall conflict/crisis (e.g. resolution). In the first two cases, impact can be observed on the basis of behaviour, for example a change in political behaviour through actions, verbal or written comments by the sender/target or a reduction in trading of a conflict resource, while the third type can be observed through, for example, a change in policy, a change of government, or signing a peace agreement. Of particular interest here is the role the sanctions policy shape outcome.2
Most importantly however, were we to choose a methodology to asses sanctions would be how to select the analytical unit of observation and make that unit as inclusive and detailed as possible in order to capture the most of what the complex sanctions policy tool can offer. Below I will further develop the idea of thinking of episodes within a case as a useful way of defining and identifying moments between different actors and policies as sources that could reveal efficiency of a policy, e.g. the role of formal and informal decision-making processes, target reactions, sender-target interaction, and target impact. Such components of a sanctions case seem to contribute, in a profound way, to the shape of sanctions policy.
The Sanctions Case
Usually, sanctions regimes, i.e. the “case”, are often defined based on the duration between the decision being taken to enforce sanctions and the point in time at which the sender decides to stop or remove particular sanctions measures. In sanctions literature, the Iraq sanctions regime during the 1990s represents such a sanctions period, lasting from August 1990 until May 2003.3 The reason for demarcating a sanctions case in such a way is based on the epistemological advantages. It is fruitful to use sanctions episodes when analysing, demarcating, and comparing instances of sanctions. The approach has also proven useful for quantitative purposes, where it provides a clear-cut way of delineating the frequency of sanctions events in the international system. For instance, the categorisation of sanctions episodes, similar to that of sanction regimes, has led to finding patterns of occurrences as well as designating their success and failure. For instance, through such conventional clarification of the constitution of a ‘case’, one can make the observation that the UN has been involved in two sanctions episodes in the period 1945–1990 (Rhodesia and South Africa), and as many as 16 sanctions episodes during the 1990s.4 Similarly, one can observe that 116 sanctions episodes have occurred during the years 1914–1990.5
While this practice is generally a cogent one in terms of demarcating and separating specific sanctions events, the case approach is problematic if we want to account for targeted sanctions and what actually takes place during such episodes. The reason is that the approach of using sanctions regimes is far from being as precise as it needs to be when dealing with the new types of targeted sanctions practices. This refers to the issue of sender-target interaction. In fact, by analysing and focusing on this dynamic, one could easily depict decisive moments that could be considered as episodes in themselves (i.e., within a sanctions regime). For example, all instances of the issuing of sanctions lists constitute sanctions episodes, or more specifically, the turning point from one episode to another. It follows that in all such instances the sender is likely to review and examine whether their policy is effective in achieving a behavioural change and likely to succeed overall. While the traditional broad-based view of what constitutes a review of an episode does not account for the frequent interactions taking place between a sender and a target, the more refined approach to sanctions episodes offered here does.
The alternative structure of a Sanctions Episode
Unlike a number of previous sanctions studies, which define a sanctions episode as synonymous with a sanctions regime, an episode here is defined as one out of many interventions made by members of the international community in interacting with specific targets. A sanctions episode is here seen as a specific time period within a sanctions case, which is defined as the basis of a sender’s decision to change, extend or update a policy position based on a judgement of the impact and the efficiency of its policy in achieving a behavioural change. A number of sanctions episodes form part of a sanctions regime (or a sanctions case). In this definition, an episode starts with the first point of entry into the sanctions regime, in which an actor such as the EU or the UN enters or ‘establishes’ a dispute with a particular entity (or put differently challenges a target actor). As noted, this is marked by a decision by the sender to initiate, extend or review a sanctions list. The episode then terminates or re-starts sanctions with every decision to implement, broaden or temporarily suspend its restrictive measure against a listed entity.
Quite commonly, several sanctions assessment studies undertaken by the sender is based on evaluating the behaviour of the target. Typically evaluations are based on how successful or unsuccessful a policy is according to the sender. The assessment is dependent upon different factors associated with the sender’s original goal for imposing sanctions (e.g., the evaluation could be based on the sender’s examination of the target’s behaviour; the positive or negative effect that this behaviour has on the conflict; the ability to get the target and target groups to the negotiating table, etc).
The outcome of sender policy assessments by can be noted in reports such as by the UN Security Council Resolutions, in reports by Panel of Experts, or in EU Common Positions or Council Regulations (EC), by the EU. These assessments make it possible to identify natural ‘start’ and ‘end’ dates of the episodes. While this alternative approach comes in part from a critique of the quantification of sanctions research, the benefit of a further refinement of the concept is that it will be more exact and detailed with regard to the effectiveness of the policy. The reason is that each episode can help reveal: the type of implementation that takes place; the type of situation that exists at a given point in the time of the sanctions regime; the type of change, if any, that occurs during the sanctions regime; the type and gradual change of the mandate that is taking place; the type of ‘exit’ strategy that both the sender and the target is likely to chose, etc. This should be contrasted with more the general references and scopes of conventional approaches and conceptualisations of the case.
Criterions for sanctions episode evaluation could be based on the elements forming the definition of targeted sanctions. Criterions and questions that could be used for each sanctions episode: new type of measures; implementation difficulties/challenges; type and number of main senders; other senders (actions, type of measures, co-operations, role, etc.); decision-making and implementation capacity (type of administrating bodies active to administrate sanctions; type and number of targeted entities; perceptions of sanctions (by sender and target); political behaviour by target; ‘quality’ of sender-target interaction (with regard to ‘sanctions’ and other forms of cooperation); the type of existing strategic context and rationale; type and degree of impact (sender and target); type and degree of impact on conflict; other multivariate processes (changes in nature of the international system, location of the targeted actor in the international system). Clearly, such refinement would change the established results of the number of successes and failures of targeted sanctions. It would also be more accurate and precise, casting the utility of sanctions in a new light. For instance, a case that traditionally would have been considered a failure could now be considered a success through this deconstruction and re-interpretation. The main point is that the re-interpretation of the sanctions case through the lens of more refined episodes will show that there are many kinds of successes and failures taking place over time, and not only ‘one’, as the conventional literature would argue. In all, however, the re-codification should be dealt with cautiously as it is very dependent upon a precise definition that does not really have to reflect ‘reality’ in a precise sense.
Dividing sanctions regimes into more clearly demarcated episodes also has as noted before the advantage of identifying patterns of interaction between the sender and the target. The events observed can then be examined and brought into a more informed analysis of the impact of sanctions. While this has been done before, it has not been done on a very systematic level for ongoing-targeted sanctions regimes. Similarly, the interaction pattern will also help in understanding how the structure-agent or the sender-target is mutually constituted and self-referential in circumstances of targeting (i.e., how they affect and shape each other’s policies). In fact, the imposition of targeted sanctions on a specific entity is likely to affect the behaviour and activities of the sender.
Disaggregating the sanctions regimes into a number of episodes will also contribute to demarcating instances of impact. Not only can the sender examine through the assessment if the specific target has modified his or her behaviour towards the other participants in the conflict (or towards the sender), but also determine how the target has modified his or her behaviour in response to the pressure from the sender. In all, disaggregation of this kind also becomes very context-sensitive, as it makes it easier to demonstrate what impact, if any, targeted sanctions have during these episodes, and how they fit into the broader conflict process.
By refining the approach to assessing a sanctions regime, our account of the target’s reaction towards the sender will become easier to demarcate and analyse following revisions of the sanctions lists (i.e., the policy decision), which will give the outside observer a specific reference point in time to compare how the sender has judged a target’s behavioural change from one time to another. The reaction of the target can also be scrutinised by observing the target’s statements and behaviour towards the sender’s action of listing or de-listing the target (e.g., by observing if the target is travelling, making speeches/propaganda, or engaged in battles or unwarranted financial actions).6