In This Review
 Backfire: How Sanctions Reshape the World Against U.S. Interests

Backfire: How Sanctions Reshape the World Against U.S. Interests

By Agathe Demarais

Columbia University Press, 2022, 304 pp.

This book went to press shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, but not so shortly that the author was unable to incorporate material on the sanctions placed on Moscow by Washington and its allies. Demarais documents the increasing reliance on economic and financial sanctions, by the United States in particular, in response to violations of economic, political, territorial, and human-rights norms. She invokes historical evidence to support her contention that sanctions are effective only if they have limited purposes, deliver results quickly, target an economically vulnerable country, and are well coordinated internationally—conditions that rarely obtain in practice. She highlights the limitations and negative side effects of sanctions, some of which will be familiar from recent events. Sanctions can have negative humanitarian consequences, although such collateral damage will not deter targeted authoritarian leaders. Banks and firms find complying with sanctions difficult. Sanctions can hurt the countries that impose them, as illustrated currently by the high energy prices prevailing in the West. Current sanctions may undermine the effectiveness of future sanctions; thus, weaponizing Western banks and currencies against Russia may encourage Moscow and others to increase their reliance on China’s financial system. Demarais posits that the use of sanctions as a policy instrument has probably peaked, although she does not describe what alternative instruments and stratagems countries should use instead when confronting a rogue government.