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The Effects and Effectiveness of Targeted Sanctions: General Approach and Preliminary Research Design

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The Effects and Effectiveness of Targeted Sanctions: General Approach and Preliminary Research Design
Thomas Biersteker and Sue Eckert

July 2009

This is a preliminary description of the research proposed for Phase 3 of a 4-phase, multi-year research project on the effects and effectiveness of multilateral targeted sanctions. Phase 1 entailed exploratory discussion with potential participants and sponsors and was largely completed in early 2009. Phase 2 involves the development of a research plan and will culminate in a major international conference in October 2009, at which a revised version of this draft will be discussed. Phase 3 will be comprised of research on individual cases of targeted sanctions, while Phase 4 will disseminate the results of the research.
Because the research will be undertaken by an international consortium of scholars and policy practitioners interested in targeted sanctions, and because Phase 2 entails meetings to develop a common methodology and approach based on a process of discussion and deliberation, it is somewhat premature to spell out in precise detail at this time the research design and methods. At the same time, potential sponsors (as well as participants) want to understand better what is currently envisaged in the group research effort to be conducted during Phase 3 of the project.
This should be read as an initial attempt to identify parameters of the research to be conducted during Phase 3 of the project (October 2009 – October 2010). We anticipate that this draft plan will be amended, expanded, improved, and jointly agreed upon during the October 2009 workshop. This draft draws on suggestions and proposals made at the ISA conference in New York in February of 2009, as well as email and other communications with potential participants since that time.

The research will be focused, at a minimum, on the entire universe of 16 cases of targeted sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council since it first introduced the measures against Somalia and Libya in 1992.1 As some sanctions research suggests, the threat of sanctions is often more effective than their actual imposition (Drezner 2003 and Hovi, J., R. Huseby, and D. Sprinz (2005), thus the sample of 16 may be expanded to include instances in which sanctions were proposed or considered publicly by the UN Security Council.

Cases are broadly defined here, as (typically) country-based instances in which targets of sanctions have been identified by the UN Security Council or its subsidiary bodies. For comparative purposes, important unilateral or regional measures such as the EU and US targeted sanctions against Myanmar or Zimbabwe, or AU measures on Mauritania and Madagascar, may also be considered.
Targeted sanctions are provisionally defined here as sanctions that are targeted in any of a number of different ways – against an individual, a corporate entity (such as a firm or political party), a sector of an economy (such as an arms embargo, aviation ban, and the trade in high value commodities like diamonds, oil or timber), or a region of a country (as in the DRC).
Following the work of Mikael Eriksson (Eriksson 2009), we plan to break each of the cases down into separate “case episodes” that enable researchers to examine the effects of sanctions as they are tightened, expanded, or relaxed, typically by actions taken by the Security Council or one of its Sanctions Committees. For example, the effects of sanctions against Iran might be examined when they were first threatened (prior to the imposition of targeted sanctions), and after each succeeding resolution (UNSCR 1737, UNSCR 1747, and UNSCR 1803). Similarly, the sanctions against Al Qaida and the Taliban might be examined before and after the significant expansion of the list of targets following the attacks of 11 September 2001. This will increase the total number of cases in the research sample. The use of case episodes will require, however, that we are able to develop a common definition and comparable operational definition of “episode” across the different cases.
The larger strategic context within which targeted sanctions are imposed should be systematically identified as a part of the research on each case. This would involve an assessment of the relationship between the targeted sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and activities undertaken by other international actors (the ICC, the IAEA, or specially convened multi-party talks, etc.).
There should also be a systematic effort to gauge the degree of political consensus (an operationalization of “political will”) that existed not only at the time the targeted sanctions measures were first imposed, but also over the course of their subsequent implementation. This might be accomplished by considering the vote on the resolution, the presence or absence of an expert group or monitoring team, the length of time between the passage of the resolution and the actual designation of targeted parties, among other indicators.
Finally, the goals of each targeted sanctions measure need to be articulated. Following the work of Francesco Giumelli (Giumelli 2009), we should differentiate between targeted sanctions designed to coerce (change behaviour), constrain behaviour, and/or send a signal, keeping in mind that the goals of sanctions may be multiple and that they are likely to change over time. This is another reason to employ the more refined concept of case episodes, discussed above.
Empirical research on each case will utilize multiple metrics to analyze both the effects (direct and indirect) and the effectiveness of targeted sanctions. The direct effects of sanctions will include assessments of their effects on the target’s ability to continue proscribed activities, including measures of diminished trade and/or access to financing. Classic measures of trade dependence and diversion (including some of those first developed by Hirschman in 1945) might be utilized. Some way to measure the psychological (stigmatizing) effects on the targeted parties should also be developed.
Measures of indirect effects will also need to be developed, to gauge the extent to which the measures had positive and/or negative externalities (unintended consequences). Among the negative externalities are the legacies of corruption and criminality often left by sanctions, as well as their effects on neighbouring states. Positive externalities might include increased capacity in different issue domains (such as financial controls).
Throughout the analysis, individual case episodes will be differentiated, to the extent possible. Time-series economic data will be assembled to enable systematic analysis of the dynamics of, influence of, and resistance to, targeted sanctions over time. We will discuss at the October 2009 conference whether and how to assess the symbolic effects of sanctions, particularly when they are undertaken as part of the strengthening a larger regime (such as the sanctions applied against actors in Iran or the DPRK over violation of norms of the non-proliferation regime).
Measuring the effectiveness of targeted sanctions is a more difficult task. One indicator of effectiveness is change in behaviour according to the terms spelled out in the initial UN Security Council resolution. This cannot be taken literally, however, since the resolution of even the most widely recognized as “effective” sanctions-related disputes typically involves face-saving measures for the targeted parties. Thus, the determination of effectiveness will have to be relaxed to take this into consideration. Some kind of continuous indicator of effectiveness will likely be developed, following the use of such measures by Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliott (original 1983), who historically have differentiated between policy failure, unclear, modest success, or success and/or zero, minor, modest, or significant sanctions impact. We also need to remain mindful of David Baldwin’s insights about the context within which policy-makers decide to impose sanctions, particularly his argument that their effectiveness needs to be evaluated with respect to goals and targets, costs, and in comparison with other policy alternatives (Baldwin 2000).
Wherever possible, interviews will be conducted with the targets of sanctions to learn as much as possible about precisely how the measures affected them, and more importantly, how they evaded the measures and/or or utilized them for other purposes (such as mobilizing public support). This research is particularly important, not only because of the relative absence of this kind of inquiry in past studies of sanctions (with some notable exceptions, including the work of Cosgrove, of Eriksson, and of Anders and Vines), but also because it will enable the analysis of the implementation of targeted sanctions by key states (i.e. by major trading partners and/or by critically placed neighbouring states). If each of the country-focused case studies addresses this question, it should be possible to assess in parallel terms (across the universe of cases) how countries have implemented targeted sanctions over time, including both legal and administrative instruments. This research will be important for the preparation of the Practical Guide that will be prepared as part of the larger project.
In some instances, field research will be also necessary, particularly to interview former targets of sanctions in situations where the sanctions have been terminated (Libya, Angola, Liberia, and Eritrea/Ethiopia). Fortunately, the core group of scholars and policy practitioners who constitute the research consortium have already conducted a great deal of field research on the different cases of multilateral UN targeted sanctions and will be able to draw effectively on their past research interviews and networks already established.
Sources of information for each of the cases of targeted sanctions will include systematic reviews of previous case-study research (building on the pioneering work by Cortright and Lopez, O’Sullivan, and the cases added to the most recent edition of Elliott, et. al.). In addition, each researcher will be expected to interview past and current chairs of UN Sanctions Committees, relevant NGOs, affected private sector actors, national officials charged with implementation, and chairs and key members of expert groups and monitoring teams and key staff in relevant Missions to the UN. We hope to be able to organize at least one session in NY to facilitate such a dialogue across sanctions cases. If each of the country-focused case study researchers interviews these individuals, it should once again be possible to assess in parallel terms (across the universe of cases) issues such as problems encountered with regard to the development and maintenance of sanctions, implementation challenges, and best practices. This comparative research will also be drawn for the Practical Guide.
At the October 2009 meeting, the group will reach agreement on a common framework for analysis, including the definitions of core terms, how to characterize strategic context and political will, and decisions about which metrics to be employed to assess direct effects, indirect effects, and effectiveness. Individual researchers will be asked to address a common set of research issues in their separate analyses to facilitate comparative analysis in Phase 4 of the project.
We anticipate that different individuals (or small teams of 2 or 3 individuals) will undertake the research on each country-case. It would make sense for individuals who have previously conducted extensive research on a particular case to update their previous analyses, since they have a comparative advantage with regard to knowledge about the history, the key players, and the background of the conflicts involved. To get a fresh perspective on the different cases, however, it might be advisable for them to team up with someone who has not previously done extensive work on the case. The allocation of cases, identification of case episodes, and harmonization of time periods will also be decided upon at the October 2009 workshop
A second major conference will be convened during the Fall of 2010 to share results, draw comparative conclusions, discuss policy implications of conclusions, and develop research outputs, including a practitioners guide, the construction of a database, a major scholarly volume, and a basis for future capacity building training at the UN and in national capitols.
This is a preliminary draft for discussion. Please send any reactions, comments, or suggestions to the authors. Please also provide some preliminary indication of which country cases you would be most interested in examining.

Anders, Holger and Alex Vines. (2006). “Sanctions and Enforcement” Chapter 3 in Developing a Mechanism to Prevent Illicit Brokering in Small Arms and Light Weapons: Scope and Implications, UNIDIR
Baldwin, David. A. (2000) "The Sanctions Debate and the Logic of Choice." International Security 24(3): 80-107
Cortright David. and George. A. Lopez (2000) The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s
Cortright, David. and George. A. Lopez (2002). Sanctions and the Search for Security
Cosgrove, Erica. (2005). “Examining Targeted Sanctions: Are Travel Bans Effective?” in Peter Wallensteen and Carina Staibano (eds.) International Sanctions: Between Words and Wars in the Global System
Drezner, Daniel. W. (2003). "The Hidden Hand of Economic Coercion." International Organization 57(3): 643-659
Elliott, Kimberly. et. al. (2007). Economic sanctions reconsidered
Eriksson, Mikael. (2009). Rethinking Targeted Sanctions. Draft dissertation prepared for examination at the European University Institute, Florence
Giumelli, Francesco. (2009). “Coercing, Constraining, and Signalling: Explaining UN and EU Sanctions after the Cold War,” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, New York, February 2009
Hirschman, Albert O. (1945, 1980). “Foreign Trade as an Instrument of National Power,” National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade
Hovi, J., R. Huseby, and D. Sprinz (2005) "When Do (Imposed) Economic Sanctions Work?" World Politics 57(4)
Hufbauer, Gary. C., J. Schott and K. Elliott (1983) Economic Sanctions in Support of Foreign Policy Goals
O’Sullivan, Megan. (2003) Shrewd Sanctions

1 The list includes Somalia, Libya, Liberia, Haiti, UNITA (Angola), Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Al Qaida and the Taliban (Afghanistan), Iraq (1518), Eritrea/Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Lebanon/Syria (1636), DRC, DPRK, and Iran.

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