How Effective are Economic Sanctions?

With Chris Miller, Assistant Professor of International History at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University as a guest

War is an increasingly complicated operation, and these days most battles are fought on spreadsheets as much as they are in the field. The US has just launched a barrage of sanctions against long time rival Russia, a far bigger fish than the usual target of such an economic attack. When the US sanctions Venezuela or Iran the blowback domestically is minimal, but what happens when sanctions are applied to a major economy and what will the result be? Will this be the action that shakes the US’s economic hegemony?

Part 3: Squeezing the Bear (44:20)

  • Chris Miller talks modern sanctions on Russia, starting with those enacted in response to the 2014 annexation of Crimea. He discusses the US’ reluctance to impose severe energy sanctions on Russia due to the flow on effect such actions will create for domestic and international energy costs in economies still recovering from the effects of the COVID pandemic.
  • Miller identifies the deft targeting of specialised supply chains in areas such as semi-conductors as an example of effective and damaging sanctions, which has been aided by the wide-spread unity of opposition to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, helping to more comprehensively deny certain technologies and supplies from reaching the Russian economy.
  • Russia poses a more significant challenge to the wider international community’s ability to prevent these crucial items being imported due to its significantly larger size than typical sanction targets as well as its web of allies who in theory could act as third-party supplies. While there will be leaks, Miller posits that the inconsistency and scale of such arrangements would be of limited utility to Russia.
  • We conclude our conversation with a discussion about if the current raft of sanctions will accelerate a potential geopolitical shift with Russia turning towards becoming a client state of China, and how we will judge the strategic success of these sanctions in the future.

This podcast is republished from The Red Line.

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