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date: 17 October 2018

Summary and Keywords

Economic sanctions are a versatile instrument of statecraft used by states to try to influence the behavior of foreign actors by threatening or restricting customary cross-border trade or financial flows to an intended target. Examples of economic sanctions are retaliatory tariffs imposed in trade disputes and the complete cessation of economic flows aimed at undermining a certain regime. The importance of economic sanctions to policy makers has spawned a substantial amount of scholarly work dominated by two questions: whether sanctions “work” and whether states should use them. The long-running scholarly debate about whether sanctions work is essentially a dispute over how to classify cases. However, comparing cases of success and failure is problematic, in part because the very notion of what constitutes the successful use of sanctions is not clear and policy makers rarely seek to influence a single target or pursue a single policy goal when using sanctions. One of the most promising developments in the literature has been the increasing use of game theory to analyze sanctions, but this approach does not adequately determine the appropriateness of sanctions as a policy instrument. Sanctions research should focus instead on the basic strategic dynamics of the sanctions episode in order to identify those factors that contribute most strongly to the effective use of sanctions and to enable policy makers to understand more about the consequences of using sanctions as an instrument of statecraft.

Keywords: economic sanctions, game theory, tariffs, trade disputes, economic flows, statecraft

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