The State of the Economic Sanctions Literature

It’s pretty good! It’s also getting way more complex.

By Daniel Drezner, Professor of International Politics at The Fletcher School in Tufts University

The hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World has been thinking a lot recently about economic sanctions — both how they are used and how they are studied. 

And hey, what do you know, I have an article on this very topic in the forthcoming 2024 issue of the Annual Review of Political Science on the state the economic sanctions literature. An advance copy of the paper is now available online. Here’s the abstract: 

The growth in economic sanctions has been matched by a surge in scholarly research. This article reviews the current state of scholarship on economic sanctions to see where the literature has advanced since Baldwin’s Economic Statecraft—and where there is need for further research. Over the past few decades, sanctions scholarship has made its greatest strides in investigating the effects and effectiveness of economic coercion attempts. This vein of research suggests that economic coercion is more effective than previously believed—but at the same time, the policy externalities of sanctions are far greater than previously understood. There remain many fruitful areas of research. Scholars need to consider how to better measure the deterrent effects of economic sanctions over time. Claims that there are different national styles of economic statecraft need to be tested to determine whether these styles are enduring or ephemeral. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, international relations scholars need to consider the systemic implications of increased sanctioning behavior. Scholars need to assess when and how sanctions affect the broader global political economy.

Those with access to the journal can click here to read the whole essay. For here, I just want to note a few things: 

First — and I cannot stress this enough — the state of the sanctions literature is pretty awesome. When I started my dissertation on this topic more than a quarter-century ago, research into economic statecraft was not exactly thought to be cutting edge. That was then. I continue to be impressed by both the quantity and quality of the sanctions scholarship cited in the paper. 

Second, academics like to claim that teaching and scholarship are complements rather than substitutes. To be frank, this is often an empty talking point. In writing this paper, however, the teaching/scholarship synergy thing was real! I developed a course on economic statecraft that I taught for the first time earlier this year. Research for the review essay helped inform my course syllabus — and teaching the class helped to shape how I thought about the review essay. It was a pretty great iterative experience. 

Third, authors always have some regrets once these essays are published — issues that could not be addressed due to space considerations and whatnot. My biggest regret was that it got locked down before the latest issue of International Security came out. As I noted earlier this month, that issue had two fascinating papers on economic statecraft that merited citation in this paper. Unfortunately, the papers were published after my ability to make any substantive edits came to an end. With more time and space, I would have liked to have written more about the dynamics between states and firms within sanctioning countries. This just shows how quickly the literature on economic statecraft is evolving.

Finally, one of the themes I did have time to discuss in the piece was the shift in sanctioning behavior away from attempts to coerce towards more long-term acts of containment or denial. Here is the paper’s concluding paragraph:

As the last few sections suggest, the increased employment of economic statecraft raises questions that go well beyond traditional sanctions debates. How will economic coercion affect larger questions of global economic governance and the global political economy? In most epochs of global economic governance, economic sanctions have defined the contours of the system; prominent sanctions failures have often led to the breakdown of economic order. As scholars wrestle with the meaning and implications of a postneoliberal global economy, they will need to consider how global economic coercion will buttress this emergent order—or expose its internal contradictions. For a quarter-century, scholars labored under the illusion that economic sanctions could be divorced from the deeper forces driving the global political economy. That illusion should be put to rest. 

If you can, read the whole thing.

(This post is republished from Drezner’s World.)

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