Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work

In This Review

Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work
By Lee Jones
Oxford University Press, 2015
224 pp.

Proponents of international sanctions regimes usually argue that by restricting economic interactions and thus creating popular discontent, sanctions can put pressure on governments to change their policies. But in closely examining the various ways in which sanctions affect the interests, resources, and strategies of different political groups, Jones finds that things don’t always turn out that way. In South Africa in the 1980s, an internationally enforced embargo ultimately fragmented the ruling bloc and empowered progressive political and business groups that pushed for an end to apartheid. In Iraq during the 1990s, Jones argues, sanctions seriously weakened Saddam Hussein’s ruling coalition, but his regime managed to hang on to power. In recent years in Myanmar (also known as Burma), sanctions actually strengthened the ruling bloc, at least for a time, as the regime found ways to push the costs onto nonstate groups. Given this mixed record, Jones finds it difficult to draw general conclusions. He speculates that countries with middle classes that enjoy some independence from the state are the mostly likely to respond to sanctions as intended. But Jones’ central message is that enthusiasm for sanctions should be tempered by an appreciation of their complex, unpredictable, and sometimes counterproductive effects. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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